On the 30th May 1967, Wolfe Publishing posted a book contract to Maxwell Knight to confirm terms for the fairly tongue-in-cheek “How to Keep a Gorilla.” The publisher wanted “something quite simple” – they wanted him to duplicate his previous book “How to Keep an Elephant” and they agreed to pay him the same terms.

Inside the cabinet, there’s detailed correspondence documenting the toing and froing between Knight and his publisher and – for the sake of brevity – let’s just say that he wasn’t completely comfortable writing this book. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t know enough about the subject, he did, and what he didn’t know, he could access from his contacts at The Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

What was wrong?

He couldn’t shake off the fact that a licence was required to import a Gorilla and that would stop a member of the public from ever keeping one. The publisher just believed this gave the book “added cachet – like, anybody can import a tatty old lion but it needs somebody special to get a Gorilla into the county.”

The publisher goes on to push him to find out if there “are any Gorillas available in this country which could be bought without a licence? and is the Licence needed only for Gorillas which are captured in their native habitats – is there a loophole, for instance, which would allow the occasional Gorilla to be brought in from, say Lichenstein or the Isle of Man.”

The publisher thought this was an intriguing angle to pursue, and it’s amusing today to think that they were picking the brains (unbeknown to them) of a counter-subversion specialist who – although never kept a Gorilla – kept the Abwehr’s (German intelligence organisation from 1921 to 1944) agents, the fifth column nazi sympathisers and was amongst the first to warn that Soviet spies had infiltrated MI5. (The Gorilla could well be a metaphor for all of these as he certainly kept them all at bay).

As previously mentioned, Knight did have contacts at ZSL and he asked them to check on “Guy’s” (the famous Gorilla) daily rations, and this is what they wrote back with:


2 eggs beaten up with 2 pts milk; 2 cabbages; 2 lb carrots


8 lettuces; 2 lbs root vegetables; 8 bananas; 6 oranges; 1 lb dates; 1 lb biscuits; large brown bread and jam sandwich and occasionally as a treat a bunch of grapes or a cucumber


Same as breakfast, but with 4 pts of milk instead of 2

At the time of Knight’s enquiry, “Guy” was weighed and he tipped the scales at 488.5 lbs.

Simon King

[File 17]