EVOLUTIONARY biologist Dr Ben Garrod loves catching out children and their parents when they think they know about dinosaurs.
He pits the knowledge of unwitting parents against their all-knowing kids as he sorts out facts and fiction about favourites including, of course, the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex in So You Think You Know About Dinosaurs!, his interactive, educational and entertaining show using film footage from the BBC’s Planet Dinosaur, which is coming to The Capitol Horsham on March 14.
Describing it as a cross between “a lecture and panto”, the dinosaur aficionado talks his audiences through the deadliest predators that ever roamed the planet – with the most up-to-date scientific facts available.
“We have this view of T-Rex as this great angry thing that roars,” he says. “But it was a big dumpy thing with feathers that sounded like something we know today – birds.
“T-Rex is by far the most popular dinosaur but it’s had the worst PR for 200 years. It’s time it had a dino celeb makeover, now that technology gives us a much better idea of what dinosaurs were actually like.
“It usually the parents, though, who are more disappointed with the truth. But science is not there to please us. It’s very unforgiving.”
The 36-year-old, who has carried out his own palaeontological dinosaur digs, has presented several television shows, including Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur with Sir David Attenborough, The Day the Dinosaurs Died on BBC Two and Hyper Evolution: Rise of the Robots for BBC Four. He also presented his own award-winning six-part series for the BBC called Secrets of Bones.
With a BSc in Animal Behaviour, Dr Ben’s PhD looked at monkey evolution on tropical islands, and throughout the last decade, he has lived and worked all over the world, mainly within great ape conservation, spending several years in central Africa developing and managing a leading chimpanzee conservation field site for the renowned chimpanzee scientist Dr Jane Goodall.
He has also worked across South East Asia for an orangutan conservation charity, researched animal artefacts from Imperial Chinese tombs, marine life in Madagascar and studied introduced monkeys throughout the Caribbean archipelago. He has also repeatedly traveled to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, where he has helped lead wildlife watching tours.
He’s also an accomplished public speaker and is currently on a 26-date tour of the country with So You Think You Know About Dinosaurs…?.
But, Dr Ben confesses, his first public speaking tour for children terrified him. “I didn’t know what they would ask me,” he says. “It’s getting easier, though, and now I can anticipate what they are going to ask me. Kids are so enthusiastic – they’re not sponges, simply soaking up the information, they’re more like pinball machines, pinging questions back at you. I think the secret of talking to children is that you change the tone, not the content. They hate it when you talk down to them. You can talk to five-year-olds about complex anatomical facts and they understand it.
Above: Dr Ben Garrod’s So You Think You Know About Dinosaurs…? show
Main picture, top: Dr Ben Garrod/picture: Tom Warry
Below: how Dr Ben measures up against a dinosaur bone
Above: Dr Ben on his travels
Below: Dr Garrod in Hyper Evolution: Rise of the Robots for BBC Four/picture: Windfall Productions
“They know a lot more about science then you think. I’m chuffed when a six-year-old knows more than me. At the start of the show, we pit the kids against the adults. And kids love it because the adults look very, very nervous. Kids whoop them all the time.
“Parents come up afterwards and say they had no idea my children knew that. I want to get as many young people into science. I want to make children proud to be geeks because I’m passionate about science.”
Dr Ben grew up on coastal Norfolk and can remember the first time science engaged him. “I was three and I found worms on the path,” he recalls. “My granddad said they had come down from the moon in the rain. I didn’t believe him and I thought, ‘I’m going to find out the truth’.
“At the age of five, I found a fossil and it blew my mind that the world was that old. It was a journey of discovery.”
He now lives in Bristol where, despite not having any pets, he lives with Lola, an articulated howler monkey skeleton. During the past six months, he has written six books about dinosaurs in a So You Think You Know About…? pocket-sized series, covering Spinosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Diplodocus, Velociraptor and Stegosaurus, with an introduction by Dr Jane Goodall.
“In the show, we are addressing how much the kids believe they know,” he says. “We present them with new findings, with the new T-Rex that we are discovering. We are finding new fossils every day and technology is changing every day. It gives us a much better idea of how they actually were.”
So You Think You Know About Dinosaurs! is at The Capitol Horsham, North Street, Horsham, at 6pm on Wednesday March 14. Ages 5-12. Tickets £16.50. Phone 01403 750220 or visit thecapitolhorsham.com.