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Ron Morgan is remembered by his family as a remarkable man and by the people of Bristol for being at the centre of a bizarre mystery, namely the case of Alfred the Gorilla.The much-loved gorilla, who died in 1948, stands in a glass case in Bristol City Museum, but for a short time in 1956, at the start of University Rag Week, he vanished without trace.Now after the death of estate agent Ron Morgan, 79, on 9 February, 2010, a family secret has been revealed involving him and two university friends in a definite case of monkey business.The truth was kept under wraps for so long because Mr Morgan, his friend Fred Hooper and his other accomplice, known only as DB, feared they would be prosecuted by the museum or the council.The ape-napping caused public outcry during March 1956 after the stuffed gorilla, a celebrity figure in Bristol who was worth about £600 at the time, mysteriously disappeared.Police scoured university processions searching for Alfred, who was thought to be taken as a prank, and even threatened to prosecute the organisers of rag week, but to no avail.Several days later Donald Boulton, a caretaker at Bristol University's student health service, had the shock of his life when he entered the patient's waiting room and was faced with the stuffed gorilla, which had been left in the centre of the room.Until now only three people and their families knew what had happened to Alfred during those 60 hours with the gorilla himself remaining tight-lipped.But as a tribute to Mr Morgan, who lived in Clevedon and ran Morgan and Sons estate agents in Eastville, his family and friends have revealed the secret they have had to keep for over 50 years along with a collection of photographs kept as a record.Fred Hooper, who now lives in Cheltenham, said: "It was initially my idea."I was about 23 at the time and I thought it would be a great rag week jape."We took Alfred because he was such a big Bristol personality and he was close by. It took a bit of planning, we told the museum we were making a film and that's how we got in. We knew the porter and so we were able to get a key cut to the secondary door that linked the museum to the university."Then we hid in the belfry until about 1am when every- thing was closed. It wasn't such a good idea in hindsight as the bells were still ringing and incredibly loud."We got into the museum and then we used the side door to get him out onto Park Row. It was very early in the morning and we stuffed him into the boot of an old Vauxhall car that cost me £35, folded back the seats and sped off to my bedsit, in West Park, off Whiteladies Road."That's where he stayed for the duration and we took pictures of him in different guises. There were all sorts of stories going around, people thought Cardiff students had kidnapped him and there was a rumour he was in a cave somewhere but we never told anyone we had him."It was always our intention to return him and so the easiest thing was to take him to a doctor's waiting room which was just across the road. It was midday on a Saturday and we just carried him over and left him there."Mr Morgan's son Gerard said: "We know that initially the three tried to lift Alfred and couldn't understand why he was so heavy but it was actually because he was screwed to a plinth and they were trying to lift their own weight."He said a family scrapbook, containing original stories from the Evening Post about the theft, had become something of a family heirloom.He said: "My father used to develop his own photographs which is why he was able to take these pictures without anyone else finding out."This scrapbook has been locked in a secret drawer in our home and travelled around the world with him."The City Museum has now sent a letter to Gerard assuring the family that no one will be prosecuted over the kidnap.Dr Jo Gipps, director, Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: "At his death in 1948, Alfred was the longest-living gorilla in captivity anywhere in the world. In spite of the events of 1956, he is now one of the star attractions on display at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery."Tim Corum, Deputy Head of Bristol's Museums, Galleries & Archives service, said: "We are intrigued and pleased to hear about the revelations concerning Alfred the Gorilla's 'escape' from the City Museum & Art Gallery in 1956."Museum staff have long known about this Rag Week stunt but not heard the inside story of those involved before. Although we would never condone any such illegal activity as reportedly happened, the council will not be taking any action against the reputed perpetrators either."Instead we will be adding the latest reports to the bulging file relating to one of Bristol's best loved figures."Gerard added: "We thought about going public but we were worried how he would be affected. Now it seems the right time to celebrate his life."My father had no fear. He was the first in his family to go to university and the first to pull himself out of the working class. This was just a bit of fun and we all love the story."Mr Morgan, who studied English Literature at Bristol University and also worked as a senior university lecturer around the world, has penned a script telling the story of the kidnap and his son is now looking to see if the university drama group will put on the play.Gerard said the story of Alfred's kidnap was one which he had grown up with.He said: "Occasionally the scrapbook would come out and along with my brothers I loved listening to the story of Alfred. My father stayed in contact with his two friends and our families have always been linked."
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Viewed by: 1179 visitors. Uploaded: 8 years ago
Published in: Online.
Published from: March 04, 2010.
Region: National
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