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Totnes’ very own Bansky – sort of!

Everyone knows him and hundreds have one of his creations.

Malcolm Curley in his workshop
Malcolm Curley in his workshop

Yet Malcolm the animal man says he’d prefer to be anonymous. ‘I’d love to do a Banksy and just make them” he tells me in his tiny garage workshop. Bit late for that.

Malcolm Curley is now 84 and the only thing which might call a halt to his menagerie building is ill health. He’s had heart problems and has a metal pin in one leg, but, like his injured elephant and sickly swan, he’s patched up and good for another ten years at least.

Bridgetown Safari

His Bridgetown workshop is covered in layers of paint and plaster. Tools, surfaces, even his shoes, are a testament to the years he’s spent conjuring the critters which peep from hedges and prowl up trees. Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud worked in similarly spattered studios. And are considered geniuses. But I bet they never made a frog on a bicycle.

So how did it start?

After Malcolm retired from his Bristol metal fabrication business and sailed to Spain, he found living in a remote part of the country wasn’t for him. Coming back to Britain he moved with his partner to Bovey Tracey and then Totnes, where one day he spied a skip. Inside was a plastic sheet . How could he resist. “I asked the owner if I could have it and he said oh yes of course. I made a horse and then he wanted a zebra. There’s almost three hundred now.”

Odd locations

The ark load is all over the place – Salcombe, Bristol, Totnes, Dartington, “but not in Dartmouth funnily enough.” They charm and delight most people – but not everyone. His crocodile which lurked in the town leat by Morrisons was dragged out and disappeared, and he’s heard someone who thinks they spoil the look of the town.

I don’t want to watch day-time TV, put it like that.

Don’t most of us though think they add to the gaiety of the place? Even the emergency services are vying for one of Malcolm’s beasts. There are bears carrying stretchers at the ambulance station, and an Alsatian pedalling (like E.T) on a magic bike atop the police station. Now the fire station wants a tiger up a tree.

“The police dog? I made it just for fun. Then I contacted the station and said do you want it on the grass there but they were worried it would get stolen. Then three ruddy great police knocked and I said have you come to take me away ! They took the dog and put him on the balcony.”

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He likes finding interesting places to put his dogs, cats, dodos, flamingoes, monkeys, peacocks, rhinos, tigers, giraffes, elephants, penguins and bears. One new model is the ostrich, again cycling, which brightens the view from the traffic lights at the bottom of the bypass.


Under construction during my visit is a helicopter and Tom and Jerry. He makes a paper template of the profile of the animal, then cuts this out in plywood. He covers that with polystyrene , carves it to a 3D shape and slathers on a mix of sand and cement. A fibreglass sheet bandages it all together and then he paints it. He’s given paint and the bikes so really the only cost is the plywood and polystyrene but, as he says, it’s cheaper than joining a golf club.

I ask him if he’s looking for an apprentice and he says he’s had two – both girls – who tried it out and were good but moved away.
I almost need one but it’s who you get on with isn’t it.

Malcolm Curley has built houses and restored boats, so he’s never not worked at something.

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My age, we all fear dementia don’t we. I just had a shock, a lovely neighbour whose animal blew over in the wind, her son came with it and he said his mum had been diagnosed with dementia. It shook me rigid. “

So this keeps you mentally fit then?

I hope so. As much as can be expected!

Would you say you were obsessed, Malcom?

A little bit. I don’t want to watch day-time TV, put it like that.

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