The Human Zoo (radio)

The Human Zoo (radio)

"The Human Zoo" was a radio programme on talkSPORT, presented by Tommy Boyd, with his engineer Asher Gould effectively acting as co-presenter. It was broadcast from May 2000 until Boyd's dismissal in March 2002, and took its name from a 1969 book of the same name by Desmond Morris.


The programme had a straightforward 'phone in' format, except that callers were unscreened, went straight to air, and could say whatever they wanted, broadcasting regulations permitting. This unique radio experiment attained cult status, and quickly became the most popular programme on AM radio in Britain. At the peak of its popularity in the summer of 2001 up to a million calls were received over the course of a four-hour programme.

While not the most original format for radio, the Human Zoo was wildly successful. This has been attributed to the particular style of its presenter, who encouraged a very wide variety of callers to contribute, including some who called in to give short performances, play pieces of prepared audio or just shout out catchphrases. "Can I pleasure your wife?" was an oft-repeated slogan. Therefore, the mainstay of the programme for its listeners was the unpredictable nature of where the discussion would lead next. Very weighty issues not often discussed by mainstream phone in radio (which Boyd derided as all about "points missed in the debate so far") could be juxtaposed with frivolous, light-hearted or comedic items. Boyd divided opinion between devoted fans, many of whom considered him to be an extremely wise man, and critics who viewed him as arrogant or mad, often taking the opportunity to phone up to launch personal attacks or deride his ideas with the aim of starting heated and vitriolic arguments.

Boyd attributed the popularity of the show to the ability of its anarchic nature to strike a chord with people on a Sunday night, and elaborated on this theory many times, proposing that Sunday evenings induced a widespread and overwhelming mood of either resignation or defiance, and that the programme provided an outlet to those who felt trapped by the prospect of work the following morning.


In its latter stages the Human Zoo became increasingly repetitive and at times descended into farce. Despite Boyd's efforts to reinvigorate the format it became dominated by a small coterie of callers.

An important part of the production of the programme was the need to prevent the broadcast of offensive or illegal material by callers who knew that they were being granted an open platform for whatever they had to say before a national audience. This was achieved by a facility known as the dump button, often employed in phone in radio for this purpose. The station's output was actually broadcast several seconds after it was produced in the studio, allowing a small amount of time for the station to be silenced "after" unwanted comments had been made.

On Saturday 30 March 2002 the death of the Queen Mother was announced. The unscreened part of the programme began as normal at 10.00 pm, and inevitably the subject was brought up quickly. At approximately 10.15 pm a caller came on to attack the royal family, including in his comments the phrase, "I think we should shoot the fucking lot of them. How does that sound on national radio? Fuck you, pal." Boyd responded with, "Yeah, and you, pal," and cut off the call. However he made no attempt to 'dump' the comments. He distanced him self from the caller saying "it's unfortunate that on a night like tonight, people like that come up with things like that".

One listener (of the 3 million listening) subsequently made a complaint about what had been broadcast. However, large numbers of complaints were far from rare for Boyd and his fellow presenters James Whale and Mike Dickin. The following day Boyd presented his Sunday programme as normal, but was absent from the airwaves the following weekend, although this absence had been announced previously. On 11 April it was announced by a talkSPORT spokesman that Boyd had been dismissed in connection with the incident, along with the programme’s producer and technical operator who were in the studio with Boyd at the time. The reason given for the sackings was failure to monitor the output of the station, leading to the broadcast of offensive comments. The single complaint received was held up as evidence of the offence that had been caused.

It was widely believed that the stated reason for Boyd's sacking was merely an excuse to remove him and his production team from the station. Speculation was (and remains) rife about the interminably convoluted internal politics of talkSPORT, specifically the troubled relationships between the big names on the station's line-up and owner Kelvin MacKenzie. A variety of petitions and internet campaigns were launched with the aim of forcing Boyd's reinstatement - along with his team, but these ended in failure.


The Human Zoo would be revived to a lesser extent when Boyd began presenting a late Saturday night show on BBC Southern Counties Radio from September 2004. Regular callers included a Johnny Vegas soundalike, someone reading the results of the day's games in the Premier League, someone doing an impression of Darth Vader breathing, "The Duck", and "Quarter-to-One Mick", a Northern accented gentleman who each week would recite the lyrics of well-known songs towards the end of each show.

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