If you're as excited as we are about the return of The Durrells in Corfu to ITV this spring (the first episode being premiered at the Radio Times Festival this Saturday), you'll want to know about this book.

Drawing on diaries, letters and unpublished autobiographical fragments, Michael Haag's The Durrells of Corfu is a behind-the-scenes look at the family's life on the Greek island - and the story is every bit as fascinating as Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals.  

Brought up in India, we learn about the crisis that brought them to England and then Greece, to the genuine characters they encountered on Corfu - Theodore the biologist, the taxi driver Spiro Halikiopoulos and the prisoner Kosti - as well as the visit of American writer Henry Miller.

And Haag has unearthed the story of how the Durrells left Corfu, including Margo's and Larry's last-minute escapes before the War. An extended epilogue looks at the emergence of Larry as a world famous novelist, and Gerry as a naturalist and champion of endangered species, as well as the lives of the rest of the family, their friends and other animals.

The book is illustrated with family photos from the Gerald Durrell Archive, many of them reproduced here for the first time.

Out on 20th April, it's the ideal companion to the TV series - or gift for the Durrell fan in your life.
 

Read an extract from Chapter 4: Corfu - the Strawberry-Pink Villa
 

For Gerry the garden of the Strawberry-Pink Villa was ‘a magic land, a forest of flowers through which roamed creatures I had never seen before’. At first he was so bewildered by the profusion of life that he went about in a daze, his attention drawn to one creature, then distracted by another, from spiders and caterpillars to flights of butterflies. ‘He had an enormous patience’, recalled Nancy. He would spend hours crouching or lying on his belly, looking into creatures’ private lives, while Roger, gasping a sigh of resignation, flopped down nearby. ‘In this way I learnt a lot of fascinating things.’

From this garden Gerry and Roger set off on their adventures. Though the house has changed and the garden has been paved over, the old pathways followed by Gerry can still be followed down to the Halikiopoulou Lagoon in one direction and through the olive groves in the other, emerging on the coast opposite Pontikonisi, Mouse Island. The landscape remains beautiful even though the ubroken groves of olives are gone, the airport lurks behind, and tourists now fill the small beaches where Gerry and Roger once ventured alone.

These were the times when Gerry first heard the haunting music of the old peasant songs, taught to him by Agathi, a woman in her seventies, who would leave off spinning wool when he appeared and have him sit with her eating grapes or pomegranates in the sun. There was the love song they would sing together called Falsehood, rolling their eyes adoringly at one another, Agathi trembling with emotion, clasping her hands to her great breasts. In his memoir Gerry writes the lyrics in Greek and gives a translation, though in My Family and Other Animals he leaves out the last line.

Lies, lies.
It is my fault for teaching you
To walk around the countryside
Saying that I love you.
If I had loved you, you would have driven me crazy
And our marriage would have been bitter.

‘What fools we are,’ Gerry remembers Agathi saying to him, ‘sitting here in the sun and singing of love. I am too old for it and you are too young. Ah, well, let’s have a glass of wine, eh?’

One day on his travels Gerry met the Rose-Beetle Man, a weird and fascinating figure who gave all the appearance of having stepped straight out of a fairy tale. Tall and thin, wearing a long coat patched in many colours, he was a pedlar whose pockets bulged with combs and balloons and coloured pictures of the saints, while on his back he carried bamboo cages full of pigeons and young chickens, several mysterious sacks and a bundle of fresh leeks. On his head he wore a battered and floppy broad-brimmed hat stained with wine, burnt by cigarettes and smeared with dust; feathers of owls, hoopoes and cocks fluttered from the band around its crown and a great white feather that may have come from a swan.

He heralded his approach by playing on his flute, but up close Gerry noticed that his eyes were dim and had a vacant look as though blind with cataracts, and he answered Gerry’s greetings with only grunts and squeaks. Gerry suddenly realised that he was mute but they continued their conversation by making pantomime gestures in the middle of the road. Strangest of all were the rose-beetles flying in circles about his head: they were tied by threads of cotton to his hat or he launched them from his hands. He sold them to children as whirling, buzzing model aeroplanes.

Find out more about The Durrells in Corfu