Stephen Fry 'jumped at the opportunity' to work on new series about dinosaurs



Working alongside national treasure Stephen Fry would be a bucket list dream for some people.

But then again, Dr Susie Maidment is not simply "some people".

Asked if starring in the new series ­Dinosaur with the 65-year-old actor was her biggest pinch-me moment, she grins: "I'd say that was excavating a 150 million-year-old long-necked, long-tailed Sauropod in Montana.

"I dug up its lower leg bone. It was just amazing to think I was the first person to touch it. That was the culmination of many childhood dreams," she says, with a joyful glint in her eyes.

Dr Susie is a busy working mum with an extraordinary career.

A new series about dinosaurs is set to launch on Channel 5 this weekend
A new series about dinosaurs is set to launch on Channel 5 this weekend ( Channel 5)

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Forget any notion you may have of an aged male fossil expert poring over ancient relics in a dank basement.

At 41, she is the principal researcher in the dinosaur team at London's Natural History Museum, curator of their extensive collection and one of the most renowned dinosaur experts in the world.

This weekend, thanks to the wonders of CGI technology, Stephen and Susie are transported 155 million years back in time to the first golden age of the ­dinosaurs – the Jurassic, when they grew into giants.

Stephen explores the conifer forests and fern prairies that were their home, to encounter plant-eating Diplodocus and the deadly predator Allosaurus.

And it is Dr Susie who walks with him decoding their astonishing behaviour – including the Diplodocus' acrobatic ability to rear up on its hind leg to feed on treetops. "It was amazing to meet Stephen," says Susie, speaking ahead of the Channel 5 four-part series.

It will feature Stephen Fry
It will feature Stephen Fry ( Channel 5)
He will be joined by dinosaur researcher Dr Susie Maidment
He will be joined by dinosaur researcher Dr Susie Maidment ( Natural History Museum)

"There's nothing fake about him. I felt he was exactly as he comes across on TV. He was kind and seemed like a genuine dinosaur enthusiast.

"We shot scenes in a green room in Media City in Manchester and it was essentially just a massive green box.

"When you're looking at the T-Rex's head, you're talking to a spot on the wall, and that definitely tested my acting skills. But Stephen was clearly very curious and it was a lot of fun."

Speaking about the project, Stephen said: "Dinosaurs have always been a passion of mine, so I jumped at the opportunity to lend my excitement and curiosity to immerse ­audiences back in time.

"The attention to detail and technology allows us to really delve deep into exciting new scientific discoveries about these majestic creatures."

The thought that this series could also fire up the imagination of a younger person, and inspire them to become a breakthrough scientist, is also ­something that Susie relishes.

The project is a four-part series
The project is a four-part series ( Channel 5)

Even as a child, she seemed destined to work with dinosaurs. Family holidays often entailed trips to the Dorset coast and Charmouth, near Lyme Regis, where she would go fossil hunting on the beach.

Aged seven, her grandfather, an electrical engineer, asked what she wanted to do when she grew up. She says: "I said I thought I'd quite like to be a scientist, watching coloured liquids exploding and wearing a white lab coat. But I also said perhaps I'd be a princess.

"He said I should definitely be a scientist, but I didn't know what kind. 'Perhaps a dinosaur one?' he said. I joked that would be all right – and here I am!"

She studied geology at Imperial College London before doing a PhD, working out of the National History Museum for three years from 2009.

"I had a lot of dinosaur toys as a child – a Stegosaurus money box and an inflatable Stegosaurus. And, purely coincidentally, my PhD was on ­Stegosaurs," she says.

It will launch this weekend
It will launch this weekend ( Channel 5)

Susie researched 150 million-year-old Sophie the ­Stegosaurus for more than a year. With 85% of her skeleton intact, Sophie is the world’s most complete Stegosaurus skeleton, discovered in Wyoming, in the west of the US. "My study was quite a while and I grew quite fond of Sophie," she says.

Susie's greatest breakthrough is yet to be revealed. "It’s definitely been one of my biggest moments but I can’t say any more right now," she teases.

There was a time, she jokes, when: "Everyone used to say, 'oh, your job’s like Ross' from Friends.' There’s this perception that you spend your whole time finding fossils.

"I do love field work – it's more that I spend a great deal of time studying ones that have already been dug up.

"There’s also this idea that once we find a specimen, we lock it away in a cabinet somewhere. In fact, 52 new dinosaurs are described every year."

"Described", she says, is re-labelling specimens already in collections.

"We're still learning so much all the time, there is always more to discover," she adds, with infectious enthusiasm.

Dinosaur With Stephen Fry is on Channel 5, starting Sunday night, at 7pm.

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