Fascinating footage of the famous pet lion of Pinner has been found.
The footage, courtesy of newsreel archive, British Pathé, shows Rota the lion in the garden of Pinner resident, George Thompson, in 1940.
The footage shows that Mr Thompson and his wife had a ‘Beware Lion’ sign on the entrance of their garden, yet the voiceover says: “A warning isn’t necessary, really, as according to Mr George Thompson, his owner, Rota is one of the tamest lions imaginable.”
Further footage shows Rota, who is caged, playing with Mrs Thompson and the ball she has in her hand.
Mr Thompson won Rota, who was born in a circus in 1938, in a bet when the lion was only a few months old.
Despite his calm nature, residents complained about Rota when meat rationing was introduced in 1940 – but this was no means the end of the road for the Pinner-raised beast and his adopted father, Mr Thompson.
The Pinner resident presented Rota to the London Zoo, where he quickly became a star attraction.
According to Piers Brendon’s book, Churchill’s Bestiary: His Life Through Animals, Mr Thompson urged that Rota be passed on to the ‘lionhearted’ Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as a gift.
On January 27, 1943, a member of the zoo’s council wrote to Churchill’s secretary, explaining that he was afraid he was withholding a gift that belonged to the Prime Minister, but was also reluctant to plague him with an unwanted gift.
But the gift was very much wanted – Churchill accepted ownership of Rota – albeit, he wanted him to stay in the zoo’s care.
His comment: “Situations may arise in which I have great need for it”, may well have been wry humour, but the fierce politician did later threaten to feed a private secretary to Rota, saying: “Meat is very short now.”
Chruchill later visited Rota in a famous trip. The lion went on to have four cubs in the enclosure.