Date of Birth: April 11 1928, Streatham, South London, UK
Birth Name: Nigel Stanley Ellis Martin
Nicknames: Nigel Martin
Nigel Martin, was the first general manager of Chessington World of Adventures, the Surrey theme park that has been a place of family entertainment since the late 1980s.
The original Chessington Zoo had opened in 1931, and after the war it was taken over by the Pearson Publishing Company; from 1978 it was managed by the Pearson subsidiary the Tussauds Group. Attendances, however, were declining, and in the 1980s one of the Tussauds designers, John Wardley, was asked to come up with ideas to revitalise the place. It was decided to open a theme park alongside the zoo, and Chessington World of Adventures was the result. Launched in 1987 , it featured attractions such as Dragon Falls, the monorail Safari Skyway, the roller-coaster Runaway Mine Train and the “dark ride” Fifth Dimension.
Martin had been appointed general manager in 1980, and was ideally suited for the task: as a former Royal Marines officer, he had an ability to organise people, while his passion for wildlife had been reinforced by six years’ working in South Africa. He felt strongly that zoos should have a purpose, that endangered species should be protected and nurtured; but he also appreciated that zoos could do this only if they attracted sufficient revenue.
The son of a colonel in the Indian Army, Nigel Stanley Ellis Martin was born in Streatham, south London, on April 11 1928 and educated at Wellington. On leaving school at 17 he was commissioned in the Royal Marines, going on to serve with 42 and 45 Commando in Korea, Suez and during the Konfrontasi in Indonesia. In Borneo he rescued a baby bear which had been caught in a trap and took it back to Singapore, where it lived with his family for two years before being put into the care of the RAF and subsequently of Singapore Zoo.
Martin reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and served as Amphibious Operations and Plans Officer on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic before taking early retirement at the age of 45. He then emigrated to South Africa, where he worked for the South African Sugar Association as manager of its multiracial training centre at Mt Edgecombe, a suburb of Durban . In the early 1970s there were some in power in South Africa who already suspected that the system of apartheid was ultimately unsustainable, and this training centre was the first in the country in which people of all races were trained under the same roof and in the same circumstances. Martin ran it for six years, and is commemorated by Nigel Martin Place, a street in Mt Edgecombe.
While in South Africa, he also served on the board of the Wilderness Leadership School alongside Ian Player, brother of the golfer Gary Player, and would escort groups of students or businessmen on expeditions into the bush; they carried their own food and spent the night in the open in sleeping bags. These trips could be hazardous: on one occasion Martin and a group of students were charged by a rhinoceros and escaped only by climbing into some nearby trees.
After retiring from Chessington in 1992, Martin continued to serve on the boards of Marwell Zoo (now Marwell Wildlife) in Hampshire and of the Royal Marine Museum. He and his family settled at Abinger Common in Surrey.
In his youth Martin was a considerable all-round sportsman, playing hockey for the Royal Marines and rugby for United Services, Portsmouth, and representing the Navy in both polo and the British Pentathlon. He also enjoyed hunting, point-to-pointing and yachting. But wildlife was always his overriding passion.