What’s that, Skippy? The dog from Brooklyn Nine-Nine has died? Awww

It’s a dog’s life being an animal actor, but they’re the real stars of my fave telly shows

This week came the sad news that "Stewart", the canine actor who played Brooklyn Nine-Nine's resident corgi Cheddar, had died. Stewart had a quiet, fluffy dignity despite being dubbed "a furry little pig" on the show (unfairly – all he'd done was eat an unattended wedding cake).

He was very good at his job. I certainly believed he was a corgi owned by Captain Raymond Holt of the 99th precinct and not, in fact, a trained actor. He was a very good boy. And now he's in doggy heaven or, in case the charismatic pooch was an atheist (we have to be so politically correct nowadays), doggy hell.

All my favourite television comfort watches feature furry bit parts. There’s Edward the bulldog on Batman-prequel Gotham, and Ferguson the cat on flat-share LOLfest New Girl. I think it’s great that television producers throw in a little something for any pets that might be watching. My cat could certainly do with more positive role models. She’s fallen in with a bad crowd of late (specifically: my wife). “Look at how well-behaved Cheddar is being,” I regularly say to her, but she just glowers at me and continues to rip up the couch (the cat, not my wife). So, inspired by Cheddar’s passing, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s column to the animals of television.

The workshy beasts of Blue Peter
There have been nine dogs, nine cats, five tortoises and two parrots in the history of the BBC's Blue Peter. Not to be a downer, but most of them are dead. This is actually true of most animals you encounter on television. "Cats of the past," my wife says sadly whenever a cat appears in an old film. "Long dead," she adds and I have to cover our cat's ears.


The main problem I had with the animals of Blue Peter was that, apart from the moments when they were teaching British children about the existential terrors of mortality or the horrific wonders of dogbirth, they didn’t have real jobs. They just loafed around the studio being cute. As a child citizen of an agrarian nation who preferred animals to be productive, I could never quite get behind this. It drove my father mad. “Why isn’t that dog pulling a plough!?” he would cry. “Why isn’t that cat in a pie!? What do those colouredy crows even taste like? Tortoises are a fruit, not an animal!” All still valid points, I think you’ll agree.

The dog from That's Life who could say "sausages"
Charismatic as the talking dog who appeared on Esther Rantzen's consumer affairs programme was, he was just more evidence of British decadence as far as I was concerned. Oh, you can say "sausages", can you? Well, comparable Irish animals were either sausages themselves or were used to herd sausages in from their hilltop eyries (we called pigs "sausages" when I was young). On the plus side, the dog from That's Life who said "sausages" was one of the few Britons I ever saw who bothered to acquire a second language, and so, in this era of Brexit, I salute his internationalism.

Leo the lion from the MGM logo
There have been, in total, seven different lions hired to announce, through a circular frame, an impending Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature on your telly. The best and longest-serving, however, was Leo the Lion, a local boy made good who was born and bred in Dublin Zoo and has been used by MGM since 1957. "Howya!" he roared through a circular frame as we chuckled with glee. "Howya, indeed!" we would roar back in appreciation. It was rare to see our lives reflected back at us in the 1980s.

Flipper/Skippy/The Littlest Hobo
Skippy (played by nine different animal actors) was a type of Australian marsupial called, I believe, a "jump-squirrel", and he was forever rescuing people from helicopter crashes and pyramid schemes and awkward conversations at parties.

The Littlest Hobo (a dog named London) was a gruff transient who fomented labour disputes and broke the blacklist.

Flipper (David Suchet) was a crime-fighting dolphin. "Tkk tkkk tkk," he would say in his foreign accent, before gathering everyone in the drawing room to reveal who the real murderer was (I might be getting Flipper mixed up with Poirot).

Flipper would wear special robot legs so he could wander about out of the sea

These bestial SJWs had everything going for them. They had jobs. They were popular with children. They’re also due a revival if I have anything to say about it (and I do almost annually), in a team-up called Team Skippy in which they travel the world together fighting crime (Flipper would wear special robot legs so he could wander about out of the sea).

Tales from the Riverbank
I know what the more scientifically-minded among you are thinking. You're thinking, "Hmm, but what if we raised these animals like humans and gave them specialised roles and responsibilities?" This question was explored in Tales from the Riverbank, in which we got to see hamsters and guinea pigs wandering around miniature towns and driving miniature vehicles, speaking in a pitiful mimickry of man. It was disturbing. The animals got very stressed out. Most of them ended up checking themselves into a clinic or writing sideways-look-at-life columns for Sunday broadsheets. Nowadays, Tales from the Riverbank is called "Twitter".

Socio-realist animals
David Attenborough is the Mike Leigh of animal television. Unlike Look Who's Talking Now! or The Lion King, his films strive for realism. Do you want to see an unemployed penguin crushed beneath the weight of late capitalism (represented by a huge seal), or a gazelle with a drink problem (every time he tries to take a drink a lion tries to eat him, which is certainly a problem), or all animals engaged in a Thatcherite fight for survival (nature)? Then check out his excellent documentaries. David Attenborough truly is a friend of man and beast alike.

Paw Patrol
Okay, this one takes my dogs-with-jobs fetish a little too far. Paw Patrol is what we now use to calm hyperactive children in lieu of gripe water and laudanum, but it is, let's face it, a neo-liberal vision of hell in which the emergency services have been outsourced to the private sector and puppy labour laws have been relaxed. Is that really what we want? Picture a velvet paw stomping on a human face, forever.

Judge from Wanderly Wagon
That's more like it. A dog with a real public sector job! When I was young, Judge was a spokesdog for road safety, and I loved him with his foppish scarf, penetrating (goggley) eyes and soft, kind woof. I would do anything for Judge. If you want to manipulate me into doing something nefarious, just make an advertisement in which Judge instructs me to do it. Seriously, I'd flip faster than the Manchurian candidate or a Trump staffer.

Now, there are some Wanderly Wagon truthers out there who say that Judge wasn't a dog at all, but was just a man's arm. Those people have no poetry in their souls. Next they'll be saying that my cat, who admittedly looks like a fluffy sock with cardboard triangles for ears, is just my wife's arm. That's just ridiculous and it would mean that everything I know is a lie. The cat just likes to sit next to her, that's all. That's all.