BOGART THE STORY
|He was a rogue and a philanderer who did his diabolical best to disrupt the daily lives of everyone in the neighbourhood including the two ditzy-but-adorable girls he shared a house with in a cartoon strip I created in 1980 called Roz which ran for six years in the Scottish Daily Record. His name was Bogart and physiologically he was a cat.
I enjoyed doing Roz for the Daily Record but was keen to get the strip to have a bigger audience so when I heard a new national daily newspaper called Today was about to be launched in the UK I decided to have a shot at getting Roz into it. I knew it would be a long one so I came up with a clever plan.
First I found out where Today’s offices were located and who the editor was. Then, wearing dungarees and a baseball cap and carrying my strips as well as well as a few tools in a tool box, I walked through the front door and up to the reception desk where I was met by a security guard.
“Yes mate”, said the guard looking up from his newspaper.
“Telephone installation. Mr MacArthur’s office”, I replied nonchalantly (for it was Brian MacArthur, the respected Fleet Street journalist, who was Today’s newly appointed editor).
“Sign here”, he said pointing to a visitors’ book. “Second floor.”
I walked into the lift (it should have been up the stairs, I know, but this was no time to be thinking about fitness) and emerged into a vast, bright room full of people working at desks and dashing around probably getting the first issue of the paper ready. I asked someone where I could find the editor's office and was directed to a door with a handwritten sign saying 'MacArthur' stuck on it. The door was partially open and the room was devoid of persons so went in, opened my toolbox and tried to look busy while waiting for the arrival of Brian MacArthur.
After about 20 minutes and just as I was starting to think he might not show up, a man wearing red braces, rolled up sleeves, a loosened tie and looking a lot like a newspaper editor strode through the door and sat down at the desk. I focussed my attention on a wire running along the skirting board.
“Nice day if she doesn’t rain”, I remarked casually, fiddling with the wire. “Yeah, I s’pose”, he replied, looking into a drawer.
It may have seemed like trivial small talk but that brief exchange gave me the opportunity I was looking for. Leaping to my feet I went into my presentation.
“Mr MacArthur, this is not a telephone engineer you see before you but the creator of the most original cartoon strip ever put before an editor! A cartoon strip abounding with vitality, energy and humour! A cartoon strip that will attract thousands, maybe millions, of readers to your newspaper sending its circulation soaring and leaving rival papers in its wake!”
With that, I went over to my toolbox took out my Roz cartoons and plopped them down on his desk.
For a few seconds time stood still. Then, slowly and deliberately and one by one, he picked up the cartoons and read them, finally, with tears of laughter streaming down his face, declaring it was the best cartoon strip he has ever seen and would like to sign it there and then for Today.
Except that’s not what he did. He just looked blankly at me and said “I’m not Brian MacArthur but if you want I’ll pass these over to him in the morning”.
The next day my phone rang and upon answering it I heard a man’s voice. “Is this Peter the telephone engineer?” With some embarrassment I replied it was. “This is Brian MacArthur at Today”, he continued. “I like your Roz strip but before we talk about running it can I ask if you would make a small adjustment?”
“Sure. No problem”, I replied apprehensively. “What is it?”
“Make the cat the main character and call the strip Bogart”.
Bogart spent nearly ten years at Today and became a mainstay of the paper. Unshackled by fear of losing readers (They didn’t have any to begin with!) Today could publish cartoon strips, for example, that were fresh and innovative rather than bland and innocuous. Two other successful strips that got their start at Today were Dilbert, a cubicle satire on office life, and Footrot Flats, the funniest cartoon creation to ever come out of New Zealand.
Other notable contributors to Today were columnist and TV presenter Anne Robinson, agony aunt Claire Rayner, political columnist Alistair Campbell, journalist Amanda Platell, editorial cartoonist Dave Gaskill and astrologer Jonathan Cainer. Bogart was later signed by the Sunday Times for its new comics section The Funday Times.
Although during the early 1990s Today was selling half a million copies a day it wasn't making a profit and so, on 17th November 1995, it closed. It’s rival, the Daily Mail, keen to attract ex-Today readers picked up the homeless Bogart but dropped him three months later because, I suspect, they thought the strip was too racy (Bogart was known to partake in the occasional romantic encounter). To my surprise the paper received many letters inquiring about Bogart’s disappearance whereupon, somewhat reluctantly, they reinstated him and I began an uneasy struggle to keep the strip fresh, frisky and funny not too *racy.
The rest of the Daily Mail’s cartoon page was anything but racy. Once great strips Peanuts, once a world beater, had become tired, repetitive and mundane with the failing health of Charles Shulz its creator. Fred Basset, an engaging strip about a lovable hound dog, had been dead boring since its creator Alex Graham, had died and another artist had taken over. A strip based on a family with a cantankerous older father obscurely titled I Don’t Believe It was inane, bland and humourles. Another strip, Up and Running, about two flat sharing, working girls was funny but only on the days the artist, the renowned Gray Joliffe, not the writer, wrote the gag. In fact, with the exception of Hagar the Horrible in the Sun, a strip featuring a red-bearded viking warrior and his nagging wife you could not find a good, original, offbeat cartoon strip in any of the UK Newspapers ! Read what this guy in The Week magazine thinks.
Bogart spent five years at the Daily Mail without another incident. Then one day I got a phone call from the cartoon editor of the paper’s main rival, the Daily Express, who invited me to have lunch with him. I accepted and we met next day. After we small-talked over a couple of glasses of Beaujolais he cut to the chase “How would you feel about moving Bogart over to the Express? We would (ahem) definitely make it worth your while.”
It was no secret that the Daily Express's circulation had been falling for some time and the thought of the world’s greatest newspaper, as the Daily Express liked to call itself, being saved from descending into readerless oblivion by Bogart the cat appealed to me. Besides, he would be moving to a paper where, I was assured, he could be his bodacious and racy self. I accepted the proposition and went home to write my letter of resignation to the Daily Mail.
Two days later my phone rang. It was the editor of the Daily Mail. He was brief and to the point. “How much do you want to keep Bogart at the Mail?”
Although Bogart was a thorn in their side he was a thorn with a following and the Mail did not want to lose him to their biggest rival. Especially after Jonathan Cainer, their eminent astrologer who had, like Bogart, joined the Mail from Today a few years before, had just been poached by the same paper!
Persuaded with an and offer of a lucrative new contract and reassurance of more creative freedom I agreed to keep Bogart at the Daily Mail. But I’m ashamed to admit the decision didn’t make me any friends at the Daily Express.
A few months passed, the Daily Express incident died away, then one morning I got another call from the Daily Mail's editor who was again brief. “We’ve decided to replace Bogart with another strip, he said "It's called Garfield. It starts Monday.”
They were right of course, Why pay a whole lot of money for a troublesome, too-racy, disloyal little butt-pain when for peanuts you could run the biggest cartoon strip in the world? I knew this time any letters from readers would not change the editor’s mind this time.
The Daily Mail paid my contract in full on the condition that I did not sell the strip to another national newspaper and on the 3rd of November 2001, after 21 years of harassing neighbours and newspaper editors, Bogart, rogue, philanderer, lover of bebop, football, smoked salmon, a warm car bonnet and a silent cat flap, ran his last.