Once the star of his own successful cartoon strip Bogart had it all, then lost everything. Was his downfall his own doing, or his cartoonist's? Read the full story as told by the cat himself.
That’s when I punched the air and went “YYYYESSSSSSSSSSS!”
"Bogart" spent 10 years at Today and became a mainstay of the paper. It also made me a celebrity which I'm glad to say never went to my head. Okay I was a bit naughty at times but never rude or offensive. And I was always in on time, thanks to Pete.
Two other strips that got their start at Today were "Dilbert" an offbeat take on life in an office of cubicles and "Footrot Flats" about a New Zealand farmer and his sheep dog which I have to admit was funny.
Besides me, other rising stars who joined the paper were columnist and TV presenter Anne Robinson, agony aunt Claire Rayner, political columnist Alistair Campbell, gossip columnist Amanda Platell, editorial cartoonist Dave Gaskill and astrologer Jonathan Cainer. Later I was also signed by The Sunday Times for its new colour comics section "The Funday Times".
Alas one afternoon we got bad news. Although the paper was selling half a million copies a day it wasn’t making a profit and so, on November 17, 1995, it closed. It’s main rival, the Daily Mail, keen to attract the ex-Today readers, picked up “Bogart” but suddenly, giving no reason, dropped it three months later. Pete and I believe the editors thought the strip was a tad too risqué for the conservative Daily Mail and decided to get rid of it. However, after receiving hundreds of letters (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) from readers complaining about my disappearance they reinstated me. After that, Pete and I began an uneasy struggle to keep my adventures flirtatious, fresh and frisky, but not too risky, er, risqué.
The rest of the Daily Mail’s cartoon page was anything but risqué. Or even funny. The world-famous “Peanuts” had become tired and repetitive probably because of the failing health of its creator, Charles Schultz. “Fred Basset”, a strip about a “cute and lovable” hound dog had been dead boring ever since its creator, Alex Graham, had died in 1991 and another artist had taken over. Another strip ironically titled “I Don’t Believe It” was so lame it made you annoyed for bothering to read it. Pete was constantly saying it was hard to find an original, witty cartoon strip in any newspaper. If you don’t believe it just read this.
“Bogart” ran for five years at the Daily Mail without another incident until one day Pete got a phone call from the cartoon editor of the Mail’s main rival, the Daily Express, inviting him to lunch. They met and after some small talk over a glass of Beaujolais, the editor cut to the chase. “How would you feel about moving “Bogart” over to the Express?” he said. “We would definitely make it worth your while” which I”m pretty sure was a reference to money.
Even I knew the Daily Express's circulation had been falling for some time and, aside from the money, the thought of me, a cat, singlehandedly saving a national newspaper from reader-less oblivion appealed to my modest ego. Besides, it might be a move to a paper where I could be my bodacious, risqué self again!
Pete accepted the proposition and went home to write a letter of resignation to the Daily Mail.
Two days later Pete’s 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?”
I knew I was a pain in the Daily Mail's butt. But I also knew it was a pain they didn't want relieved by losing me, "Britain’s best-loved cat" as they put it in a headline on the front page the day I started, to their biggest rival. Especially after their eminent astrologer, Jonathan Cainer, also an import from Today, had himself just been poached by the same paper!
So, persuaded with an offer of a lucrative new contract and assured of more creative freedom, Pete agreed to keep me at the Daily Mail. But I’m ashamed to admit the decision didn’t make us any friends at the Daily Express.
A few months passed, the Daily Express matter died down and Pete and I got back to work. Then one morning Pete got another call from the Mail’s editor who was again brief and to the point. “We’ve decided to replace ‘Bogart’ with a strip called ‘Garfield’ and it starts Monday.”
Even though Pete and I knew it had no class “Garfield” was the biggest selling cartoon strip in the world riding on a tsunami of merchandise and two feature films and when it became available (methinks, for some strange reason, it was dropped by the Daily Express) the Daily Mail pounced on it. We also knew no amount of angry readers’ letters would change the editor’s mind this time.
After Pete signed an agreement not to offer “Bogart” to another newspaper the Daily Mail paid his contract in full and on November 3, 2001, after 21 years of harassing newspaper editors, I, Bogart T. Wilkins, idolised by millions (okay, thousands) (well, okay, quite a few), who only ever wanted a soft bean bag to lie in, a silent cat flap to slip through at midnight, a warm car bonnet to lie in the sun on, a few daily slices of smoked salmon and the odd tummy-tickle, retired from the catwalk forever.