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Cat and Mouse

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

Animator Malt Whisky with the first iteration of the character who was to become "Brian". Whisky concluded that Rattigan was not the catchiest name.

Such is the cultural ubiquity and general acceptance of the cartoon characters Brian and Shelley that it is hard for the younger generation to realise how near to failure the Dewlish Animation Studios came when, in 1957, they first tried to launch the characters into an unexpectant and uncomprehending world. The brainchild of chief animator Malt Whisky, the world's number one cat and mouse duo [the phrase "playing cat and mouse" derives from the series] were not well received at the pilot's try out [Compton Abbas Animation Festival 1957] and plans for an initial twelve episodes were put on hold pending a serious rethink.

Whisky who was to go on to make many of the worlds most loved short and feature-length cartoons first considered the idea of a cartoon featuring sparring animals in 1955, shortly after witnessing fights between territorial rodents in the family's ramshackle home in Shitterton. The Whiskys - the black sheep of the Whisky-McNightly family who had been disowned two generations previously after falsely claiming to be practising 24th Day Advent-Calendarists - lived in straightened circumstances, 30-year-old Malt Senior having suffered badly from the after-effects of the Second World War during which he had seen action in the Marnhull Public Transport Division. 5-year-old Malt Junior witnessed the effects of family estrangement, marital strife and rodent infestation on a daily basis and this, together with an over-active imagination [inherited from his mother], led him to exorcise his anxieties in cartoon-based activity.

His first attempt at a feline character resulted in Rattigan, by most people's reckoning a strange name for a cat. After giving him a mouse with which to spar, Rattigan and Terence arrived on the scene and the idea was taken up with modest enthusiasm by the fledgeling Dewlish Animation Studios then looking for a vehicle through which it could break into the newly lucrative children's' TV market. Following the disappointing Compton Abbas outing, DAR asked Whisky to - literally - go back to the drawing board and, after adding glasses and a moustache to Rattigan and transforming Terence into Shelley, a female mouse, the series we now know and love as Brian and Shelley was born. Sponsorship from Threadbone Heavy Chemicals via its Golden Brian's advertising campaign followed in 1960 and, more than 600 episodes and a million laughs later, it is still delighting audiences everywhere. With a retrospective planned at this year's Threadbone Primavera Festival, institutional recognition is also within reach - some achievement for two unlikely heroes and their misfit creator. So it's a Happy 60th Birthday to Brian and Shelley and a "thanks a million" to Malt.

Brian and Shelley - the duelling duo known to and loved by children and adults everywhere.

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