Sunday, April 14, 2024

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG [444]

Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

When I was writing about Bugs Bunny last time, I knew I would have to come back to the use of drag because, having seen these cartoons all my life, the use of drag by any Looney Tunes character just becomes something you expect – like it is part of Bugs’ arsenal, so it could be of anyone.

But after re-watching so many Bugs Bunny cartoons in the last few weeks is seeing how, I can now fully appreciate how Bugs has become a queer icon. I had an initial wariness about how drag is essentially being used as part of a deception, but in the universe of the cartoons, it seems to come so natural to Bugs, and works so effectively. This is what happens with any media: everything present in the material has to be considered.

Then I saw the 2003 film “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” – I don’t know how I let it pass me. In a restaurant scene, Jenna Elfman, playing Warner Bros’ vice president of comedy, puts it to Bugs that he should be paired with “a hot, female character”. Spinning into Marilyn Monroe-like garb, Bugs tells her “usually, I play the female love interest.” The response: “About the cross-dressing thing: in the past funny, today, disturbing.” Thankfully, Bugs’ reply is perfect: “Lady, if you don’t find a rabbit with lipstick amusing, you and I have nothing to say to each other.” How’s that for a movie studio’s mascot?

The opposition in this scene was also present fifty years earlier: the 1952 Merry Melodies cartoon “Rabbit Seasoning”, directed by Chuck Jones with a story by Michael Maltese, the middle instalment of what became the “hunting trilogy” – “rabbit season!”, “duck season!” and so on. While the set-up appears to be Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck confusing Elmer into shooting the other, Elmer becomes another tool for Bugs to thwart Daffy – if Bugs is in the cartoon, he is the star.

Towards the cartoon’s end, as Elmer points his rifle into a rabbit hole saying “OK, come on out, I’ve got you covered”, Bugs rises up from the hole, as if in an elevator, dressed in drag, carrying an umbrella and a book – as Bugs walks to a log to read the book, Elmer follows, seduced by what he sees. An incredulous Daffy walks in, declaiming “surely, you’re not gonna be taken in by that old gag”. Elmer replies “isn’t she lovely?” Daffy stamps over to Bugs: “Out of sheer honesty, I demand that you tell him who you are. Well, haven’t you anything to say? Anything?” Bugs put his book down and says, in a feminine voice while cosying up to Elmer, “why yes, I would just love a duck dinner.” Kissing him, Elmer stumbles over to Daffy and shoots his beak off for the umpteenth time. 

Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

Audiences would have been amazed to see this much in 1952, even in a cartoon context. The Motion Picture Production Code, known as the Hays Code, introduced in 1934, does not specifically mention anything in a cartoon context, but it does state that “Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden” – this would be hanged in 1961 to “Restraint and care shall be exercised in presentations dealing with sex aberrations.” The Hays Code was also very clear that representation in film could not be given the latitude that you would in a book: “A book describes; a film vividly presents. One presents on a cold page; the other by apparently living people. A book reaches the mind through words merely; a film reaches the eyes and ears through the reproduction of actual events. The reaction of a reader to a book depends largely on the keenness of the reader’s imagination; the reaction to a film depends on the vividness of presentation.” So, because the Code made clear that “Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing”, and that “Adultery and illicit sex, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated or justified, or presented attractively,” any depictions that come even close to these should be seen to be punished.

Back to “Rabbit Seasoning”. After apologising for suspecting their integrity, Daffy rips Bugs’ wig off, pointing and saying “ah-HAH! Now’s your chance, hawk eye, shoot him, shoot him!” Rubbing off lipstick, Bugs says “he’s got me bang to rights doc, would you like to shoot him here, or wait till you get home”, as repeat of the “pronoun trouble” Daffy falls for at the start of the cartoon. Daffy replies, “oh no, not this time”, telling Elmer “Wait till you get home. They walk home, and Elmer shoots Daffy there. Walking back, putting his beak back into place one final time, Daffy tells Bugs, “You’re despicable”. Bugs shrugs to the camera – end of cartoon.

For what it’s worth, “Rabbit Seasoning” does not appear to have an MPAA rating, presumably because it was passed for exhibition in 1952. The British Board of Film Classification gives it a “U”, adding “Contains mild cartoon violence”, presumably centred on the rightfully outwitted Daffy’s beak.

Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

Sunday, April 7, 2024

ON WITH THE SHOW, THIS IS IT [443]

from "Bully for Bugs" (1953)

“What makes me fulfilled and able to bring my best self to work?”

“I think I perceive this the other way around - I am always as good a person as I can be upon arriving at work, the battle is how much of that remains by the end of the day. Think of it as a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where they are living their best life until someone does something to threaten it.”

Never ask me to answer an open question on a form – you are only inviting me to write. Having said that, my reply most importantly generated laughter, and was understood immediately. Bugs bunny has a way with words too, more about how they are said, that I wish I could emulate.

Similarly, Bugs Bunny has to be provoked into action, although I know, being a cartoon character, he is substantially stronger than me. Therefore, his adversaries must be stronger still, not easily beaten and worthy of the challenge, as delineated by Bugs’ frequent director Charles M. “Chuck” Jones in his memoirs “Chuck Amuck” (1989) and “Chuck Reducks” (1996), both invaluable in understanding the art of animation. In the former book, Jones understood the character he refined with fellow Warner Bros directors Fred “Tex” Avery (who added the Bronx-Brooklyn accent and “what’s up doc?” catchphrase), Robert “Bob” Clampett, Isadore “Friz” Freleng and Robert “Robert” McKimson:

“A wild wild hare was not for me; what I needed was character with the spicy, somewhat erudite introspection of a Professor Higgins, who, when nettled or threatened, would respond with the swagger of D'Artagnan as played by Errol Flynn, with the articulate quick-wittedness of Dorothy Parker – in other words, the Rabbit of my dreams.”

To that end, Bugs Bunny was an “inspiration” for who Jones wanted to be, with the unsuccessful schemer Daffy Duck serving as “recognition” for who he was. In “Chuck Reducks”, Jones noted that, in his cartoons, Bugs’ enemies were generally larger than him, with Elmer Fudd’s gun making him larger; Freleng, as the creator of Yosemite Sam, had enemies smaller in stature; but McKimson, whose final character sheet around 1949 defined Bugs’ look from then on, took on Avery’s wilder additions to Bugs’ character, with unpredictability and changes in mood, plus “plant[ing] a very combative kiss on an adversary’s face”, which Charlie Chaplin did in his 1916 short film “The Floorwalker”.


Bugs’ use of drag, knowing his adversary would then underestimate the character presented in front of them, was another part of his arsenal: “his wits are his basic weapon; he tries to avoid physical conflict when possible, believing that almost all contretemps can be solved with intelligence and humo[u]r.” I'll have more to say about this at another time.


There are times when, confronted with something someone has said or done, or reading or watching a news story, my response has been, “oh, here we go”, or “so we’re doing that now, are we?” Fortunately, I usually turn that response into a structured and considered article, instead of going on social media, where real life doesn’t exist anyway, looking for a fight. However, the moment you impact me directly, then of course, you realise, this means war.


from "Long-Haired Hare" (1949)

Sunday, March 31, 2024

SAY HELLO, WAVE GOODBYE [442]


“A locally-oriented music and information station for over 30s in the Solent and adjacent area” is the baldest of descriptions for Wave 105.2 FM, but this was the service it was licenced to broadcast, playing “a spread of adult contemporary and soft adult contemporary hits and treating speech as an important ingredient”. The licence was originally more specific on the music and features broadcast, including percentages to be met for speech content and “current hits”, but these were later relaxed.

 

What made Wave 105, “the South’s best variety of hits”, the most popular commercial radio station in its area – in the last quarter of December 2023, it received 405,000 listeners each week aged 15+, with a 13.9% share of listening, both figures more than twice that of BBC Radio Solent, which plays to an older audience – was the imagination used in how that licence was interpreted. All of its programmes came from its studio base in Fareham, Hampshire, made by friendly, engaging and long-serving presenters and staff, who both lived in, and are knowledgeable about, the area they serve. Listening one day, Steve Power, who presented the breakfast show on the station for nearly eighteen years, asked a listener what their day was like. They told him they had been on, of all things, a crisis management course, to which Power replied, “how do you think that went?” I may have interpreted a genuine question as a punchline, but I have remembered it ever since.

 

Its curated and varied playlist was wide enough to encompass shifts from 1960s and 70s songs to current chart hits and back again, along “Golden Hours” in the morning and evening which, as far as I’ve heard, reached as far back as 1959, and amongst the weekend evening disco and dance shows was “Teenage Kicks”, concentrating on the New Wave of the late 70s to early 80s, which must have inspired the similar “Stereo Underground" on BBC Radio Solent. And each daytime hour featuring at least two of a listener’s top five favourite songs, that listener being added to a monthly draw to win a holiday, a feature that lasted for the station’s entire history. Add in frequent and comprehensive news bulletins, travel news and features across its schedule, and Wave 105 made for the prime example of Independent Local Radio, providing a full service to the local area.

 

Another way of interpreting the same station licence is to provide the local news and information as opt-outs of a network that broadcasts a similar mix of music to other stations. This has already happened to the competitors that sat either side of Wave 105’s music mix: Ocean FM (classic hits) became Heart, and Power FM (current hits) became Galaxy, then Capital FM, most of its output relayed from London. A Media Bill currently making its way through Parliament will eventually do away with prescriptive licences altogether, in favour of reducing “red tape”, maintaining elements of “localness” and reducing weekday hours that must be made regionally from a minimum of three to zero.

 

On Wednesday 28th February 2024, station owners Bauer Radio announced that Wave 105’s frequency would soon start carrying Greatest Hits Radio – newer songs would eventually be dropped from the playlist, with listeners advised to tune to the sister Hits Radio network to hear those, and the earworm jingles that sang “Wave 105” descending G-F-E-C notes to sing the station name, something that never changed since first going on air on 14th June 1998, were replaced by reminders that “Greatest Hits Radio is the new name for Wave 105”. On the night of the announcement, the playlist told a different story: “Love’s Unkind”, “I Wanna Stay With You”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”, “Scandalous”, “Please Don’t Go”, “Even Better Than the Real Thing”, “Nothing Loves Forever”, “U Can’t Touch This”...

 

The hallmark of a great music radio station is the curation of its playlist, and under Andy Shier, its programme controller since 2008, Wave 105 proved that a playlist as wide as listeners’ tastes could work in practice, and even with presenters playing songs they felt fit the moment, hearing the playlist gain sentience in what became its last hours of broadcasting, on Thursday 28th March, became a truly moving experience, let alone switching on just after 7.00am to Chesney Hawkes’ “I Am the One and Only”: “You try to make me forget / Who I really am, don’t tell me I know best / I’m not the same as all the rest.” In the final minutes before 10pm, Wave 105’s male station voice, Rich Cope, opened the door to his Greatest Hits Radio counterpart, Rik Scott, before Cope said, “but, before I go, just two little things: good luck, Greatest Hits Radio, and take care of our lovely listeners, won’t you – they’ll be in safe hands”, before playing “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” by Soft Cell, a wonderful song with a perfect title and spectacularly bitter lyrics. 

 

With the sound of waves washing on the shore, one of the best radio stations I have ever heard had ended. I may try Greatest Hits Radio: Rick Jackson’s breakfast show continues, a unique concession for the network’s English stations, with Mark Collins moving to the same afternoon slot he had when he began at Wave 105, but whether these shows continue when radio licences are simplified is another question. However, Greatest Hits Radio was already available on DAB, if not FM, and I would already have been listening if that was what I wanted to hear. Perhaps Andy Shier could release his old playlists as a PDF download.

 

I had originally intended to write about the BBC preparing to launch its biggest-ever consultation on its future, including what role a public service broadcaster plays in public life, and how that should be funded. All the while, Wave 105, a commercial station that ultimately exists to make a profit, provided a service that served its local audience as good as expected from the BBC, if not better, but there was no longer a regulatory reason for it to exist, no matter how popular it was – for its owners, freed from red tape, relaying a national network was all the imagination they had.

 

The final two hours of Wave 105 had the following playlist:

Andrew Gold - Lonely Boy

Laura Branigan - Gloria

Phil Collins - Another Day in Paradise

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - I Love Rock and Roll

ABBA - Dancing Queen

Destiny’s Child - Survivor

Tears for Fears - Change

Modern Romance - Best Years of Our Lives

Aswad - Baby I Love Your Way

Billy Joel - We Didn’t Start the Fire

UB40 - Food for Thought

Eagles - Lyin’ Eyes

Elton John - Healing Hands

Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours

Level 42 - To Be With You Again

Sister Sledge - We Are Family

Village People - You Can’t Stop the Music

Gloria Gaynor - Never Can Say Goodbye

Lenny Kravitz - It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over (ironically also the first song played on the station)

Soft Cell - Say Hello, Wave Goodbye 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

AND NOTHING TO GET HUNG ABOUT [441]


I found myself rediscovering the sitcom “Seinfeld” recently, an incredibly easy thing to do following a multi-year, multi-national deal with Netflix keeping it constantly on demand, but the high-definition widescreen transfer made from the original Super 16 film is far away from when the show was little known in the UK, when it was found only late at night on TV, and later in DVD box sets.

 

Created by Jerry Seinfeld and long-time friend Larry David from conversations about the small things in life that make a stand-up routine, creating a rich and relatable seam for stories usually avoided by other sitcoms to that point, “Seinfeld” is a sharply written cultural institution in the United States, and perhaps the greatest live-action sitcom ever made there, the existence of “The Simpsons” providing that necessary qualifier. Set in the Upper West Side of New York, to the left of Central Park, Jerry Seinfeld plays a less-famous version of himself, a central point around which most events happen; Jason Alexander plays George Costanza, a Larry David analogue played as a ball of insecurities; Julia Louis-Dreyfus is Elaine Benes, Jerry’s smart and hot-tempered ex-girlfriend who successfully became a regular friend; and Michael Richards plays Kramer, Jerry’s unpredictable “hipster doofus” neighbour. I feel most people might already be aware of the set-up of “Seinfeld” by now, but I once had to explain the show to people who had never heard of it.

 

The outlandish plots and characters the show often used in pursuit of the biggest laugh is testament to my belief that saying something is based on a true story means nothing, despite the real-life experiences of the show’s writers making their way into episodes. I also find it an easier watch than the later shows that mine their humour from uncomfortable situations, like “The Office” and Larry David’s own “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, almost like the multi-camera filming and studio audience laughter is providing a safe distance to laugh at some of the more excruciating situations, ones that coined euphemisms like “shrinkage”, “sponge-worthy”, “master of my domain” and “...not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

 

What I have been watching the most recently have been the outtakes and bloopers, meticulously preserved on the DVDs and displaying both how much fun the actors and production staff had making the show, and how much Jerry Seinfeld really was playing himself on it. The show recently also spawned its own YouTube channel showing highlights, making me go back to watch the full episodes, while wishing they would release these remastered episodes on Blu-ray.

 

However, “Seinfeld” was probably best described as a “cult hit” in the UK during the BBC’s original broadcast of the show. It first showed up on BBC Two in 1993, on Thursdays at 9pm, on the back of the show’s huge success during its fourth season that contained famous episodes like “The Contest”, “The Bubble Boy” and “The Junior Mint”, as well as the season-long story where Jerry and George pitch a sitcom version of their own lives, a line of dialogue giving rise to the false observation that “Seinfeld” is a show about nothing at all.

 

However, the BBC began their broadcasts of “Seinfeld” from the start, when it was initially slower, more low-key, with fewer, longer scenes, with executives at NBC giving the show time to find itself. Infamously, the original 1989 pilot was followed with a 1990 season of only four episodes, using the budget intended for a Bob Hope special, introducing Elaine as a mandated female character, and a second season of thirteen episodes where Michael Richards started playing Kramer as the smartest man in the room, rather than the dumbest. After the first ten episodes, the BBC Two broadcasts moved to Saturdays around 10pm, slipping closer to midnight by the time the fourth season’s denser, multi-layered and often coincidental and absurdist episodes were finally shown in the UK, by which time it took over from “Cheers” as America’s favourite sitcom. The BBC should have started with the fourth season first.

 

My exposure to “Seinfeld” began in about 1998 with its seventh season of episodes like “The Soup Nazi”, “The Sponge”, “The Gum” and “The Invitations”, where George’s fiancée Susan dies through licking the gum on old envelopes. Relegated to cult status, the show was often used on BBC Two as filler during Parliamentary recess, and reviews of the day’s proceedings were not broadcast. Having only read text summaries of episodes online, and with my having been interested in how sitcoms were written, it had already been impressed on me that “Seinfeld” was a show that needed to be watched – I also found it to be a better show than “Friends”. 

 

Now able to track the BBC’s airing of the show, and through its subsequent reappearance in panel discussions and as a specialist subject on “Mastermind”, you end up realising that the biggest audience Jerry Seinfeld personally had in the UK must have been when he appeared on “Des O’Connor Tonight” in 1981, two years before his debut on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, where he worked his stand-up routines about cars and left-handedness into the conversation, and when he later appeared on “Jasper Carrott – Stand Up America” in 1987, recorded in Los Angeles.

 

The final broadcast of “Seinfeld” on the BBC was in October 2001, three years after it ended its run in America, but before the DVD box sets began to appear. I never kept the VHS recordings I inevitably had to make to see a show past my bedtime, but the memory of it stayed with me long enough to be rekindled on home video. I’m just glad that more people have heard of it now, an odd thing to say about such a famous show.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

YOU ARE EVERYTHING, AND EVERYTHING IS YOU [440]


The Pitt Rivers Museum is the most overwhelming I have experienced to date. Holding around seven hundred thousand objects, most of which are on display, it is a museum of archaeology, anthropology and ethnology: devoted to the study of humanity through its objects, it is the closest I have encountered to a museum of “everything”. It naturally also becomes a museum of museum displays, charting how the acknowledgement and understanding of our past has developed.

Publicly accessed via a single arched doorway at the back of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, despite being of a similar scale, the Pitt Rivers is a grotto of glass cases, more specifically a gigantic room with a hive of cabinets spread through the ground floor, with two mezzanines looking over it. Deciding to start at the top, the lift opened at a display of handguns and rifles, itself facing a wall of rudimentary clubs – spears and harpoons were at the other end of the walkway.


Among the pictures I took while at the museum were a helmet made from the skin of a porcupine fish; packs of various playing cards, displaying the link to the original tarot cards; American Indian headdresses; “a string of Chinese cash”; sword sheaths; boomerangs; Samurai armour; a box of the original table tennis game for which the name “Ping Pong” was trademarked; and various wooden shields, including four painted with depictions of the comic book hero The Phantom. 

Armed with the knowledge of what a Colt .45 looks like, you get a hang of how the museum is organised ethnologically by type of object, aiding comparisons between cultures, rather than simply by time – it feels more like browsing an encyclopaedia, or searching Wikipedia, than reading a history book. Augustus Pitt Rivers, the retired Army officer and archaeologist whose collection formed the basis of the museum, to which others’ expeditions and donations have since contributed, was among the first to insist upon all discovered artefacts being methodically catalogued and preserved for study, rather than just looking for treasure. At the same time, having such a repository for examples of many types of objects that matched when I have bought examples of physical media, like a laser disc or a Sony U-Matic tape, so I could experience them by touch – reading about something is often not enough.


This record-taking developed over time: an ivory harpoon head has its origin and catalogue number written directly on it: “W. Eskimo / P.R. Coll / 1884.20.30”, although a caption under it also specifies its North American origin and leaf-shaped stone blade along with correcting itself to “Inuit” – sometimes the catalogue details is all we know about the item. Knotted tags of handwritten text, and tiny captions of densely-packed text in Times New Roman, eventually gives way to numbered pointers to clearer captions to the side in larger sans-serif fonts like Helvetica and Gill Sans. 

With the density of objects on show, it was inevitable that, unless I sat down for a while, I would start looking past them, or through them, to the construction of their displays – if they had not removed their display of shrunken heads during the pandemic-enforced closure in 2020, part of the efforts in decoloniality that further enhance the understanding of the museum’s objects, I doubt I would have noticed.

My main takeaway from the Pitt Rivers Museum was that I don’t know of anywhere else like it – all that is missing are objects from the present day. There is a feeling of clutter, which was also felt sixty years ago: a proposed new building, designed by Pier Luigi Nervi, would have arranged its categories circularly around a glass dome, spreading outwards through time. It looked not unlike the future pavilions at Disney’s Epcot Center, but fundraising efforts petered out by 1970. A new building, with more space to think about the objects, should be considered again, or at least build its own entrance from outside. 



Sunday, March 10, 2024

I COULD WRITE A BOOK [439]


Having planned a trip to Oxford for a few days, the perfect exhibition for me was announced: hosted by the Bodleian Library, “Write, Cut, Rewrite”, at their main Weston Library in Broad Street until 5th January 2025, displays various examples of the creative process that led to the major works being sold in the Blackwell’s bookshop next door, from John Le Carré’s cut-up typed pages of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” to Mary Shelley’s copperplate script of “Frankenstein”, and from Franz Kafka’s overwriting of the third-person with “K” in “The Castle” to Ian Fleming’s scribbled-out false start of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

 

The comparatively brief nature of these articles means I don’t have a set creative process for creating them – a few notes on my phone or in a book, a notion of an idea, or simply being faced with a blank screen and a deadline. With admission being free, I visited the exhibition twice, looking for pointers.

 

I first noticed the spaces these writers gave themselves to exercise: a painting made by the poet Alice Oswald in a notebook gives way to the words she is looking for; Percy Bysshe Shelley drawing a landscape and a cartoon of a man’s face on one side of a double-page spread, then “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings” on the other side; Raymond Chandler’s list of similes, like “No more personality than a paper cup” and “As soothing as a piano salesman”, a line put through them once a place was found for them; and Samuel Beckett’s filling of a page of dialogue for a play with doodles of weird-looking people, and a tune written in 6/8 time on a wobbly musical stave. It is important to keep the mind working on putting absolutely anything on the page, no matter its worth at that moment, rather than waiting to form what you think the right words should be.

 

It was heartening to see how messy big-name writers can be, or can become, amid forming their work. It was not surprising to see the exercise book containing Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”, a highly-ordered set of numbered statements on the relationship between language and reality, is written neatly in pencil, the only levity being a hand-written “Schluss!” (“End!”) on the typed version, the author stopping himself from adding to it. An example of “The Watsons”, by Jane Austen, showed thick lines driven through discarded passages in a novel that was itself unfinished. It was also good to see the scribbles and ripped-out pages in one of the Moleskine books used by Bruce Chatwin, simultaneously undercutting and reinforcing the romantic story of “capturing reality in movement” that the Moleskine company, inspired by Chatwin, uses to sell their books today.

 

Any creative writing I try is usually in longhand on paper. Use of a word processor is almost the final step before anyone sees it, with any printout eventually attracting penwork to correct or re-order what already looked complete, something the typescript of “Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy” proved, with different-coloured paper, passages cut up and staples, different coloured pens used, and so on. Eventually, you do have to say “Schluss!”

 

Finally, there was only one person who I could see had used a ballpoint pen, and that was Ian Fleming. Everyone else used water-based ink and, unlike me, who only had the Bic four-colour pen in their rucksack for a few days, did not experience the extra little bit of effort in forcing oil-based ink onto a page – if the ideas are flowing, you don’t want to feel that in your hand too much.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

FELIX KEPT ON WALKING [438]

Original and current versions of Felix the Cat and "Felix the cat"

Felix the Cat is an animated cartoon character that first appeared in the cartoon “Feline Follies” in 1919. Like a hand-drawn Charlie Chaplin, but with a tail that magically transformed into anything needed in the moment, Felix’s surreal cartoons were a big hit in the 1920s, making him a mascot to celebrities and sports teams, and entering homes in toy form. Losing out to Mickey Mouse by the end of the decade, Felix continued in newspaper comics strips and on television, now carrying a magic bag that changed shape as required. Having not starred in a major film or series in over twenty years, Felix survives as intellectual property owned by DreamWorks Animation since 2014, his image licensed for merchandise in a manner not unlike that of another character not seen on screen in years, Betty Boop. 

“Felix the cat” has been the mascot of Felix cat food since 1989. Originally a manufacturer of dry cat biscuits in Biggleswade, Felix Catfood Ltd was bought by the Quaker Oats Company in 1970, and a relaunched product range included wet food in tins. A new advertisement campaign launched in 1989, including television for the first time, which featured a realistically-drawn black-and-white cat, named for the product and behaving as mischievously as any regular cat. This campaign continues to the present day, surviving the brand’s change in ownership to Spillers, the former makers of Kattomeat, and to Nestlé Purina Healthcare.

Searching “Felix the Cat” on Amazon.co.uk brings up “Felix” ahead of Felix, and while that is an indicator of which one has consistently made more product in the last thirty-five years, it still annoys me – I never got used to one of the UK’s Brexit negotiators being named David Frost, when they were not the same David Frost that interviewed Richard Nixon and presented “Through the Keyhole”.

There is precedence in the UK, also involving cat food and a cartoon cat, of something arriving with the same name, but it resulted in a name change to avoid confusion: Spillers already had a cat food named “Top Cat”, meaning the Hanna-Barbera series was renamed “Boss Cat” on television from 1962. This cat food is no longer produced, so there is no longer any confusion. Later in the 1960s, Marvel Comics were able to introduce their own superhero named “Captain Marvel” in the absence of the original Fawcett Comics character, now largely known as “Shazam” due to new owner DC Comics being legally unable to use their original name to title their books.

With DreamWorks’ copyright for Felix the Cat extending to “prerecorded goods” and “musical instruments, namely, guitars” with licensing of that image from there, there is the space for two Felix-es to exist, and because they exist in industries separate from each other, there should be no issue, apart from my own cognitive dissonance.

What I do find amusing is that, while DreamWorks’ copyright covers the later version of Felix the Cat, with a rounder head, larger eyes, no whiskers, longer legs and shorter body than the 1920s version – this also means that, like the “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse, the original Felix the Cat is in the public domain – the cat food “Felix” that continues to appear in animated ads on television was recently redrawn with larger eyes, a more human-like smile and, like the original Felix, their own song “It’s Great to Be a Cat”, sung by Robbie Williams. However, this will remain contained within the space of an ad break, and away from the original Felix.