For some he was the cartoon hero: the ever enigmatic sidekick of Dick Dastardly. He had an all too brief revival in the late 1980's, and a frankly poor return in the 1990's. Yet he remains a cult figure. So...
Q: So how did you get the part in the first place?
To find Mutley, cult dog and star of most famously 'Stop The Pigeon' and 'The Wacky Races', first thoughts turn to Hollywood. One could easily imagine Mutley reclining next to some cool blue swimming pool, may be sharing the odd cocktail with Richard Gere and a bevy of beauties. The reality is stark and brutal. At present, Mutley is to be found in the cramped dressing room of the Tonbridge All-Star Theatre in the leafy idyll that is Kent.
For those who remember the lithe and sexually alluring Mutley of old, the 1996 version is a depressing sight. Visibly older, a hunched, podgy and wrinkled figure with rather scraggy fur, he constantly drags on a Marlborough and snacks on Bonios as we speak of the good old days. On speaking, the truth is further revealed. The voice is not the set of gruffs and growls of fame, but a sober upper class English accent.
Question: I must ask you about the accent. Anybody who knows your work would be astounded.
Mutley: Hehehehehe.. [trademark snigger, pause for drag on cigarette]. Good Heavens. Its what all the fans who meet me comment on when they realise who I am. Unfortunately, few people still recognise me in the street - not like the old days. It was funny because back then I was not allowed to do anything other than the Mutley-talk. The studio did not want the public realising that their star was English - they wanted to preserve the fabulous pretence of the Dastardly-Mutley thing, the whole ambience.
M: well old boy, in the early 1960's I was working in Rep around Britain. Shakespeare, Marlowe, that sort of thing. Those great writers always wrote very juicy canine parts. Plus, of course, I was very versatile, doing cats or cows, any animal that was needed. Indeed, my hamlet in its day was much talked of. Anyway, one day after a particularly rough performance in Clacton, I was approached by someone from Hannera-Barbera. They told me they wanted me for the part in a new series ['Stop The Pigeon'], that they'd talked to my agent [the legendary Danny Ramous] and would I like to do it? Of course, I jumped at the chance to exchange rainy old Clacton for Hollywood. To work there is every actors dream.
Q: What was making the first series like?
M: The best years of my life. there I was a young pup, plucked from obscurity in England and suddenly the co-star in a major US series. It was an amazingly exciting time. Dick[Dastardly] and I got on famously. He was a real professional, always wanting scenes re-done to get the best timing for a gag. His star was on the rise at the Studio - they had big, big plans for him. Even then he had a huge mansion on the edge of LA. I spent a lot of time there talking with him about the show, playing tennis, hobnobbing with the stars and the real movers and shakers in Tinsel Town. Ah yes, old boy. The Pigeon as well, he was also being groomed for the big time. He was going to be the Studio's answer to Tweety Pie, you know. Both those wonderful actors taught me so much, helped me immensely. And back on the first series, the scripts were magnificent, so full of verve and life, not like the rubbish we got later.
Q: So when did things start to go wrong?
M: We got to the fifth series, and as I suggested, the script were starting to flag. We'd also begun to do 'Wacky Races', which I think at this stage was on about the second series. But it was there that the problem lay. The first series was fine, big audiences, good scripts. Dick and I were getting a lot of press, Penelope [Pitstop] was appearing in all the glossies. There was another show with a great buzz. But there was friction in the cast. Peter Perfect resented the fact he only had a small part, and the Anthill Mob were pushing the Studio for their own series. Then it became obvious Dick was having problems. He started becoming very depressed, drinking heavily, that kind of thing. I tried to help him but he was heading downhill fats. At the end of the fifth series of 'Stop' [The Pigeon], he was almost finished. The cast of 'Races' was also in trouble. Clyde from the Anthill Mob was busted for possession of cocaine. Peter [Perfect] was selling his memoirs to the gutter press. he alleged that me, Dick and Penelope were involved in a menage a trois. There was a libel case - sordid revelations about our personal lives all over the press - it was absolutely terrible. Added to this cartoons were suffering from the social upheavals of the late 1960's and early 1970's. 'Stop' had a vague wartime theme that upset the anti-Vietnam people, so we were blacklisted by the Left. The Studio worried over 'political' content. Clunk and Zilly were involved in a hippie commune out in New Jersey, and were threatening to leave the show.
Q: Was this about the time you started having problems yourself?
M: Yes. It was a difficult period. Dick was slowly killing himself through drink. Both series finally got axed in 1976. The Pigeon was found hanged in May of that year just after the Studio dropped him. Birds were out. The business was just so fickle, dear boy. That hit me hard, that and watching Dick get iller and iller. He was drinking his wages away, and by this time the mansion was sold and he was living in a rundown hotel next to the railyard. I moved in to be with him after that year, and I guess that's when I hit the bottle pretty hard. The studio had cut us dead - after all we were a double act, once one was gone, or in this case going, there was no way back for the partner. What's the point of Abbot without Costello, of Wise without Morecome? We felt bad, America felt bad - it all seemed interlinked -those were very low times.
Q: And then did finally died?
M: Spring of 1977. A cold, damp day. They rushed him into hospital, but it was too late - he'd taken a cocktail of drink and drugs at some party one of the Anthill Mob guys was having.. The funeral was terrible for such a great actor. There were so few people who came to pay their respects - yet he'd had so many friends in the business, helped so many of them to make a go of the acting business. Where were you Daffy Duck? That Duck owes his career to Dick. Dick taught him all he knows. The selfish, ungrateful, yellow-billed bastard...excuse me...[long drag on cigarette, slight waver of voice and the choke of tears]...excuse me, old boy.
Q: But it was at the funeral you met Penelope Pitstop again?
M: Penny? Oh God, yes... Well now, in retrospect I wish it hadn't happened. She turned up reeking of drink, looking awful, the poor dear gal. Anyway, she said she could get me a job working in low budget sex films, which was what she was doing at the time. I was probably a bit worse for wear and I needed the money, so I said yes. You have to understand old boy, I was desperate. truly desperate. Those films [including the blue movie 'classic', Mutley Fashion] were humiliating for both of us, they were trash, absolute trash. Here we were, two great stars reduced to doing porno flicks to live... well, perhaps more accurately, to drink... Sad beyond belief...
Q: Then almost a decade later you return to England, why?
M: I'd made a few dollars in slightly more reputable films at the end of the seventies [including a brilliant cameo in The Cursed Canine, which starred Donald Sutherland and Michael Caine], but things were still tough. I got myself into the Betty Ford Clinic, started doing some therapy, and thought a lot about my life. Most of the eighties were tough for me. But I found the Studio was repeating the classic Dastardly and Mutley material, so I was getting royalties. We never did well out of the deal, but it paid the rent. Then they decided to cut a new series, 'Yogi's All Stars'. Market research showed that the public, our dear public, wanted us back! Well, they paid me a considerable sum to return. They got a Dick look-a-like, they used old footage, they used computer-enhanced graphics, the works, just to re-team Dastardly and Mutley... It was the most painful experience of my life. I lasted most of the twelve programmes of the first series, but even the money was n't enough. The quality of scripts, that fatuous bear, no I decided to leave. The Studio continued to churn out rubbish using us, defiling Dick's memory... Finally, I decided I'd had enough of the States, it had been a long time, but I returned to England, got a job in Rep again, just like the old days. Return to the theatre which I always loved, and to the country of my birth... Its a good country to be old in you know dear boy. When I'm not working, there's the Test Match to watch, a stroll in the park may be, old friends to chat to, cucumber sandwiches to nibble,...ah yes, dear old Blighty, dear, dear, old Blighty...
Q: And what now?
M: Well, back in Rep. I'm happier now than I've been for a long time - the odd bit of television work appears now and then. Its not such a bad old life... Hehehehehehehehehehehe...
Mutley is presently working on the new Peter Greenaway film, and his autobiography "A English Mut in America" will be released next month.