| One black ear, one white ear, a few
black spots, a stub of a tail and big blue eyes are the
distinguishing features of that laughing pudgy pup called
Bonzo. In the early 1920's Bonzo reigned
supreme. He was the envy of politicians, film stars,
and beautiful women. His features beaming down from
innumerable posters plastered across the world became an
institution. He appeared in films and on the stage,
and he was the sole subject for a series of art
portfolios. He was also the inspiration behind the
manufacture of a multitude of highly commercial
merchandise such as toys - both cuddly and mechanical,
ashtrays, pin-trays, trinket boxes, car mascots, jigsaw
puzzles, books, calendars, sweets, and a profusion of
postcards. Everyone, no matter what their age,
adored the little dog with the crinkly face, golf-ball
nose, and big feet.
Bonzo and the situations his creator George Studdy put him in made him into a kind of 'Everyman', a comforting 'man-in-the-street' symbol which denounced all forms of pomposity. He drank, gambled, and had a wicked eye for pretty women, but Bonzo was never violent, never spitefully unkind, and never repulsively offensive.
Looking back at the pre-1922 Studdy sketches of dogs it becomes clear that the original concept for a mischievous pup was born around 1911 - possibly earlier. The first dog which, as Studdy put it, "could run by itself" appeared in Pearson's Magazine. The drawing depicted a running hound with a wasp sitting on its tail and was captioned "When you are on a good thing - STICK TO IT!". It was also produced as a framed print, together with a companion picture titled "If you see a good thing - GO FOR IT!".
This unnamed dog continued to appear in various Studdy sketches, and gradually became a regular feature in The Sketch magazine. It was from this magazine that Bonzo finally sprang in 1922, and he never looked back.
By the mid 1920's booksellers, stationers, toy shops, and the big department stores were selling a huge variety of Bonzo products. A.V.N. Jones & Co. of London produced two series of jigsaw puzzles, (thirty-one puzzles in all) each having a different colour picture of Bonzo, and consisting of "100 pieces on the interlocking system in Satin Walnut"! When assembled, the picture measured 10 x 7 inches, and the cost was three shillings and sixpence (about 17½ pence today!). The same firm made a range of ashtrays and pin-trays in a brown semi-porcelain, with a gilt edge and a black transfer print of Bonzo in the centre.
Motorists could decorate their cars with Bonzo mascots, made from either chrome or brass. One maker produced a wonderful mascot of him galloping like the wind. It was named 'The Telcote Pup' (after the manufacturer), was about 5 inches long, and sold for 3 Guineas in 1923. Confectionery manufacturers designed lollipops, jelly babies, chocolate bars, and sugar fondants in Bonzo shapes, and special Bonzo tins to sell them. A profusion of soft toys appeared in the toy shops for the very young, and pull-along tin toys for toddlers.
George Studdy himself was busy illustrating books and annuals written around Bonzo, and everywhere postcards featuring him in some situation or other could be found. Bonzo was a 'hit', not only in the United Kingdom, but all over the world.
One of the penalties of Bonzo's fame
was that his creator, George Studdy, was forever being
asked "How did you think up Bonzo, and exactly what sort
of dog is he?" Tired of having to repeat himself
numerous times, he tried to think up new and witty
answers to the question. In an article
interviewing Studdy published in The Royal Magazine, it
describes how he comes up with Bonzo's look:
"Scientists take a few fossil bones of an extinct animal and design therefrom the complete common ancestor of various living types. At least they say so. Now Bonzo seems to me to have arrived in the same manner, only reversed. Either the terrier, sealyham, bull dog or bull terrier meets the eye during the course of a half mile walk. From the semblance of various traits or features of these four breeds, Bonzo has been evolved into the complete imaginary design of their common ancestor. The young of all existing types show stronger resemblance to their ancient progenitor than the adults, so the grown-up puppy-like Bonzo strictly observes this law of nature. Formula being: 4 pups / post bellum x 1,000,000 BC² / Bonzo Saurus = Bonzo!".Studdy also used this, together with other ideas, to 'trace' Bonzo's origins with a set of four drawings in The Sketch at the beginning of 1924. Headed "Bonzo in search of his Forefathers", they show Bonzo uncovering some plain truths about his ancestors! The question still came though, and another of his replies appeared in Tit-Bits in 1925, where he gives a slightly different explanation:
"Some years ago a certain professor declared that in time to come we should all make use of mechanical contrivances, something like robots, to do our housework, to carry us to our offices on our shopping and sports trips - in fact to do everything and take us everywhere. This idea appealed to me and I made a cartoon of it for the editor of The Sketch. My robot took the form of a queer animal with the hind legs and tail of a dog but without a head to it. You will see from the illustration below what I mean. From that robot dog developed Bonzo. I knew at once that I had found in those hind legs and stubbly tail the germ of a really funny idea, and I went on experimenting with it until Bonzo as he is to-day finally emerged."The process of evolution that George Studdy outlined was, of course, tongue in cheek, but Bonzo had by that time become such a popular character that some people took it rather too seriously. Major J.E. Power, a well known dog breeder, asked for George's advice in order to produce a new variety to be called the Bonzo Terrier. His attempts involved the cross breeding of several strains in order to achieve his aim, but thankfully he failed dismally. Bonzo, you see, was unique!
Although more than eighty five years
have passed since this button-nosed, blue-eyed,
elephant-eared, pudgey-footed little terrier that is
Bonzo first captured the affections of the world, he is
still very much loved and sort after today. Long
may he continue to make the world laugh!
Research and text by Richard Fitzpatrick with acknowledgments to Paul Babb & Gay Owen