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Geoffrey Hutchings from ITV's Benidorm

London Dog Forum Meets Mel (Geoffrey Hutchings) from the hit ITV sitcom, Benidorm and his dog, Moth.

* This interview took place in November, 2009. Geoff died suddenly from meningitis on 1st July, 2010.  He is sadly missed by his greyhound Moth, who is now 14.

Geoffrey Hutchings who is currently appearing in the ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ at the Wyndham’s Theatre and is one of the stars of the hit ITV sitcom, Benidorm, tells London Dog Forum about his 12 year old white and black greyhound bitch, Moth, and his experience of working  with dogs on stage.

Geoff Hutchings with his pet greyhound, Moth

Geoff:  Moth is a rescue racing greyhound and we got from a lovely lady called Margaret Stocken, in Gloucestershire. 

LDF:  Did she win any races?

Geoff:  No.  She was sent to Ireland to be trained but refused to chase.  If she hadn’t found someone to adopt her, she would have been ‘put to sleep’. 

LDF:  How did you come to own her?

Geoff:  Margaret rang us to see if we would foster Moth as she had no room for any more dogs at the time.  We’d recently lost our former greyhound, Daisy, to bone cancer.  I think Margaret probably knew that we would adopt Moth without hesitation.

LDF:  How old was Moth then?

Geoff:  She was about two years old.

LDF:  What attracted you to greyhounds originally?

Geoff:  I’d always heard that greyhounds make wonderful pets and saw an advert in the local paper looking for someone to rescue a greyhound.  That was when my wife and I first met Margaret.  She came to our house to make sure that we would be suitable owners.  As soon as I met Daisy, I fell in love with her.  Greyhounds are very quiet, affectionate animals and surprisingly lazy so they don’t need as much exercise as one would imagine.  Give them a comfortable bed and they’ll sleep all day.

LDF:  Do you think your character, Mel, in Benidorm would have kept greyhounds?

Geoff:  Only if they were going to make him some money so that would rule out Moth.  No, I think he would own a British bulldog, after all, Mel’s middle name is Winston.  He’d buy Madge a Bijon Frisee so it could sit in the basket on her mobility chair!

LDF:  Have you always had dogs?

Geoff:  No, not really, not until I met my second wife.  When I was a boy, I had a mongrel called Chuffy for a short time, but people didn’t know as much about looking after dogs in those days and the poor thing died from Distemper.

LDF:  Have you ever acted with a dog?

Geoff:  Oh yes, more than once.  During my time with the Royal Shakespeare Company,  I twice played the part of Launce in the Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Launce is devoted to his dog, Crab, a mongrel that he’d rescued from drowning as a puppy.  Much of the comedy of the play comes from his willingness to take the blame for his dog’s misdemeanours.

LDF:  Wasn’t it W.C. Fields that said, “Never work with children or animals?”

Geoff:  I believe so.

LDF:  What was your reaction to sharing the stage with a dog?

Geoff:  Actually my first dog was brilliant.  He was a scruffy looking pub dog with a highly sociable character and we built up a good working relationship.  I’d play ball with him outside the theatre then I would put the ball in my pocket when we went on stage and the dog’s gaze never left me throughout the performance.  I played the same role several years later but that wasn’t such a happy experience.

LDF:  Why was that?

Geoff:  Well, the powers that be decided that the dog should be large due to a reference in the script, so they employed an Old English sheepdog.

LDF:  Wasn’t it very well trained?

Geoff:  It was more than that.  She was totally miscast. The part should never have been played by a pedigree.  We had to cover her in gunk to give her a more mangy appearance.  She didn’t like that much.  Anyway she’d been used in a paint commercial once, so she thought she was a film star.  Once during rehearsal she had a real bout of stage fright and had an accident soon after making her entrance.  I hadn’t noticed.  I heard groaning and couldn’t understand why I was getting such a cold reception until I heard one of the actors wail behind me, “I’ve got to die there in a minute!”...

LDF:  How did she behave in front of a live audience?

Geoff:  Well enough, but once when the director was away, I decided to take on a substitute.  It was a rescue Labrador cross that had been shot at with a twelve bore.

LDF:  How awful.  Wasn’t it nervous as a result?

Geoff:  No, he was quite lively though.  I would lead him on stage with a rope that had a Turks head knot at the end.  The idea was that the knot looked like a ball and I could keep the dog’s attention with it during my speeches.  One night he managed to get himself tangled up in the rope so I had to let go and watch him forlornly hop around the stage on three legs.

LDF:  How did you get out of that?

Geoff:  I’m afraid I committed the unforgivable sin of improvising Shakespeare on stage at Stratford.  ‘Come here.’ I said. ‘Who do you think you are?  Richard the Third!’.....Well, at least I got a laugh.  Patrick Wymark played Launce once.  He had a dog that would cock its leg on the scenery every time it walked on stage.  That always got a titter from the audience, and, whenever Launce told the dog off, which happens quite a lot during the course of the action, the dog would yawn.  It was hilarious!

LDF:  So you wouldn’t recommend acting with animals?

Geoff:   No.  I wouldn’t say that.  I’d say dogs were very like human actors.  You have to trust them and respect their talent. 

Geoffrey Hutchings playing Launce in the Two Gentlemen Of Verona
at Stratford with his co-star the Old English sheepdog

n remembrance of Geoff’s love of animals and indeed, his love of life, here is a poem that Geoff wrote in 1993 for a small booklet to be sold to raise money for Greyhound Rescue West of England:

  Whoever it was that so ill-treated you;
  Whoever it was that raced you with a broken leg;
   Who left you with the vet,
   Crippled, alone
   And never came back.
   I thank.

Whoever it was that made you cower and whine;
  Whoever it was that undernourished you
   So that ribs and spine,
   Showed in a way
   They should not do.
   I thank.

 They could never have known
  That out of cruelty and fear,
  You'd find a home with us,
  "Wee, sleekit, cowrin'" Daisy dear.

They wouldn't recognise you now.
  The baleful look at table end
  The pricked-up ears, the scything tail;
  The confidence, the growl, the bark?
  The sneezing, snarling, silent grin;
  The trophies won.
  Conquering A-frame, mat
  and tunnel, straight and bent.
  Success retrieving articles
  Pretending it's not by gaze but scent.

They'll never have the chance to see
  The lady of leisure,
  Languishing on her back
  With legs akimbo.
  Nor the manic, helter-skelter chase
  Of a thousand imaginary hares.
  Like a child's balloon
  Released, before it's sealed
  And losing all its air.

  They'll never know.
  And never shall they know
  That so much pleasure came
  From so much pain.
  Their loss.  Our gain.

 *** Geoffrey Hutchings, Actor and Animal Lover, 1939 to 2010 ***

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