Our favourite fictional dogs

We all love a dog, so here we’ve rounded up some of favourites from fiction TV and film.

  Dog Show: 1961-1978 by Shirley Baker. Cover photograph: Shirley Baker

Dog Show: 1961-1978 by Shirley Baker. Cover photograph: Shirley Baker

To honour the publication of Dog Show, showcasing the work of photographer Shirley Baker, which is featured in November’s The Simple Things, we’ve made a list of our top five fictional dogs. Now, SIT! (And read and enjoy our best in show).

Snoopy (beagle*)

A real case of the side-act stealing the show, Snoopy was the pet of Charlie Brown, anti-hero of the Peanuts comic strip. But there’s no denying he was the real star. Known for sleeping on the uncomfy-looking roof of his kennel rather than the inside, having several alter-egos including college student, Joe Cool and a First World War Flying Ace, as well as his unlikely friendship with a yellow bird, Snoopy is world-famous and has appealed to generations of children (and beagle-loving adults). An icon in his own right, the first drawings of Snoopy were based on Charles M Schulz’s dog, Spike. *He’s always referred to as ‘a beagle’ but Schulz once said he wasn’t, he just thought ‘beagle’ was a funny-sounding word.

Snowy (wire fox terrier)

Tintin’s faithful friend Snowy is the only other character to appear in all the comic albums, he even occasionally addresses his internal monologue to the reader. Very postmodern. His original name in the French was Milou, the name of Herge’s first girlfriend, and short for Marie-Louise. He was called Snowy in the English translation for his white colour (and the fact that Snowy was short enough to fit easily into the speech balloons.

Lassie (rough collie)

Lassie first featured in a short story by Eric Knight, which later (in 1940) became a full novel, Lassie Come Home, and was made into a film by MGM in 1943, with a dog named ‘Pal’ acting in the title role. The story may well have been based on a fictional dog called Lassie depicted by Elizabeth Gaskell. Pal’s descendants continued to play Lassie in TV series over the next 20-odd years, scampering off to rescue many a child from a mine shaft or well. GOOD GIRL, Lassie.

Scooby-Doo (great dane)

Comrade and crime-busting partner of Shaggy Rogers, Scooby-Doo is the true hero of the Hanna-Barbera series that began in 1969. Famously named for a line in the Frank Sinatra song, Strangers in the Night, Scoobs has been foxing fairground thieves and eating multi-layered club sandwiches for years and continues to delight children to this day.

Argos from The Odyssey (breed unknown)

Hankies at the ready. Argos was Odysseus’s dog before he left home to fight in the Trojan war for ten years, and then spent a further decade returning home. When he finally returns, disguised as a beggar to fool his wife’s suitors, he sees Argos, his faithful, strong and speedy hound, sitting in pile of cow muck. As he walks by, Argos drops his ears and wags his tail but is physically unable to greet his master. Odysseus cries as he passes him, unable to go to his faithful friend. And Argos dies, having fulfilled his destiny of welcoming his master home to his own hall.

Jumble from The William stories (mongrel)

Jumble originally belonged to an artist and his daughter and the daughter gave Jumble to William in exchange for a kiss. Knowing William’s liquorice-water-encrusted chops as we do, we think William got the better end of the deal there and Jumble went on to be (almost) the fifth member of The Outlaws.

Toto from The Wizard of Oz (some sort of Terrier)

Toto belongs to Dorothy Gale of ‘there’s no place like home’ fame. He’s been variously thought to be either a Cairn, Yorkshire or Boston Terrier and he accompanies Dorothy on her trips to the Land of Oz. Toto does not let on in the early books - not until TikTok of Oz - that he can speak! Really, you might have mentioned this before. Toto!

Gnasher from The Beano (Abyssinian Wire-haired Tripe Hound)

Dennis the Menace’s faithful and (very) furry friend Gnasher first appeared in The Beano in 1968. He was based on the idea that dogs look like their owners and it was suggested to the illustrator that he simply drew Dennis’s hair and added arms, legs and eyes. And that is (more or less) how Gnasher remains to this day, with just a little more of his own character.

Gromit from Wallace and Gromit (Beagle)

The bright, sensitive, brainier half of Wallace and Gromit, this is a mutt with a hardcore fanbase. His birthday is 12th February (and it is marked every year in The Telegraph’s classified section), he’s known to be left-handed (a sign of his creativity and intelligence) and a NASA robot sent to probe Mars was named after him in 2005. He also loves cheese (who doesn’t?).

Pilot from Jane Eyre (Newfoundland)

Mistaken on first meeting, by Jane, as some sort of ghost-dog or dog-goblin (a doblin, perhaps?) Pilot foreshadows Mr Rochester’s entrances throughout the novel and is the first to call Jane to Mr Rochester’s aid as his horse slips on icy ground. Rewarded with so little as a cursory ‘DOWN, PILOT’ the dog is peeved as always, while Victorian women swooned, as one.

Our fictional dogs were inspired by a gallery in our November issue, taken from the book Dog Show: 1961-1978 by Shirley Baker, published this month by Hoxton Mini Press.

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Meet a lesser known Guy Fawkes

An homage to a forgotten bonfire night (anti)hero


Photography: Jonathan Cherry Styling: Gemma Cherry

Every dog has his day, and every dastardly plot has its poster boy. But we do think Guy Fawkes unfairly got all the glory where the - let’s not forget, murderous but poorly organised - Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is concerned.

For starters, it was Robert Catesby, rather than Fawkes himself, that orchestrated the plan. Fawkes may have been in charge of the explosives, but really he is Robin to Catesby’s Batman. It seems odd Fawkes should be the one to emerge with a national celebration named for him.

But most schoolchildren could name Catesby and Fawkes with little strain. What of the other Gunpowder Plotters*?

We at The Simple Things love an underdog, so here are a few words in celebration of Francis Tresham. Tresham was a key part of the plot and possibly was himself the undoing of the entire thing. So, if you think about it, he changed the course of British history (there might have been no English Civil War for starters).

Tresham had been imprisoned for his part in the failed rebellion against the Government in 1601. He got in on the Gunpowder Plot quite late - in October 1605. He was asked to provide a large sum of cash and use of property to the plotters, but refused, instead coughing up a rather more menial amount. Clearly he had concerns about the whole shebang from the off.

It is thought that Tresham was the author of ‘the Monteagle letter’, a note penned to Lord Monteagle (Tresham’s brother-in-law) which was passed to the Secretary of State, warning Monteagle not to attend parliament on the day of the plot, and thus tipping off the Government. It’s historically been accepted that Tresham wrote the letter, though he denied it to his co-conspirators, and never mentioned it, even at the moment of his death (of natural causes) in the Tower of London.

So, did Tresham single-handedly alter the course of history with his alleged anonymous note? Well, not entirely. Yes, it was the catalyst that blew the plot apart (pun intended) but in fact, by November 5th, the gunpowder the plotters had stored away had gone the way of all gunpowder and split into its component parts, rendering it completely harmless. Had Fawkes managed to get a light to it under Parliament, it’s safe to say it would have gone off not with a bang but a whimper. It had been stored too long to do any damage.

So on Guy Fawkes’ night, let’s hear it for slightly reticent, fearful tell-tales who may not have changed history but played their part. And didn’t get caught with their hand in the gunpowder and a guilty look on their face.

Happy Francis Tresham Night! And if you’re celebrating this weekend, in the November issue of The Simple Things we have Bonfire Night recipes that will garner oohs and aahs galore, from pumpkin scones, through popcorn, to pesto for your hotdog. Sure to create more of a spark than Guy Fawkes’s November 5th efforts did, at any rate.

*The other plotters, in case you are interested, or are attending a pub quiz tonight, were: John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood and Sir Everard Digby.

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Put a sock in it

The etymology of telling folk to keep it down a bit


Photography: Getty Images

At this time of year, our thoughts turn naturally to warmer footwear. In fact, we think cosy toes are so vital, we have a feature on the importance of stylish sockage in the November issue.

What we at The Simple Things don’t know about socks and how to wear them frankly is not worth knowing, but we were fascinated to learn the etymology of the phrase ‘to put a sock in it’.

As one might expect, the expression, meaning ‘oh, really, do pipe down a bit’, refers to the filling of an orifice with a sock in order to muffle a sound. What we did not know was that it refers specifically to the gramophone.

There was, of course, no volume control on gramophones (they didn’t answer to ‘Alexa’, either… Halcyon days…) so there was no way of making your music any quieter while you were getting down to the latest Tchaikovsky.

The solution was to keep a nice thick pair of socks by the gramophone so that if one was requested to keep it a bit quieter the socks could be stuffed into the horn. Hence, ‘put a sock in it’.
In fact, if you visit the National Trust’s Bateman’s in Sussex, you might see Rudyard Kipling’s own gramophone and be invited to experience putting a sock in it for yourself. Socks are supplied. We don’t think they are Kipling’s own. Though we imagine he really did wear exceedingly good socks.

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In defence of the pear

Why we think it’s time the pear stepped into the limelight


Photography: Kirstie Young

Goodness, but we love a pear. The combination of crisp and soft, sweet and refreshing, and so versatile. A pear is just as joyful whether eaten as a simple finishing point to a lunchbreak sarnie, as it is poached in wine, sunk into a crumbly cake or layered atop a tart.

But we have to say, and we don’t think we are courting controversy here, we think pears aren’t getting the love they deserve.

There’s the expression ‘pear-shaped’. In body shape terms, it may be preferable to being an ‘apple’ (or a melon soon after Christmas) but why the negative connotation in a plan ‘going pear-shaped’? Isn’t pear-shaped a beautiful and natural thing, the glorious juicy contents expanding generously towards the bottom and easing slowly outwards? If a plan goes hideously awry surely it’s starfruit-shaped? Or dragon-fruit shaped? Or pancake-shaped, even? It just seems undeserved.

We hate to take sides but our difficulty really is with the apple as pear-opponent, particularly at this time of year.

We like an apple, too, of course (some of our best friends are apples) but sometimes it seems that it’s all about apples just now. We bob for apples, we eat them from a string in silly party games, we stick the pips to our head to tell who our true love will be… October even has its own apple DAY, we recently noted. Our November issue has a rather splendid recipe for toffee apples. And we liked the results so much we even put them on the front cover, as you might have seen. You see, even we are not immune to the charms of the apple. Who doesn’t love a toffee apple?

However, we can’t help feeling that the cumulative effect of all this apple love is sometimes at the expense of the lovely, unassuming pear.

Pears have been growing in England since the year 995, so they should really have their feet firmly under the table. A pear tree may survive for up to 250 years, so it’s no surprise that the pear is a symbol of immortality in Chinese culture. Take note, apple trees, with your paltry 100-year lifespan.

An apple a day may be known for ‘keeping the doctor away’ but a pear is one of the highest-fibre fruits you can treat yourself to. It also includes calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese, as well as the antioxidant quercetin, which, according to Sunday supplements, helps prevent cancer and reduces blood pressure. Basically, if the pear were newer to the supermarket than the sun-dried tomato, we’d be calling it a superfood.

And finally, m’lud, we would like to point out that a griddled slice of pear on a crusty piece of bread with a sliver of blue cheese reclined louchely upon it is a food of the Gods, and an apple, while delicious, butters no parsnips in this circumstance. <Gavel>

We accept that may be a fruit ‘n’ veg metaphor too far, so we will bow out gracefully now, but will first give a nod to the lovely feature in our November issue on things you can do with pears today, tomorrow and next year. It’s written by Lia Leendertz who knows a thing or two about how to use orchard fruit well, with photography by Kirstie Young. One not to miss. Do send us a slice of the dark chocolate and pear cake when you’ve made it, please.

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Forgotten bookmarks

We won’t judge a book by its cover… though we might judge it by what’s left among its pages

Shakespeare and co.jpg

Illustration: Jane Mount

A shopping list for a supper with friends, last summer’s postcard, a card advertising a restaurant you don’t remember going to… The things you find you’ve left in books to mark your place, and then forgotten, often bring back a wry smile.

But the things other people have used as bookmarks and then abandoned to the pages can range from the indescribable to the indigestible.

When Washington librarian Anna Holmes tweeted earlier this year: “Dearest patrons, PLEASE stop using cheese as a bookmark. Please. We give away actual bookmarks for free. Or like use a receipt or something. Just not perishables” one would have thought the world would reel, but no.

The world responded with its own tales of bizarre bookmarks they’ve had the misfortune to find: bacon, a circular saw, a piece of broccoli, toenail clippings and a clump of hair.

It turns out forgotten bookmarks are quite a phenomenon. (We’re assuming they’re forgotten and that people aren’t putting deli items into library books intentionally).

To prove it, enter New York State second-hand bookseller Michael Popek, of Forgotten Bookmarks, who catalogues all the strange and wonderful things he has found between the pages of the books that enter his shop.

From four-leafed clovers to a marijuana leaf, love notes to a suicide note (which he chose not to photograph, understandably), each item is a tiny snapshot of an anonymous person’s life and utterly compelling for it. He photographs each object, along with the book he found it in and publishes them together. Sometimes it’s easy to imagine the reader, and the scenario in which the object ended up in the book. One can almost picture the small, slightly grubby little boy who left his Bear Cub Scouting patch inside a copy of Adventure in the Haunted House. Less easy to conjure to mind is the owner of the photograph of a coffin (occupied) inside a copy of Amelia Earhart’s The Fun of It.

Popek has published photos of some of the forgotten bookmarks he has found over the years in a book called, unsurprisingly, Forgotten Bookmarks. We thoroughly recommend it. Don’t forget to take your cheese slice out of it when you’ve finished it though.

And if you’re in search of a new favourite tome in which to lose a slice of cheddar (or worse), you might like to read ‘Looking for Books’ in our November issue, in which Frances Ambler takes an illustrated tour with Jane Mount, author and illustrator of Bibliophile, around some of the world’s best independent bookshops.

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