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Greyfriars Bobby film casting role row

A REAL bow-wow of a row has broken out between Skye Terrier enthusiasts and film makers working on a new movie telling the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful pet that guarded its owner's grave for 14 years. The film makers have been accused of casting the wrong type of dog.

The £5million production, by a company that was involved in the film Trainspotting, promises to "set the record straight" after the allegedly less than accurate version made by Walt Disney some years ago.

But the producers have infuriated dog experts by choosing a West Highland White terrier for the leading role rather than the ‘less photogenic’ Skye terrier.

The Skye Terrier Club said that, while Bobby was "not the prettiest" dog, it was definitely the Skye breed and far more faithful than a West Highland White terrier, which would have "gone off with a new owner in a minute".

A Westie was chosen, according to Christopher Figg, the producer, because its white coat would stand out in the dark and because its eyes would not be hidden from the camera by a fringe.

He disputed claims that Greyfriars Bobby, which became a tourist attraction in 19th century Edinburgh for staying at the graveside of its master Jock Gray following his death in 1858 until its own death in 1872, was in fact a Skye terrier.

However Sine Threlfall, official historian of Skye terriers, said the breed was well established at the time, adding: "Admittedly Greyfriars Bobby wasn't the prettiest example but he was definitely a drop-eared Skye terrier.

"I could have accepted a Cairn terrier as an alternative for filming but this does seem a bit much. It's these details that really niggle. They should try to get close to the original.

"One reason a Westie is totally unsuitable for the part is its temperament. I have one and she would go with anyone in a minute. There is no way a Westie would devote its life to a dead master. It would be off with the first kind look it got. A Skye terrier, on the other hand, is a thinker, very loyal, and has a terrific memory."

She suggested Skye terrier owners should turn up at the premiere to protest. Jenny Kendrick, chairman of the Skye Terrier Club, added: "It is well documented in historical records that Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye terrier. We really do not see why a Westie should play the part."

But quite frankly, Mr Figg doesn’t understand the fuss: "We are attempting to set the record straight," he said. "There is no historical evidence that Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye terrier apart from one very grainy photograph.

"Quite apart from that, Skye terriers have a huge fringe over their eyes. You can't make a film about a dog without seeing their eyes. It just would not work. If we chose a Skye terrier then gave him a haircut, there would be even more trouble."

Filming begins in December.

Greyfriars Bobby: Truth stranger than fiction

The truth is often stranger as well as more entertaining than fiction. Truth is often a great deal more difficult to uncover, indeed an overlay of fiction is often enough to obscure the truth for ever. Jack the Ripper has given rise to an industry remarkable more for imagination than its respect for historical veracity.

Count Dracula, the Bermuda Triangle, the take away fried rat eaten in a darkened cinema and the quartered Alsatian in the restaurant fridge, all serve to obscure a more interesting truth. So, too, does the heart-rending tale of Greyfriars Bobby.

There are innumerable stories of dogs that through thick and thin and even after death remained faithful to their owners. From Odysseus’ ill used hound to the collie that, during the 1980s, protected its master’s body on the fells of the Peak District, the stories provide testimony to the remarkable association between man and dog.

The story of Bobby first appeared in the Ayrshire Express in 1865. It reported that 'a little terrier dog', later to be known as Greyfriars Bobby, had begun a lonely vigil six years previously at his dead master's graveside. The vigil made him, if not his master, immortal.

The legend was given wider circulation after Eleanor Atkinson had published a highly coloured version of the legend in 1912. A monument (pictured left) to the dog's memory was later erected at Baroness Burdett-Coutt’s expense and remains one of Edinburgh's attractions.

The legend, as is in their nature, went through several tellings, each of which collected additional details in order to support verisimilitude. It was eventually claimed that Bobby was a Skye Terrier, owned by Auld Jock from Cauldbraes Farm in the Pentland Hills. Auld Jock, when he attended the weekly Wednesday market at the Grassmarket, was in the habit of taking his midday meal at John Trail's restaurant in Greyfriars Place. One cold, dark November day Bobby, wet and shivering, arrived at the restaurant alone. He returned in an even more forlorn state on the following day. Alarmed by the dog's obvious distress Trail followed the sad animal when he left the restaurant and was led to Auld Jock's lifeless body.

Auld Jock was buried in the Greyfriars Burial Ground and for the next fourteen years the story has it that Bobby kept a lonely vigil over his master's grave, leaving only at the sound of Edinburgh's One o'clock Gun to eat at the expense of Sergeant Scott of the Royal Engineers at John Trail's restaurant.

In 1989 Forbes Macgregor set out to discover what truth lay behind the legend. He discovered that no such person as Auld Jock had existed and that Bobby, a dog of no known breed, had belonged to a local Policeman, John Gray, who guarded the cattle awaiting sale at the nearby market. After John Gray's death, of pulmonary tuberculosis on 8 February 1858, Bobby showed reluctance to leave his master's grave and on several occasions thereafter returned to the graveyard, a favourite haunt for many of the dogs in the district.

Bobby was about two years old when John Gray died. He then went to live in the home of a Mr. Ritchie at 38 Candlemaker Row but also enjoyed the hospitality of James Anderson at 28 Candlemaker Row, and, like other dogs in the area, frequently visited John Trail to beg for scraps. He is said to have survived until about his sixteenth year.

The legend is undoubtedly founded on fact but, as is the case with many good stories, the story has been acquired details and colour without which Greyfriars Bobby would have long been forgotten and that, perhaps, would be a pity, though some might suggest that the truth is every bit as interesting as is the fiction.

Frank Jackson