Arthur the Cat was a UK celebrity well before the Internet existed; or even computers for that matter. He found fame on the television at a time when there were four channels in black and white although color was just being introduced.
Arthur 1 and Arthur 2
Arthur the Cat was in fact two cats. When the first Arthur died a substitute was found and trained. We can call them Arthur 1 and Arthur 2. A British pet-food company, Spillers, employed Arthur to promote their products in the 1960s. Arthur could scoop his food out of a tin with his paw. It seems that he used his left paw. It is more usual for female cats to use their left paw. Arthur, though, was a left-handed male cat.
He appeared in 309 television commercials between 1966 and 1975. Reports state that Spillers bought him outright for £700. Sadly, Arthur was embroiled in a bizarre custody battle.
Arthur 1 Custody Battle
Spiller’s ownership of Arthur was challenged by a young actor. He applied to the High Court for a declaration of ownership. This must have been a trying and expensive process which was unsuccessful.
On the first day of the court case Arthur went missing and the young actor who was the plaintiff/applicant surprisingly (amusingly) claimed that Arthur had sought asylum in the Russian embassy! A spokesman at the Russian embassy denied it. He pointed out that Russians have better things to do than worry about famous celebrity cats on high salaries. This was the time of communism and the USSR. The court battle ended with success for Spillers after Arthur resurfaced. He was handed back to Spillers. The case lasted two years. My feeling is that the guy claiming ownership was motivated by money not justice as he was claiming £150,000 in damages.
Arthur 1 – A Successful Career
Arthur’s celebrity burgeoned and he was involved in advertising campaigns for towels and T-shirts as well as cat food. The video on this page is of him scooping out cat food with his left paw. An author, John Montgomery, ghosted his autobiography. He had a very successful career and died in February 1976. He was almost 17-years-of-age.
Moving forwards 10 years, an animal trainer, Ann Head, found Arthur’s replacement at the Wood Green Animal Shelter in London. He was a skinny, undernourished and ill rescue cat. A veterinarian had given him 48 hours to live. Undaunted she took him home and restored him to full health. Like Arthur 1 he was a white cat whose name was Snowy.
After two months of tender loving care, fully recovered, trained and renamed Arthur he made his first television commercial. Arthur 2 made his first public appearance in January 1987 at the Savoy hotel in London. This was his launch as Spillers’ second Arthur.
Arthur 2 Trained
Like his predecessor, Arthur 2 was trained to scoop cat food out of a tin with his paw. Responding to the command “paw” he would place his left paw on anything near to him. He was trained using rewards i.e. positive reinforcement and I suspect clicker training techniques were employed. Clicker training helps to connect the reward with the desired behavior make training more efficient.
Nine years after Arthur 2 had been discovered and trained he was retired. A third Arthur at the Wood Green Animal Shelter was in the wings to replace him .
Modern Day Celebrity Cats
There are modern-day parallels with Arthur’s celebrity in cats such as Grumpy Cat. However, all of today’s celebrity cats are Internet made. You can click on this link to see some of them.
It perhaps goes without saying but in the 1970s England was an entirely different place to today’s; no computers and no Internet: a simple life, a much simpler life. A life I miss.
Source: Dr Desmond Morris’s Cat World. This is a very fine book. I highly recommend it.