I bumped into Tony Hickson at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden and he asked me if I wanted to hear about Dogboy – his ‘dogumentary’ film – not a documentary, a DOGumentary – about human pups. So, a few days later, we met at the Soho Theatre Bar. The up-market glamour of my life never ends.
“Human pups?” I asked.
“You must know what they are, John.”
“There is,” I said, falteringly, “some sub-culture where people dress up in furry animal costumes and have sex.”
“No,” said Tony. “Those are Furries. The human puppy thing is mostly latex and a bit of bondage stuff and dog leads and that sort of thing. One of the people in the dogumentary used to be a Furry.”
Tony Hickson directed the new DOGumentary
“Why did he change?” I asked.
“He was drawn to the dog thing, dressing up with the mask and all that.”
“Do they dress up as specific dogs?” I asked. “Are there human chihuahuas and human King Charles spaniels?”
“Now you are just,” said Tony, “being silly.”
“No,” I said. “When you say ‘dress up as a dog’ do you actually mean fur and ears and …”
“More a PVC suit with a dog’s head,” said Tony. “PVC or leather. Not fur.”
“Rather un-dog-like, then,” I suggested. “More BDSM.”
“I did ask them,” said Tony, “whether it was sexual or not. They said it wasn’t. They said it was about being in the headspace of master and servant and roleplaying.”
“How did you stumble on this sub-culture?” I asked.
“I was driving along the seafront at Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear and one of them was walking along and he was on a lead. So I stopped and asked: Can I make a documentary about you?”
“Was he on all fours?” I asked.
“No, just walking normally.”
“That’s not being a dog at all!” I complained.
“But,” explained Tony, “if you were on your knees, it would take you ages to walk along the seafront.”
Dogboy with his ‘handler’ shopping in Newcastle city centre
“How long is the Dogboy dogumantary?” I asked.
“22 minutes. I made it for Made Television in Newcastle and their slots are 22 minutes.”
“They screened it?”
“No. They didn’t like the subject matter though there’s no sex in it and it’s not dirty in any way.”
“Have they transmitted other stuff of yours?”
“Yes. A documentary about gurning. I won the South East England Gurning Championships.”
“In the DOGumentary,” I asked, “were the people OK with being identified?”
“One of them never takes his mask off, but his handler doesn’t wear a mask.”
“That’s the official name, is it?” I asked. “Handler?”
“What do they do? Just walk along seafronts?”
“They go to meet-ups with other pups.”
“Do they smell each other’s bottoms?”
“I never asked that.”
“Do they urinate on lamp posts?”
“I never asked that. You are going a bit Channel Five here, John.”
Dogboy plays with his bone and ball in Tony Hickson’s film
“I still can’t get my head round what they do. Do they just walk along seafronts and go to meet-ups where they bark at each other?”
“No,” Tony replied. “They play with their rubber bones and their balls.”
“Have you tried any of this yourself?” I asked.
“No. Personally, I can’t really see the point.”
“Do women get involved?”
Yes, but it’s mostly just men.”
“So not much bitching?”
“Do they go dogging?”
“I never asked that.”
“So you have made documentaries on gurning and this human puppy thing. What else?”
“I normally make short cartoons. I did make a horror film called Nasty Splurty Brains in 1992 but didn’t start submitting it to festivals until about 2002. It was banned in Scarborough.”
“Banned in Scarborough?” I asked. “Surely not. Why?”
“In 2004 or 2005, there was going to be a film festival in Scarborough called Whitby Shorts and the Council were humming and hahing: Oh! You’ll need a licence and the films will need to be licensed! which was bullshit. So I thought: How can I turn this to my advantage? The BBFC have got a list of video nasties and there’s a copy on Wikipedia, so I added Nasty Splurty Brains at the bottom of the list. Then I wrote to the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association saying: It’s on the list of video nasties! and they got onto Scarborough Borough Council and it was banned because it was on the BBFC list.”
“That’s an interesting piece of alternative marketing,” I said.
Where’s Mary? – legally, Tony’s short film obviously can’t say.
“I also made a 10-minute puppet film called Where’s Mary?” said Tony.
“Who is Mary?”
“Oh Jesus!” I said. “Let’s keep off that!”
“It did not get banned,” Tony continued, “but I got a lot of heat. A few death threats.”
“What was the basis of the film?” I asked.
“A child killing other children. A puppet film. Originally, it was going to be more esoteric and experimental, but then I shifted it to puppets. I sold it to the Horror Channel. They went bankrupt.”
“Your other films?” I asked.
I Suck Your Guts – full of movie moments we will never share
“I started making a feature film called I Suck Your Guts around 2012. It was about time-travelling Nazi zombies. But it never got finished, because I fell out with the writer.
“I studied TV and video production at college in Newcastle and worked in corporate video in the late 1980s.
“I stopped making films when I came to London in 1991 because I just ended up working in shoe shops and record shops. I got back into film-making in about 2005 because I started to enjoy it again. Shall I tell you about Dead Elvis?”
“Oh, go on, then.”
“I first started performing as Dead Elvis when I left the circus.”
Circus boy Tony on trapeze at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle
“The circus?” I asked.
“Before I was an actor, I was in the circus. I trained as a trapeze artist and ended up doing knife-throwing and fire-eating for Zippo’s Circus and at a circus called The Foolhardy Folk up in Norfolk.
“I did about five years in the circus but then I got bored. The novelty wears off. Then I came up with a cabaret idea called Dead Elvis around 1998, based on a 1980s drag performer called Dead Marilyn. He did Marilyn Monroe… after she was dead.”
“Did you have much success as Dead Elvis?” I asked.
“I was in a programme on Channel Five.
Dead Elvis supported the 1998 Scottish football team
“And I was in the 1998 Scottish World Cup video as Elvis – not Dead Elvis, just normal Elvis.”
“Why did they have Elvis in the Scottish World Cup video?”
“Because it was filmed at Prestwick Airport, which is the only place in the UK that Elvis ever visited.”
“And Dead Elvis?” I prompted.
“When I did live events, people hated it. I used to sing Suspicious Minds and there’s a part where the lyrics say Dry the tears from your eyes and I had this plastic Madonna on stage which squirted water out of its eyes. And I would sit on a toilet and pull the chain and there was a pyrotechnic which exploded and blew glitter everywhere. But the audience just didn’t get it and I would get booed off stage and I thought: I’m wasting me time here.”
“Would you revive the Dead Elvis to perform it again today?”
“No. There’s lots of people doing it now. Even when I was doing it, there was the Lesbian Elvis, there was the little one – Elfis – and there was Elephant Man Elvis. Then there was El-vez (the Mexican Elvis) and there was Harry Singh – he was the Sikh Elvis, back in the 1980s with Don’t Step on My Popadoms.”
Tony as Dead Elvis in Jesmond Graveyard on New Year’s Day 1997, shortly before getting thrown out for climbing on graves
“You seem to have had a few careers,” I observed.
“Round about 2008 or 2009 I was a paparazzo photographer in London. I did get Kate Moss once, when she came out of a taxi. I had thought it was going to be Jarvis Cocker but it was Kate Moss and Pete Doherty was with her and she had his guitar in her hand so it looked quite cool.
“As she walked by, I was pressing the button on my camera and the flash didn’t go off and she said: Yer flash is really shit and, for some reason I apologised to her – Oh, sorry.
“On my way home, I threw my flash over Waterloo Bridge into the water. Pete Doherty was always pissed, he always looked like a bag of shit so pictures of him were guaranteed to sell.”
“But I get the impression,” I said, “that you really want to make movies now.”
“In 2015,” Tony told me, “I did a Masters degree in screenwriting at the London College of Communication.”
“And you have made films since then?” I asked.
Ratty etc – such stuff as dreams are made on
“There was Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader. I made it in 2015. It was screened at about five film festivals including one in China and at the Anča International Animation Festival in Slovakia.
“It uses rats. Proper rats. The rats are dead. One of my hobbies is taxidermy, so I just bought a rat, two mice and a gerbil from the local pet shop and stuffed them. They were dead before I stuffed them.”
“Do pet shops,” I asked, “sell dead rodents?”
“Yeah. For snake food. Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader is good. It’s quality. People hated it though… Obviously.”
“Did the stuffed rat move?” I asked.
“Yes. I moved it with me hand. Like a puppet. There was a film festival in Brighton where they brought in kids from the local autistic school.”
“Please tell me you didn’t stuff them,” I said.
“No. But one of the kids saw Captain Ratty on the screen and he freaked out. He had to be taken from the hall. He didn’t like it. But it is a good film. Highly recommended.”