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Living with a star

Brenda Tenton has a retired TV star at home. Her lurcher, Tramp, played the part of Claude Jeremiah Greengrass's dog in the TV series Heartbeat for six years. It came about by chance after Tramp had retired from agility because of back problems. Although being the mouthpiece of a scruffy mongrel does not do wonders to your morale, Brenda says 'You get used to it! Here is the talk she gave to the Scouts about him recently.

Let me introduce Tramp to you. He's a Bedlington whippet cross. He has a very posh name at the Kennel Club – Yetton Supertramp at Yetton Top, but he is best known as ‘Alfred’ from the YTV series Heartbeat. When he first came to live with me 12 years ago, I was not aware that he was a star in the making!

He was certainly in disguise! Aged about 18 months old, he looked and behaved as if he was an old man. He had been found wandering the streets of Salford, taken to the police station and placed in the rescue kennels. Seven days later the lady who found him rang to ask whether he had been claimed. He had not, and he was due to be destroyed that evening – just one of many. She rushed down and bought him, but unfortunately she lived in a flat with three cats and worked shift hours, so felt she could not keep him. She was persuaded by a friend to bring him to an Agility Show at Tatton park in Cheshire. It seems that everyone in the dog world knows that agility handlers are a soft touch for rescued dogs.

Love at First Sight
I was competing at the show with my lurcher, Perdi. Everyone there knew that I was on the lookout for a companion for her – a female Border Collie puppy would be ideal I thought. So how did I come to be driving home the next day with a male lurcher – and probably quite an elderly one I thought. Well, Perdi took one look at this decrepit tatty animal and fell in love. I agreed to take him on three weeks approval.

I soon found out why. The next day Perdi came in season, and had I but known it, would have fallen for anything with four legs, including a kitchen chair. He cost me a fortune in those three weeks. He had to be wormed, de-fleaed and castrated though he managed to have his evil way with Perdi in an unguarded moment. (She had morning-after treatment.) The list went on and on! Having cost me more than any pedigree puppy, there was no way I was passing him on to anyone else. Like it or lump it, he was here to stay.

If he was staying he had to learn a few manners. He was very territorial, always ready to see off any other dogs. He was also very much a terrier sort: definitely a man behaving badly. What he liked best was a quick scrap (which he always won) and then a pals-for-life bonding. With me he quickly learned to be more tolerant, as well as learning the basics of obedience and agility. Soon we began competing with absolutely no success at all. He was much too busy showing off to the assembled audience and making a fool of me by nipping me everytime I came near enough to him. I should have realised then that he was destined for greater things.

I was not too disappointed when he had to give up his agility career because of a little back trouble. Although life became more painful for him, it became far less painful for me!

A Star is Born
I carried on going to obedience sessions, and one day a friend of mine from the club asked if she could borrow him for an afternoon. Until then I did not know that Sue’s job was providing animals for Yorkshire television. I thought an afternoon out would be quite nice for him, especially as he knew her well and liked her. That was the longest afternoon of my life as the outings went on for six years. Sometimes he would be with Sue just one day in a week, at others he would be away for up to five days.

He worked his magic, though, on that very first afternoon when he carefully chose the Producer’s copy of the script as his bed. He looked up from under his bushy eyebrows – Tramp not the producer – and leaned against him pitifully, gave him an underfed, ill-treated, beaten daily look and ‘I want the dog in as many shots as possible’ said the producer, ‘and no-one removes that script. If he wants it for a bed, it’s his!’ So his special position was established and soon he was being greeted personally by the stars and crew, the caterers kept a stock of sausages for him, and he was allowed to have his own car (well Sue’s) on set when everyone else had to travel by minibus.

If you believe the rumours - and the Sunday Mirror - he had his own chauffeur, slept in a 4-star hotel and received thousands of pounds in payment and royalties. In my dreams! Sue was his chauffeur. He is an accomplished back seat driver, but doesn’t actually have his own licence yet. The only hotel for all the crew when they have a late night filming, happens to be a 4-star one, and he did share Sue’s room. As for the money, well, would I still have kept my day job if I had a dog to do all the work and pay the bills?

Happily Ever After
He retired from filming 18 months ago at the age of 12 years. I simply wanted him at home more than he was – I missed him. In retirement he has made us all realise that he is a person of some importance by simply ignoring anything that he doesn’t wish to hear or see. He is also having an increasing number of ‘senior moments’ by reverting to some of the habits of his youth.

My dogs always settle down at a distance when I am eating. The whole family was staying with my sister in Warwickshire last Christmas, and it was the Boxing Day sandwich in front of the telly meal, dogs all lying down as usual. As my mother was talking, Tramp quietly got up, spotted the large piece of ham in her sandwich, gently removed it and ate it. All in a millisecond. Before I could say a word she bit into her sandwich and realised that an important part, the filling, was missing. Tramp vanished form the room followed by a loud crash from the kitchen. As I raced through the door I discovered the turkey on the floor and Tramp about to tuck in! The dogs and I left early the next morning…

Despite playing on his apparently failing health, increasing deafness and failing eyesight in order to get sympathy and titbits, he can still spot a rabbit at 50 yards, smell food a mile away and terrorise big dogs – the bigger the better1 Despite having retired he still gets visitors arriving to video him from as far away as Australia, and is spotted by fans in such exotic locations as Wigan, Stockton on Tees and Barrow in Furness. They still say ‘I only watched that programme uo see the dog; he was the best thing in it’. Between you and me, so did I.

I love having him at home and regard his life with me as a privilege. I get the cuddles, demands, stubbornness, the sympathy, but most of all the unqualified love. I sometimes wonder whether his originals owners ever think about what they have missed: fun, fame and a wicked canine sense of humour that is so dry it takes some knowing. I wouldn’t have missed a second of the times we have had together – well, maybe last Saturday night when he decided to wee on a friend’s carpet…

As she said, you’ve got to allow him the occasional mistake when he’s the equivalent of 95 years old. But don’t be taken in by the pathetic act he will put on for you. I do feed him, honestly!

Brenda Tenton has been doing agility for approximately 14 years. She lives in Huddersfield with her Border Collies and two lurchers (one of each sex). A member of Newton Heath DTC and instructor, she also judges.

By day, Brenda is a Deputy Headmistress.

If you are living with a star and want to brag about your agility dog's thespian activities, send your brags to Agilitynet. We all know that agility dogs can be great comedians or character actors on the course, can't they!