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What would you – yes, you personally – call the loveable cartoon character depicted above? Top Cat? Boss Cat? 01:30:56:10? It’s quite an interesting poser.
…y’see, when the BBC bought the rights to Hanna-Barbera’s most popular long-running Bilko-riffing battle of wits between a bunch of wisecracking cats and the long arm of the law set on Precinct 13 (as in Assault On) in the early 1960s, they had somehow overlooked the fact that Top Cat shared its name with a popular brand of cat food. As they weren’t allowed to give any form of even unintentional or accidental promotion to any commercially available product, this presented something of a problem. And their ingenious solution was simply to change the name.
This was easy enough to implement when it came to continuity announcers and Radio Times billings (although they don’t seem to have managed to persuade the various manufacturers of tie-in merchandise to follow suit), but the whopping great onscreen captions in the middle of the animated opening and closing titles announcing that this was Top Cat and certainly not Boss Cat were a different kettle of fish. The even more ingenious solution was simply for someone wearing a blindfold to hack the offending frames out with a blunt pair of scissors.
As a result, the opening titles ran through their usual sliding-down-a-limousine-and-yanking-a-coin-on-elastic shenanigans up to the point where the wheeler-dealing feline sat down at a restaurant table and tucked a napkin into his waiscoat, upon which it immediately and crudely cut to a specially made caption card, featuring our hero in a generic pose and the legend Boss Cat in cartoony 1960s lettering on a blue background, omitting his theft of a workman’s lunch pail and hightailing it in a taxi with the show’s logo superimposed.
Meanwhile, the end credits were even more ridiculous. This time, the removal of the superimposed caption not only led to a jump cut in the changing-into-nightwear action, inexplicably lurching from his snapping on of eyeshades to slamming the lid of his trashcan home down on himself, but also in the musical accompaniment, jumping jarringly from that jazzy trumpet voluntary instrumental bit straight into the middle of another lyric. In fact, not even as neat as jumping into the middle of a line; it literally cackhandedly edits into the middle of a word (“-verything! He’s the most tip-top, Top Cat!”). Never mind the supposed mass confusion over that inaudible “providing it’s with dignity“/”bromide it gets whipped in the tea” line – this was the real point of confusion for any youngsters watching Boss Cat. Well, apart from the fact that the song, and all of the dialogue in the show, continually referred to one Top Cat.
Eight out of ten owners’ cats clearly didn’t prefer Top Cat to other leading brands, as they seemed to cease trading some time in the 1980s, upon which the BBC promptly purchased a set of shiny new unedited prints. But did this mean that Boss Cat became lost in some sort of popular cultural ether? It’s likely that the edited versions were all binned, and quite rightly so you may think. But don’t you feel just the slightest tinge of nostalgia for those ridiculous edits and that risible caption card? And what do you call him?