While radio-tracking hedgehogs, many years ago, around the fields of Devon I became quite lonely. Working from 9pm to 4am out in the dark and rain, returning to my cold, damp and draughty caravan to sleep for a few hours before heading back out to check all the day-nests was a tiring existence.
So it was no surprise to me that I started to talk to my hedgehogs. And while each had a unique number, referring to the frequency of the radio-signal the little box on their back gave off, I found that they easily acquired names. So Freya, the enthusiastic traveller, Nigel, the speed freak and ‘little Willy’, the one who had recovered from an intimate swelling all became my nocturnal friends. Those of you who have heard me talk on the matter will know that Nigel was my favourite hedgehog, becoming a close friend and also seeding in me the idea that has gone on to shape much of my thinking since then.
But it is George I turn to, if only as a link to a film I have just been to see. And what different characters. George the Hedgehog, the Polish animation, features a spiky protagonist about as far removed from the solid and reliable hedgehog I became fond of in Devon. In fact my Devon hedgehog almost had me in tears on BBC Radio. I had had a bad run of losing animals, even my beloved Nigel, to cars and badgers. This led to a line that I thought would be edited out of my book, A Prickly Affair, ‘and I watched in horror as my Little Willy was eaten by a badger.’
George had gone missing, I was recording my thoughts for the radio, walking around with a tape recorder, and I could not find him. I was getting more and more anxious, worried that he, too, had been eaten. Eventually I got a good signal and found him – and the genuine relief that the tape captured so moved one listener of Pick of the Week that he was minded to feed it in as a sample to a dance track … not sure whether he ever did.
Which, tangentially, brings me to the film I went to see at the Barbican in London last week. It was part of London’s International Animation Festival and was irresistible. I should warn any of the faint hearted that this trailer is fairly robust – in fact the entire film, George the Hedgehog, was one of the rudest and crudest I have ever seen. The Polish title is Jez Jerzy, and we were lucky enough to have one of the directors present for a Q&A after the screening. It felt slightly odd having people asking serious questions about funding and animation styles after such a bombast of fart jokes, alcohol and sexual excess. But they did.
Director Wojtek Wawszczyk expressed pleasure that only four people walked out of the screening. And seemed genuinely surprised when I got to meet him that I was interested not animation but in the choice of the species – why a hedgehog? This is something I have been asking many people who are involved in the use of the hedgehog – either in stories or marketing. What is it about the animal that made you think it would be a great idea.
I was not aware that this film is based on characters that have featured in an adult comic strip since 1996. George is a sex-mad alcohol fuelled hedgehog embroiled in a passionate affair with a married woman (human … this is odd) and being chased by a combination of racist skin-heads and genetic scientists. I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes their humour unsophisticated!
I have now written to the originators of the strip in hope of some answers as to why a hedgehog … and would welcome any suggestions you all might have as well!