Hacker T. Dog with co-presenter of Scoop, Iain StirlingPhil Fletcher with permission for Varisty

Hacker T. Dog needs no introduction. He’s the dog who graced our screens on CBBC daily, the animal behind “we’re just innocent men”, a champion of Sue Barker, meat paste and milky brews. Mr. T. Dog was an enormous part of most of our childhoods, but the man who has been under the desk, animating the dog the whole time, is a bit of an unsung hero. I sat down with Phil Fletcher, the puppeteer behind Hacker, to get to know how the iconic character came to our TV screens.

“When I was a little kid, I must have been about four, my mum and dad bought me a little emu puppet and I never took it off my hand,” Phil tells me. “I’ve done it ever since.” At nine, Phil was making puppets out of paper, and, at eleven, after some fiddling with a sewing machine, he made his first “proper puppet”, a character called Josh – “I still use Josh’s character to this very day.” After forming a band of characters, Phil began performing, starting at kids parties and school shows. “I’ve been making money from puppeteering since I was eleven, that’s thirty-five years doing this. I had no ambition to do anything else other than be a puppeteer.”

“The best thing about Hacker is that he’s real.”

Phil never “aspired to do telly” and was happy working the cabaret puppet show he did for years. “Telly was just too niche so I thought I’d never get into it. I just tried to be the best I possibly could at the live stuff.” CBBC became a reality for Phil after a producer rang him and asked him to come and interview: “It was literally out of the blue. I was in bed, watching Columbo and eating custard out of a bowl so I went for the audition and then I got the job.”

The rise of Hacker T. Dog is far from the typical trajectory of a TV star, so much so that Phil describes his career as “the flukiest job in showbusiness”. Hacker was intended to be a temporary stand-in character: “It was meant to be a four month gig with me and Iain Stirling. We got thrown together and thrown on the telly. I thought - brilliant – I’ll do this four month gig and then go back to cabaret, it’ll be a good thing to whack on the CV.” But the job carried on: “it still hasn’t ended yet, that was fifteen years ago. It’s the longest four-month job in history.”

Phil with one of the paper puppets he made as a childPhil Fletcher with permission for Varisty

Unlike the rest of Phil’s puppets, Hacker is not one he made himself. “He was in a show called Scoop and he didn’t talk, he had no personality or anything.” The character communicated through barks and growls but, two months after starting performing, Phil was sent to Wimbledon to interview Sue Barker. “We had three minutes with her so no time to prepare. I just thought, ‘oh, bugger it’, Hacker will just start talking in English from now on.” His gamble worked, and from then on Hacker was the chatty dog that graced our screens and Phil was given full control over how Hacker acted. “The best thing about Hacker is that he’s real. He’s from Wigan – I’m from Wigan. He drinks milky brew, he’s an angry little git and I’m an angry little git. The only whimsical thing about him is that he’s a dog, other than that he’s a real bloke.”

“My whole career has been a blag”

The onscreen friendship between Hacker and Iain Stirling became a cornerstone of the presenting job, but this friendship didn’t just stop there. Iain and Phil lived together for about two and a half years; “our friendship was yet another fluke, we could have hated each other.” In their London flat, they spent their days “drinking and watching Alan Partridge, sometimes fannying around and making puppet characters in the middle of the night after a few bevs. The relationship on screen of Iain and Hacker being really good friends was completely real. We’re still good mates today.”


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Phil operates on improvisation, doing whatever he thinks will get the biggest laughs. “I never write anything, I’ve never written anything in my life – it’s always been ad-lib. Scripts get written at CBBC but I just ignore them and ad-lib around them and Hacker them up.” I ask Phil if this has ever gotten him into any trouble he responds “maybe. I don’t really listen or pay their opinion any mind though, I’m Hacker.”

A puppeteer since four, a performer since 11 and an icon of the silver screen for the last decade and a half, Phil Fletcher’s career is the stuff of dreams. But I was taken aback by just how much seemed to come to him by chance. A call out of nowhere from the BBC, a split second decision that made a dog talk, and a decades long friendship with Iain Stirling all came, as Phil says, as a “fluke”. “My whole career has been a blag,” he tells me. And, god, what a hell of a blag it has been.