Edinburgh's Greyfriars Bobby: Ceremony honours dog which starred in Disney film of famous tale

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How Walt Disney found the canine star to portray Edinburgh’s most famous dog

Edinburgh has honoured the life of its second most famous canine – the dog which played Greyfriars Bobby in the 1961 Disney film of the famous story.

Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal terrier known for guarding his master’s grave for 14 years after his death, is an iconic tale in the Capital and the Disney adaptation made a star of the acting pooch – also called Bobby – who portrayed the local hero. The ashes of the Skye Terrier who starred in the film have been donated to the city council and are now on loan to Greyfriars Kirk for a special exhibition commemorating the legacy near the real-life grave of Scotland's most loyal companion.

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Walt Disney visited Edinburgh in April 1960 to scout for locations and carry out research for a film about Greyfriars Bobby. A newspaper advert invited owners of Skye Terriers to put their dogs forward for audition for the starring role. The dog chosen to be Bobby was a stray, originally named Tam, from a village in the North of Scotland. A 19 year-old girl had recently acquired him from an animal rescue centre and her father spotted the advert. They contacted Disney offering Tam’s services and following a “pawdition”, Walt Disney decided he was perfect for the role.

Greyfriars Bobby is a world-famous tale of a dog's loyalty to his master, made into a Disney film in 1961.Greyfriars Bobby is a world-famous tale of a dog's loyalty to his master, made into a Disney film in 1961.
Greyfriars Bobby is a world-famous tale of a dog's loyalty to his master, made into a Disney film in 1961.

Following the film’s release, Walt Disney gave Bobby to his friend Chief Constable William Merrilees, but Mr Merrilees felt it would be better if Bobby lived with a family, so he gave him to one of his senior officers, Chief Inspector John Turner. Bobby lived happily for the rest of his days with the Turner family in Morningside, making regular appearances in cchools and at charity events, helping to raise money for good causes. He made his final public appearance at Greyfriars Kirk in 1972 and received a grand funeral when he died in June 1974.

He was buried on Merrilees’ property, a former railway station at Dolphinton in the Borders where a gravestone and a replica Greyfriars Bobby Statue were placed. But in 2020, planning permission was granted to build houses on the land. David Hunter, a nephew of Chief Inspector John Turner, got permission from the landowner to try to find and recover Bobby’s remains before the building work started. He enlisted the help of some volunteers and after 18 months of searching, they finally discovered the lost grave. The remains were cremated, the ashes placed inside a specially commissioned casket and brought “home” to Greyfriars Kirk.

Six Skye terriers formed a canine guard of honour at a ceremony in Greyfriars Kirkyard on Friday to mark the occasion. Depute Lord Provost Lezley Marion Cameron, said: Greyfriars Bobby's memorial reads 'Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all'. Countless visitors continue to see Bobby's grave, his statue, and the many mementos of his life displayed in our Museum of Edinburgh. I'm delighted this further part of the iconic and timeless story of a little dog who would not leave his master's grave, is going to be on display for visitors to discover. Bobby's is a story held in enormous respect and affection by people around the world, as is the famous film it inspired. Bobby truly is a world-famous pet, holding a special place in people's hearts.” The exhibition will be at the Church and will be open Monday to Saturday 11am to 4pm.