Nigger (dog)
Nigger was a male black labrador retriever
Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever is one of several kinds of retriever, a type of gun dog. A breed characteristic is webbed paws for swimming, useful for the breed's original purpose of retrieving fishing nets. The Labrador is the most popular breed of dog by registered ownership in Canada, the United...

 belonging to Wing Commander
Wing Commander (rank)
Wing commander is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries...

 Guy Gibson
Guy Gibson
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, RAF , was the first CO of the Royal Air Force's 617 Squadron, which he led in the "Dam Busters" raid in 1943, resulting in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area...

, and the mascot of 617 Squadron
No. 617 Squadron RAF
No. 617 Squadron is a Royal Air Force aircraft squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. It currently operates the Tornado GR4 in the ground attack and reconnaissance role...

. Nigger died on 16 May 1943, the day before the famous "Dam Busters" raid
Operation Chastise
Operation Chastise was an attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, subsequently known as the "Dambusters", using a specially developed "bouncing bomb" invented and developed by Barnes Wallis...

, when he was hit by a car. He was buried at midnight as Gibson was leading the raid. "Nigger" was the codeword Gibson used to confirm the breach of the Möhne Dam
Möhne Reservoir
The Möhne Reservoir is an artificial lake in North Rhine-Westphalia, some 45 km east of Dortmund. The dam was built between 1908 and 1913 to help control floods, regulate water levels on the Ruhr river downstream, and generate hydropower. Today, the lake is also a tourist attraction...

. Nigger's grave is at Royal Air Force station Scampton
RAF Scampton
Royal Air Force Station Scampton is a Royal Air Force station situated north of Lincoln in England, near the village of Scampton, on the site of an old First World War landing field.-First World War:...

, Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

. He had often accompanied Gibson on training flights.


Nigger was portrayed in the 1955 British war film
War film
War films are a film genre concerned with warfare, usually about naval, air or land battles, sometimes focusing instead on prisoners of war, covert operations, military training or other related subjects. At times war films focus on daily military or civilian life in wartime without depicting battles...

 The Dam Busters
The Dam Busters (film)
The Dam Busters is a 1955 British Second World War war film starring Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd and directed by Michael Anderson. The film recreates the true story of Operation Chastise when in 1943 the RAF's 617 Squadron attacked the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany with Wallis's...

, in which he was mentioned by name frequently. The word nigger
Nigger is a noun in the English language, most notable for its usage in a pejorative context to refer to black people , and also as an informal slang term, among other contexts. It is a common ethnic slur...

, which was in general use as a dog's name at the time, has since become culturally unacceptable. In 1999, British television network ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 broadcast a censored version of the film, with all instances of the name removed. ITV blamed regional broadcaster London Weekend Television
London Weekend Television
London Weekend Television was the name of the ITV network franchise holder for Greater London and the Home Counties including south Suffolk, middle and east Hampshire, Oxfordshire, south Bedfordshire, south Northamptonshire, parts of Herefordshire & Worcestershire, Warwickshire, east Dorset and...

, which in turn alleged that a junior staff member had been responsible for the unauthorised cuts. When ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 again showed a censored version in June 2001, it was criticised by Index on Censorship
Index on Censorship
Index on Censorship is a campaigning publishing organisation for freedom of expression, which produces an award-winning quarterly magazine of the same name from London. The present chief executive of Index on Censorship, since 2008, is the author, broadcaster and commentator John Kampfner, former...

 as "unnecessary and ridiculous" and because the edits introduced continuity errors. The code word "nigger" transmitted in Morse Code
Morse code
Morse code is a method of transmitting textual information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment...

 upon the successful completion of the central mission was not censored.

Some edited American versions of the film use dubbing to change Nigger's name to Trigger. However, recent American showings on the Turner Classic Movies
Turner Classic Movies
Turner Classic Movies is a movie-oriented cable television channel, owned by the Turner Broadcasting System subsidiary of Time Warner, featuring commercial-free classic movies, mostly from the Turner Entertainment and MGM, United Artists, RKO and Warner Bros. film libraries...

 (TCM) channel do not censor or change the name. Scenes in which Nigger is referred to by name appear in Pink Floyd The Wall
Pink Floyd The Wall (film)
Pink Floyd—The Wall is a 1982 British live-action/animated musical film directed by Alan Parker based on the 1979 Pink Floyd album The Wall. The screenplay was written by Pink Floyd vocalist and bassist Roger Waters. The film is highly metaphorical and is rich in symbolic imagery and sound...


Animal wrangling

The animal used to portray Nigger was an RAF
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 dog, on loan to the production. Richard Todd
Richard Todd
Richard Todd OBE was an Irish-born British stage and film actor and soldier.-Early life:Richard Todd was born as Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Andrew William Palethorpe Todd, was an Irish physician and an international Irish rugby player who gained three caps for...

 was the animal wrangler
Wrangler (profession)
In North America, a wrangler is someone employed to handle animals professionally, especially horses, but also other types of animals. Wranglers also handle the horses and other animals during the making of motion pictures...

, and later recalled that the dog was an exemplary actor that hardly ever required a re-take. On two occasions, however, the dog caused difficulty. On the first occasion, the dog could not be persuaded to wait when filming the scene when Nigger answers a knock on the door in Gibson's bedroom. The second occasion was when filming on location at RAF Scampton
RAF Scampton
Royal Air Force Station Scampton is a Royal Air Force station situated north of Lincoln in England, near the village of Scampton, on the site of an old First World War landing field.-First World War:...

, where Nigger and Gibson were to stroll through a group of RAF men waiting outside of a building for a briefing. The dog could not be persuaded to move off one spot, or even dragged past it on a leash. It later transpired that the spot was the site where the real Nigger had been buried, some 11 years before, whose gravestone had been temporarily removed for filming. In the end, the scene was filmed without the dog.


Film critics have observed that Nigger is used in the film as a symbol of the men's emotional attachment to one another, an attachment that is not directly expressed between the film's characters. Sarah Street notes that the film, whilst full of emotion, does not articulate it except through secondary devices such as the affection that the characters are shown giving to Nigger. Christine Geraghty, a lecturer in media studies, observed that "Gibson's suppression of feelings is presented as appropriate rather than problematic, and the use of the dog as his most explicit emotional attachment is in keeping with the way in which class and masculinity are brought together in this isolated but self-sufficient figure.". James Chapman, lecturer at the Open University, adds to that the observation that the scene where Gibson is shown choking back his grief at the death of Nigger, silent and blinking awkwardly, is an example of the stiff upper lip
Stiff upper lip
One who has a stiff upper lip displays fortitude in the face of adversity, or exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion. The phrase is most commonly heard as part of the idiom "keep a stiff upper lip", and has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people ,...

 behaviour characteristic of British war films of the genre.


Richard Todd, along with Jonathan Falconer, author of a book about the film, were interviewed on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

's Today programme in 2005 about the name of the dog and whether any remake of the film should retain the name. Todd, in a pre-recorded interview, said:
In response to being asked whether the name should be censored in a remake, Falconer said:

In response to being asked whether he thought people would accept this as historical accuracy, Falconer said:
In the same interview, George Baker
George Baker (actor)
George Baker, MBE was an English actor and writer. He was best-known for portraying Tiberius in I, Claudius, and Inspector Wexford in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries.-Personal life:...

, who also acted in the film, in response to being asked whether any opinion had been expressed on the name at the time that the film was made, said:
Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson
Sir Peter Robert Jackson, KNZM is a New Zealand film director, producer, actor, and screenwriter, known for his The Lord of the Rings film trilogy , adapted from the novel by J. R. R...

, producer of the remake that later began, said in 2006 that "It is not our intention to offend people. But really you are in a no-win, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't scenario: If you change it, everyone's going to whinge and whine about political correctness. And if you don't change it, obviously you are offending a lot of people inadvertently. … We haven't made any decisions about what we'll do." Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry
Stephen John Fry is an English actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter and film director, and a director of Norwich City Football Club. He first came to attention in the 1981 Cambridge Footlights Revue presentation "The Cellar Tapes", which also...

, writer for the remake, was asked to provide several alternative names for the dog, and came up with several suggestions. Executive producer David Frost
David Frost
Sir David Frost is a British broadcaster.David Frost may also refer to:*David Frost , South African golfer*David Frost , classical record producer*David Frost *Dave Frost, baseball pitcher...

 rejected them all, saying "Guy sometimes used to call his dog Nigsy, so I think that's what we will call it. Stephen has been coming up with other names, but this is the one I want." Jackson's assistant contradicted this a week later, however, saying "To stay true to the story, you can't just change [the name]. We have not made any decisions yet. The script is still being written; and that decision will be made closer to the time."

Phantom sightings

According to Bruce Barrymore Halpenny
Bruce Barrymore Halpenny
Bruce Barrymore Halpenny is a widely respected English military historian and author, specialising in airfields and aircraft, as well as ghost stories and mysteries. He is also a broadcaster and games inventor.-Parents:...

 in his books Ghost Stations
Ghost Stations
Ghost Stations is a series of books by the British military historian Bruce Barrymore Halpenny, containing ostensibly true ghost and mystery stories generally connected to the RAF, airfields and other military or war connected stories.- History :...

, the ghost of Nigger has been seen on numerous occasions around RAF Scampton
RAF Scampton
Royal Air Force Station Scampton is a Royal Air Force station situated north of Lincoln in England, near the village of Scampton, on the site of an old First World War landing field.-First World War:...

 and also around the Dambusters Memorial at Woodhall Spa
Woodhall Spa
Woodhall Spa is a civil parish and village in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England within a wooded area on the Southern edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, about south-west of Horncastle and about east-south-east of Lincoln...


External links

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