'Britain's Got Talent' Sees Controversy Over Stunt-Double Dog

Simon Cowell X Factor Headshot - H 2014
AP Images

Simon Cowell X Factor Headshot - H 2014

The U.K.'s broadcasting watchdog has received more than 200 complaints, and judge/co-producer Simon Cowell has reportedly ordered an investigation.

On Sunday night, an average of 11.7 million people tuned in U.K. network ITV to see border collie Matisse and her trainer, Jules O’Dwyer, claim the 2015 Britain’s Got Talent crown.

The final act saw the dog balance cones on its head, jump around on its hind legs and – as a centerpiece – perform a daredevil tightrope walk, prompting a standing ovation from the judges, including Simon Cowell, who is also a co-producer of the show. The performance saw Matisse secure 22.6 percent of the public phone-in vote – 2 percent higher than magician Jamie Raven – and scoop the £250,000 ($383,000) prize.

However, it transpires that it wasn’t actually Matisse they were witnessing.

On Monday it emerged that a stunt dog named Chase was actually used for the tightrope section of the act, with O’Dwyer telling breakfast TV that Matisse was “a little bit afraid of heights.”

The revelation provoked a hail of complaints, with more than 200 so far received by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, which has said it would assess the matter to see whether a formal investigation was needed. Among the body’s code of conduct is the ruling that broadcasters must “ensure that viewers and listeners are not materially misled about any broadcast competition or voting.” Many viewers have also taken to Twitter to say they were duped.

Producers of Britain’s Got Talent have since apologized for “not making it clearer” that Matisse had been swapped, but according to U.K. tabloid The Sun, Cowell – who wasn't aware of the switch himself – has now ordered an investigation.

The controversy could scupper Matisse’s chances of making it to the big screen. 2012’s winner, mongrel Pudsey (and trainer Ashleigh Jade Butler), went on to feature in a 3D feature film produced by Cowell, although it flopped with a dismal $3.8 million earnings at the box office.

Last summer a scandal rocked BBC cooking reality show The Great British Bake Off when a contestant threw his baked Alaska dessert in the bin, claiming sabotage by a rival. More than 800 people complained to the BBC and Ofcom over the incident, although the watchdog didn’t take the matter any further.