Cats… Minnie Caldwell loves ’em all

Margot Bryant never saw a cat and didn’t smile

MARGOT BRYANT scratched Nizam’s ear affectionately. “They’ll never believe me back in Coronation Street, you know,” she told the tiger. Nizam took the news with disdain, and offered a striped flan to be stroked.

A 40st., 10-year-old Royal Bengal tiger gets used to human incredulity, I suppose.

We were in the House of the Big Cats at Belle Vue Zoo Manchester — because Margot Bryant, who plays cat-loving Minnie Caldwell in Granada’s Coronation Street wanted to see the biggest cat in the world.

Nizam, retired circus star, and the tamest of tigers seemed a contender for the title. “If you aren’t the biggest, you must be the sweetest,” Margot told him.

Margot Bryant holds a cat
Margot Bryant as Minnie Caldwell with Coronation Street cat Toby

Praise like that from Margot is praise indeed. Her passion for cats is not restricted to her living-room on the television screen. Cats, in fact, have been padding in and out of her life since her childhood.

Margot on her hands and knees with a small cat
Making friends with one of Belle Vue’s smaller cats

Her father was a doctor in Hull and his home seemed to attract cats. “Our back garden was a sort of mustering ground for them,” said Margot as we moved on to the leopard’s cage.

“One cat used to call only when she was expecting kittens. Very sensible of her, I suppose. It’s always best to have a doctor around at times like that.”

She turned her attention to Tony the leopard, who, not to be outdone by Nizam, rolled on his back playfully. “Another scene stealer,” said Margot. “Bobby’s a terrible scene-stealer. too. Most cats are.”


“His real name’s Toby, but I call him Bobby,” she said. “He always reminds me of another cat called Bobby I once knew, but she was a lady.”

Toby is the marmalade tom featured in recent episodes of Coronation Street. “He had an easy time of it at first,” said Margot. “All he had to do was sit around. Now he has to do walk-on parts as well.”

Margot with a tiger
Margot talks to Nizam, the former circus star

In the cage next to Nizam’s lives Rita the tigon. One of the rarest of all big cats, she has a tiger for a father and a lioness for a mother. She didn’t respond to Margot’s charm at all. In fact, she positively snarled.

“We mustn’t hold it against her,” said Margot. “I expect she’s all mixed up.”

Our search to find the biggest cat in the world unearthed one of the cutest.

The name was Tundra, the five-month-old lion cub belonging to lion-tamer Luigi Gerardi at Belle Vue Circus.

Tundra didn’t understand English. But that proved no problem for Margot. She faced language difficulties before — with Meeko.

“He was a French cat and a terrible flirt,” she explained.

A man, a big cat, and Margot
Meeting Tundra, the darling of Belle Vue Circus

Talk about cats with Margot and the name of the Earl of Hammersmith is certain to be dropped. “Between ourselves, he isn’t really an earl,” she confided. “His name is Sandy, but he’s such a majestic cat I felt the title was justified.’’

The earl is probably the most intelligent cat Margot has met. “He’s a bit of a bully, too,” said Margot. “Whenever I get home late at night he waits up for me, and tells me off”

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