We spoke to Douggy Pledger, who's responsible for basically every funny Phil Mitchell meme on the internet.
The swift erosion of my hairline from roughly the age of 16 has made me the butt of many jokes. From the standard "shut up, baldy" to the slightly more affecting "Tom, you look like an actual 43-year-old man," it's been a real up and down ride for me. But the most fun I've had with premature balding is being told I look like a number of shiny-headed celebrities. If you're bald and famous, chances are I've been compared to you. Andre Agassi, Jason Statham, Ross Kemp, Harry Hill – y'know, bald guys.
However, more than anyone else, I'm told my celebrity doppelgänger is Steve McFadden: Phil Mitchell from Eastenders. Maybe it's because in the show he's always red in the face (like me), shouting (like me) or sighing at the worthlessness of his existence (so me!!) – but for whatever reason, people seem to see a striking resemblance between the two of us.
So it was with great joy that I discovered the Facebook page and website Utter Philth, both of which boast an ongoing stream of Phil Mitchell-based memes. Videos, photos, GIFs and even pieces I would consider legitimate artworks are regularly uploaded, and the Facebook page has picked up almost 30,000 followers in less than a year.
To find out more about its origins, I asked the site's founder and sole meme creator, 35-year-old Douggy Pledger, about why he's devoted so much of his time to gathering and making funny pictures of a bald man off the telly.
"About ten years ago I did a few photoshopped film posters with Steve Mcfadden's Phil in, and every now and then would do one just to email to mates for a laugh," he says. "I had enough together to start off a website, then just got a bit carried away."
"A bit carried away" is an understatement. From kaleidoscopic Phils blossoming out of a floating Phil head, to mocked-up Phil Mitchell toys, to a video montage of every time Phil viciously swigs from a bottle to the sound of "Another One Bites the Dust", the site is an exhaustive and wildly varied exercise with what you can achieve with images of one man's face.
I wonder what it is about Phil, or Utter Philth, that resonates so profoundly with people? There are plenty of Eastenders memes out there, but this particular site and its Facebook page have caught on more than any other.
"Maybe because he's always so fucking serious and angry," says Douggy. "Because he's far from being a comedy character, really – he plays it really straight. Sticking him in a clown costume [as Douggy has done] is funny because it's the exact opposite of what he is."
What about the other characters? Why Phil, specifically?
"Well, you couldn't do it with Danny Dyer's character, for instance, because he's the cheeky, funny one who plays on that," says Douggy. "I've never actually watched Eastenders, though I catch the odd bit here and there. I've always liked Phil and Ian."
I've got a confession: I, like Douggy, don't really follow Eastenders either. I'll occasionally watch it, mainly for the bits with Danny Dyer and Phil, but I never have any idea what's going on, beyond the fact everyone's trying to kill each other and Phil's drunk the majority of the time. However, even though I know next to nothing about the show, I can still relate to an overweight bald guy drinking, screaming and groaning his way through a collection of dreary London backdrops.
"I guess people like getting caught up in other people's shit, then they can natter about it later on," says Douggy. "Like: 'Did you see what Phil did last night?' 'Oh yeah, when he lamped that bloke and got shitfaced, just like so and so!'"
Have there been any negative reactions from diehard fans?
"No, they all seem to love it – nobody's tried stop me, touch wood," he says. "I see my images being passed around, sometimes with my credit taken off. I think people seem to think it's a collection of work by a bunch of different people."
But it's very much not: Douggy makes every single thing you see on Utter Philth, a true slave to the creation of Phil Mitchell memes.
What about the man himself? Has Douggy had any hoarse phone calls in the middle of the night, a furious, red-faced bald man on the other end, threatening to send somebody round to break his legs?
"You know, by complete coincidence, my partner was in his son's year at school. He's 'liked' some of the Philth stuff, so Steve must know. You'd tell your dad if you found a website based around him, right? I wouldn't have a clue what he'd think of the site, though. All I know him for is Phil; I have no idea what he's like off camera. Phil Mitchell certainly wouldn't find it funny – he'd be livid."
So what's the plan for Utter Philth? "I really don't know," says Douggy. "I've spent the past 20 years trying to get various projects off the ground – I never thought it'd be this that took off. I'm sure it'll fizzle out at some point soon."
Is it the most successful work he's ever done? "I guess so, sadly. A filthy albatross. I have a series of children's books out that I've written and illustrated with my fiancee, Caroline. That's what I'm mostly proud of."
It must be strange being an artist in the internet age; you spend years developing nuanced, personal work, and then a Photoshopped image of a soap star you emailed to some of your mates ends up resonating with audiences more than any of your actual passion projects.
"I guess when you get enough people that like something, you'll get more people liking it because their mates do, then it snowballs from there," says Douggy. "As long as Phil is in Eastenders I'll always have stuff to put out there. Fingers crossed I don't get a broken nose once McFadden catches up with me."
For all Douggy's worries, I imagine Steve McFadden would probably appreciate the page. It's a kind of shrine to the average man – the guy you see on the street with large sweat patches forming on his shirt as soon as the temperature rises over 13 degrees, or in the pub, lurching over some dry roasted nuts and a few empty pint glasses. It's a shrine I can relate to, for I – like many others – am a man who also sweats and drinks all year round.
Does Douggy have any words for others who can relate to big Phil the same way I do?
"Keep on drinking."
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