Tales of the Riverbank

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Once upon a time there was a hamster called Hammy...

Tales of the Riverbank

The year 2000 marked the 40th anniversary of Tales of the Riverbank.  The first episode was shown by the BBC on  Sunday July 3rd 1960 at 4.50pm.   The series featured a selection of live animals; a bizarre mix of pets and wildlife who could speak to one another.  In the UK the voices were provided by non other than Johnny Morris. The main cast consisted of Hammy the Hamster, Mr Guinea Pig and Roderick the Rat, although they were joined by many other animals over the series run.

 The very first Tales of the Riverbank was filmed in a garage in Toronto, Canada in December 1958, by co-creators David Ellison and Canadian Paul Sutherland.   The two film makers had to purchase their first hamster and rat from a department store and a guinea pig from a pet shop before they could begin filming .  The weather was minus 25 degrees, the snow outside was six feet deep and Dave Ellison caught double pneumonia shortly after filming was completed, but the pilot for Tales was completed despite the conditions. 

 Once the editing had been finished, and Dave Ellison had fully recovered, he hightailed it to London and arrived at the BBC with the completed pilot under his arm. The BBC were so impressed by what they saw that they commissioned 13 episodes then and there.

 Tales of the Riverbank shared the coveted lunchtime Watch With Mother slot with other children’s classics like Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, the Wooden Tops, Pogles Wood, Camberwick Green and Trumpton during the 60’s and early 70’s.   Meanwhile filming of the series moved from Canada to the Isle of Wight where Ellison was based and where he still lives today. 

 The initial run of 13 episodes was so popular that a further series of 13 episodes was made.  Ellison and Sutherland also managed to sell the series to Canada and Australian TV in a time where the full potential of global sales had not been realised.

 After the second black and white series had been completed, everything went quiet in Tales of the Riverbank production until 1972 when a brand new series of 26 episodes was made on the Isle of Wight and shot entirely in colour.  Unfortunately in the meantime the BBC had introduced a new policy banning the use of human voices for live animals.  This not only meant that the BBC would not buy the new series, it also meant that Johnny Morris no longer had a career at the Beeb.   Ellison and Sutherland took their new series to Granada where it was retitled Hammy’s Tales of the Riverbank and snapped up.  

 The series continued to be re-shown  during the 1970’s and 80’s and it’s continuing popularity meant that a video release of the series in 1988 stayed in the video top ten for 16 weeks. Channel Four were so impressed at the level of sales that they commissioned a new series of 26 episodes each running for five minutes and recalled Johnny Morris to provide the distinctive voices.

 For the past 40 years Tales of the Riverbank has been a huge worldwide success.  It has rarely been off the screens in an amazing 48 countries and has won over 100 television awards.  The show has even featured in  several French and Saunders sketches!

 Its popularity is such that only recently a further 52 episodes have been shot in Canada by David and Paul.  The episode length was extended from the traditional 5 minutes to half an hour to meet the needs of the American and Canadian networks.  

 If you would like to see more of how Hammy looks in the 21st Century, then you can visit his own website at www.hammyhamster.com and see just exactly what this little creature is up to nowadays.

 Karon Hollis

Page Last Updated Sunday, February 13, 2005 at 12:29:47