Grand Order of Water Rats

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Grand Order of Water Rats
GOWR-logo.jpg
Abbreviation GOWR
Formation 1889
Type Showbusiness charity
Purpose to assist members of the theatrical profession, or their dependents, who are in need
Location 'The Water Rats' Public House in the Gray's Inn Road, London
Membership 200
Website http://www.gowr.net
Remarks Current King Rat: Rick Wakeman

The Grand Order of Water Rats is an entertainment industry charity, and brotherhood, based in London. The Water Rats were founded in 1889 by the comedian Joe Elvin.[1] The first King Rat, as the head of the charity is termed, was the music hall singer Harry Freeman. The comedian Dan Leno joined in 1890 and was an early King Rat in 1891, and again in 1892 and 1897.[2] The post is usually held for one year.

Origin[edit]

Founder Joe Elvin c. 1890

In 1889, two successful British music hall performers, Joe Elvin and Jack Lotto, owned a trotting pony called The Magpie.[3] As the pony was a regular race winner, its owners decided that they would use the profits to help performers who were less fortunate than themselves. Thus an organization was formed to collate their efforts, as well as to serve as a social club for performers. One day, as Joe Elvin was driving the pony back to its stables in the pouring rain, a passing bus driver called out, "Wot yer got there, mate?" "Our trotting pony!" replied Joe. Observing the bedraggled, soaked condition of the pony, the driver shouted back, " Trotting pony? Looks more like a bleedin' water rat!"

And thus the organization's name was coined, aligned with the fact that Rats spelled backwards is Star. With their benevolent aims in mind, it was also noted that a Water Rat is a type of vole, which is an anagram of "love", thus underlining the Order's agenda of Brotherly Love. (Motto: Philanthropy, conviviality and social intercourse.) A member of the public can become a Friend of the Water Rats.

The charity raises money by organising shows, lunches, dinners and other events. The objects of the charity are "to assist members of the theatrical profession, or their dependents, who, due to illness or old age are in need." When possible additional funds raised go to a diverse range of charities and good causes including hospitals, health charities and benevolent funds.

The Water Rats originally held meetings in Sunbury on Thames in a public house now called 'The Magpie'. Their headquarters is now based at the Water Rats pub in Grays Inn Road in King's Cross, London.

Members[edit]

Membership is limited to 200 long-serving male members of the industry. Some are household names but many are not, but all must be respected and trusted by their peers. Joining the Order is an exclusive and complicated process that involves finding a proposer and seconder within the Order, consideration by the Order's Grand Council and finally a vote which needs a large majority for success. The present King Rat (2013) is keyboard player and composer Rick Wakeman. Current members include: Kev Orkian, Derek Martin, Con and Dec Cluskey of The Bachelors, Engelbert Humperdinck, Lionel Blair, Tom O'Connor, Frank Bruno, Barry Cryer, Don Smoothey, Paul Daniels, Billy Murray, Brian May, Nicholas Parsons, Roy Hudd, Ken Dodd, John Bardon, Joe Pasquale, Jimmy Perry, Richard Joy and Kaplan Kaye and Jess Conrad.[4]

Past members include Bob Holness, Frank Carson, Max Bygraves, Charlie Chaplin, Peter Lorre, Peter Sellers, Jon Pertwee, Danny Kaye, Davy Kaye, Laurel and Hardy, Maurice Chevalier, Bob Hope, Will Hay, Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Cooper, Ted Ray, Les Dawson, George Martin, Sir John Mills, Sir Billy Butlin, David Nixon, Howard Keel, Sir Harry Secombe, Arthur English,[5] Charlie Chester, Arthur Haynes, Derek Dene, Jimmy Wheeler, Bill Pertwee, Sir Norman Wisdom[6] and Bert Weedon.

The gold Water Rat stick pin worn by members

Members of the order wear a small gold badge shaped as a water rat on the left lapel of their jackets, and if one Water Rat meets another who is not wearing his badge he is fined with the money going to charity. Magician David Nixon wore his badge while appearing on television, explaining that as current King Rat he could be fined by any other member who saw him on screen without it.

There are also a small number of Companion Rats, distinguished men from various fields of business and influence who are not performers but who have achieved recognition for their support and friendship of the Order. These include Bob Potter OBE, Rear Admiral Sir Donald Gosling, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales and Prince Michael of Kent.

Past King Rats[edit]

Complete list of Past King Rats[7]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Elvin and the Grand Order of Water Rats
  2. ^ Leno and the Grand Order of Water Rats
  3. ^ Golden, George Fuller. My Lady Vaudeville and her White Rats. Published under the auspices of the Board of Directors of the White Rats of America, 1909. p. 31.
  4. ^ List of members of the GOWR
  5. ^ English, Arthur (with Linton Mitchell) Through the Mill and Beyond The Basingstoke Press (1989) pg 166
  6. ^ The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia by Glen Mitchell (2008) (Reynolds & Hearn) ISBN 978-1-905287-71-0, (Page 124)
  7. ^ List of Past King Rats - Grand Order of Water Rats website

External links[edit]