Grand Order of Water Rats

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Grand Order of Water Rats
Abbreviation GOWR
Formation 1889
Type Showbusiness charity
Purpose to assist members of the theatrical profession, or their dependents, who are in need
  • 'The Water Rats' public house in the Gray's Inn Road, London
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]


Founder Joe Elvin c. 1890

In 1889, two British music hall performers, Joe Elvin and Jack Lotto, owned a trotting pony called the Magpie.[2] 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.

One day, as 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 Elvin. Observing the bedraggled, soaked condition of the pony, the driver shouted back, "Trotting pony? Looks more like a bleedin' water rat!" And hence the organisation's name was coined, aligned with the fact that Rats spelled backwards is Star. With their benevolent aims in mind, also a Water Rat is a type of vole, which is an anagram of "love" and so underlines the Order's agenda of Brotherly Love. (Motto: Philanthropy, conviviality and social intercourse.)

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. A member of the public can become a Friend of the Water Rats.

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.


Membership is limited to 200 long-serving male members of the entertainment 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, Steve Hewlett ventriloquist, illusionist / plate spinner Andrew Van Buren, Richard Joy and Kaplan Kaye and Jess Conrad.[3]

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,[4] Charlie Chester, Arthur Haynes, Derek Dene, Jimmy Wheeler, Bill Pertwee, Sir Norman Wisdom[5] 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 is 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, Prince Charles and Prince Michael of Kent.

King Rats[edit]

The first King Rat, who is the head of the charity, was the music hall singer Harry Freeman. The comedian Dan Leno joined in 1890 and was King Rat in 1891, 1892 and 1897.[6] The post is usually held for one year.

Previous King Rats include:[7]



  1. ^ Elvin and the Grand Order of Water Rats
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ List of members of the GOWR
  4. ^ English, Arthur (with Linton Mitchell) Through the Mill and Beyond The Basingstoke Press (1989) pg 166
  5. ^ The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia by Glen Mitchell (2008) (Reynolds & Hearn) ISBN 978-1-905287-71-0, (Page 124)
  6. ^ Leno and the Grand Order of Water Rats
  7. ^ List of Past King Rats - Grand Order of Water Rats website

External links[edit]