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Roland Rat on TV-am, where he first rose to fame
|First appearance||1983 TV-am|
|Portrayed by||David Claridge|
Roland Rat is a British television puppet character. He was created, operated and voiced by David Claridge, who had previously been behind the Mooncat puppet in the Children's ITV television programme Get Up and Go! He worked for Jim Henson, then the second series of The Young Ones. Claridge would later operate and voice "Brian the Dinosaur" for BBC's Parallel 9, create and direct Happy Monsters, a pre school series for Channel 5 and shoot a CGI series Mozart's Dog for Paramount Comedy.
Roland lived beneath King's Cross railway station in The Ratcave. He had an infant brother called Little Reggie and had a girlfriend: Glenis the Guinea Pig. His colleagues included dour Welsh technical whizz Errol the Hamster and over-enthusiastic self-appointed "number one ratfan" Kevin the Gerbil, who supposedly came from Leeds and loved pink buckets. Claridge actually voiced all three main characters: Roland Rat, Errol the Hamster and Kevin The Gerbil and they often appeared on screen together. Roland Rat's car 'the Ratmobile' is a bright pink 1953 Ford Anglia.
Roland Rat first appeared on Friday 1 April 1983 (good Friday) on the ailing breakfast television network TV-am, and is generally regarded as its saviour, being described as "the only rat to join a sinking ship". After a couple of months on TV-am, Roland took the audience from 100,000 to 1.8 million. Roland was launched at TV-am by Children's editor Anne Wood to give kids entertainment during the Easter holidays. Initially, Roland was featured as the host of The Shedvision Show, allegedly broadcast from a wooden shack on the roof of TV-am's studios. On the strength of this, Roland was soon given a regular slot every morning introducing cartoons for younger viewers.
Arguably Roland Rat's golden age was the period from summer 1983 until summer 1985. During this period, Roland and friends would feature in a half hour episode transmitted on school holiday weekdays on TV-am from 0850. The school summer holidays of 1983 and 1984 saw Rat on the Road in which Roland and Kevin would spend each week in a different town of the United Kingdom. One notable highlight during this period was the visit of Austrian racing driver Roland Ratzenberger who appeared on the show in a motor race against the Ratmobile ending with Ratzenberger's car being sabotaged by his near-namesake.
The character of Errol the Hamster was gradually drafted in during the first year as a VT technician responsible for running the cartoons inserted into the show. Errol eventually joined Roland and Kevin on location at Christmas in 1983 for Roland's Winter Wonderland which saw Roland, Kevin and Errol enjoying a skiing holiday together in Switzerland. The following year at Easter, Roland Rat hosted the show Roland Goes East set in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and covering the ill-fated film shoot of Roland's attempted movie debut, a martial arts film entitled Enter the Rodent.
Christmas 1984 saw Roland's Countdown to Christmas. TV-AM sold Roland Rat advent calendars, with Roland opening each door with the viewers at 7.20am every day, The final door had Roland and his friends in the snow. The Easter 1985 holidays saw Operation FOGI (Free Our Glenis Immediately) which revolved around the gang's attempts - eventually successful - to liberate Glenis The Guinea Pig from her life in the pets department of Harrods.
Roland had a number of shows through his time at the BBC, most notably Roland Rat the Series, a chat show set in Roland's sewer home, now converted into a high-tech media centre called the Ratcave. In a similar manner to The Muppet Show and its sequels, the show would intersperse the chat show segments with a storyline involving some sort of situation "behind the scenes". These series also featured Roland's parents, Iris and Freddie, his pet flea Colin, and his agent D'Arcy De Farcy. His girlfriend Glennis was replaced at this time with a flashier character called Roxanne Rat.
He also appeared in two spoof drama series, Tales of the Rodent Sherlock Holmes, in which he played Holmes with Kevin as Dr Watson, and Ratman, a Batman spoof with Kevin as his sidekick, "Pink Bucket Man". During Christmas 1985, British Telecom operated a free "ratphone" number on 0800 800 800.
Roland appeared on Big Brother UK 2004 in a task that involved the housemates playing a version of 20 Questions in order to guess the identity of various celebrities. While the celebrities could only answer questions with 'Yes' or 'No', housemate Stuart did not recognize Roland even after his identity was revealed.
In December 2007, Roland Rat appeared on a puppet special of the Weakest Link hosted by Anne Robinson which was originally broadcast on Friday 28 December 2007 at 18:00GMT on BBC One. Roland reached the final round with Soo from The Sooty Show which went to sudden death after initially drawing with four points each. Roland ultimately lost out to Soo's superior wisdom in the tense final standoff. He also made enemies out of fellow puppets Nobby the Sheep and Zippy.
Roland appeared in the fourth episode of the second series of Ashes to Ashes. This appearance was anachronistic, as the show is set in 1982 whereas Roland didn't debut until the following year.
In 2008, Roland released a Christmas single, "Ding Dong Ding Dong (Christmas Down The Drain)" featuring Kevin, Errol and Reggie, available for download.
On the 11 February 2010, whilst making an appearance on BBC's The One Show to answer a question about how children's programmes have changed over the years, Roland Rat spent so much time joking about the presenters (Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley) that Adrian ended the interview before he answered the question.
He has also offered to save struggling ITV breakfast show Daybreak by stepping in and repeating the astonishing turnaround he achieved in the 1980s for TV-am.
Between 1983 and 1985, Roland had three UK chart hit singles including "Rat Rapping" and an album The Cassette Of The Album. A cassette version of the recording, entitled The Album was released concurrently. The cassette recording claimed to be the LP recording, and vice versa; spoken word sketches at the starts and ends of the sides on both releases revealed this to have been the result of a mix-up which could not be rectified for financial reasons. Each of the main characters contributed a song: Kevin the Gerbil's were "My Roland" and "Pink Bucket Reggae", Reggie's song was "It's Great Here, Innit", and Errol the Hamster contributed "Leeks Are Wonderful, Leeks Are Nice". A follow-up LP, Living Legend was produced by Stock Aitken Waterman. Kevin the Gerbil also had a top 50 single, "Summer Holiday" used as the theme to the second series of Rat on the Road.
TV-am serials (selected)
- The Shedvision Show (1983)
- Rat on the Road (1983) introduced Errol the Hamster in the final edition although Roland had ordered him by walkie-talkie to "Run VT" whenever it was time for the cartoon to air.
- Roland's Winter Wonderland (1983) - filmed in Switzerland
- Roland Goes East (1984) - filmed in Hong Kong. Introduced Little Reggie
- Rat on the Road II (1984) - featured Kevin's cover of Summer Holiday and Roland's of Love Me Tender.
- Operation FOGI (1984) - introduced Glenis the Guinea Pig who was rescued from the pet department in Harrod as a result of Operation FOGI (Free Our Glenis Immediately)
- Roland's Countdown to Christmas (1984) - featured Roland and friends singing a rewritten version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" featuring such paraphernalia associated with the show as Kevin's pink bucket, Errol's favourite leek pie and a Roland Rat Superstar cap.
- Roland's Rat Race (1985) - featured the first appearance of James Saxon as Roland's incompetent PA D'Arcy De Farcey.
- OWRRAS (1985) - This stood for Official Worldwide Roland Rat Appreciation Society. Broadcast in the summer of 1985, a studio based programme like The Shedvision Show and the half-term series Roland Live. The last TV-am Roland Rat serial.
In 1985 Ocean Software produced a game called Roland's Rat Race for the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. The player had to guide Roland through the sewers of London and collect nine pieces of a door which, when complete, would allow him to rescue his companions in time for an appearance on TV-am. Roland had to avoid enemies in the form of animated wellington boots which could be temporarily incapacitated with a squirt of glue, which could also be used to stop tube trains in order to ride on them.
The Roland Rat soft toy was very popular with children in the 1980s. He also appeared on mugs, and a range of children's glasses made by Dolland and Aitchison, amongst other things.
|VHS title||Release date||Video special|
|Roland Rat Superstar and Friends: Rat on the Road||1984||Roland, Kevin, and Errol read Roland's diary about how he and Kevin travel around Great Britain for six weeks to Cardiff, London, Edinburgh, Oxford, Newcastle and York.|
|Roland Rat Superstar and Friends in Winter Wonderland||1984||Roland and his friends travel to Winter Wonderland in their hilarious adventure|
|Roland Rat: The Series (BBCV 4165)||1988||Roland and his friends make TV stars on their hilarious BBC show.|
- Thorn EMI (1984–1988)
- BBC Video (1988)
- Contender Entertainment Group (2003)
- Digital Classics DVD (2010)
- "Basil Brush is run to earth by PC pack". 17 March 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
Operator David Claridge and writer Richard Curtis (yes, he of Notting Hill fame) established Roland Rat's appalling character before I came along to take over the scripts. I happily complied with Roland's habit of describing himself as a star, and every other performer as "rubbish".'
- "Roland Rat Superstar". Ratfans.com. 1983-04-01. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
- "Roland Rat". TV-am. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
- "Anne Wood C.B.E. - The Children’s Media Foundation". Thechildrensmediafoundation.org. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
- "Roland Ratzenberger, Memorial". Roland-ratzenberger.com. 1994-04-30. Retrieved 2010-08-10.
- Roland Rat joins Wogan at the BBC. By David Hewson, The Times Thursday, Oct 03, 1985; pg. 3
- Rees, Jasper (1997-09-07). "It could be a job for roland rat". Independent. Retrieved 2011-06-12.
- "Welcome to". TV-am. 2011-07-29. Retrieved 2011-11-24.
- "Roland Rat - The Cassette of the Album". 991.com. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- "Roland Rat offers to rescue ITV's Daybreak breakfast show yeahhh!". asda.com. 2010-10-21. Retrieved 2010-11-23.