Tales of the Riverbank
|Tales of the Riverbank|
Hammy the Hamster and G.P. the Guinea Pig during the episode Hammy the Flying Postman
|Also known as||
Hammy HamsterOnce Upon a Hamster
|Created by||Dave Ellison
|Written by||Dave Ellison
|Presented by||Peggy Miller|
|Voices of||Paul Sutherland (Canada)
Johnny Morris (UK)
|Opening theme||Andante in C by Mauro Giuliani|
|Country of origin||Canada/UK|
|No. of series||5|
|No. of episodes||143
Hammy Hamster: 26
|Original network||BBC (1960)
HBO (Hammy Hamster, 1972)
/Channel 4 (1995–1998)
|Picture format||Black-and-white (1960s)
405-line (Hammy Hamster)
PAL (C4 episodes)
Tales of the Riverbank, sometimes called Hammy Hamster and later called Once Upon a Hamster, was a British children's television show developed from a Canadian pilot. The original series was later broadcast on Canadian and U.S. television, dubbed by Canadian and American actors for the markets they were to be broadcast in.
The pilot was created by David Ellison and Paul Sutherland, CBC film editors, in 1959. After completing the pilot programme, CBC turned down the production and so Dave Ellison travelled to the BBC in London to show it. The BBC initially commissioned thirteen episodes, but extended this later. A second series were made in colour in the 1970s, narrated by Johnny Morris.
The show also aired on the Animal Planet during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The programme had human voices in sync with the actions of the live animals, to give the impression that the creatures were performing activities. They lived in a place called "The Riverbank" and operated various artifacts including toy sailboats, cars, and even a diving bell. Various techniques were used to persuade the animals to do what was required, including smearing jam on the objects they were to handle. The voices were selected to reflect the personalities of the animals. Each episode ended with the narrator alluding to an event involving the characters, but refusing to elaborate, saying "But that is another story."
The original black and white Tales of the Riverbank series was first shown by the BBC on 3 July 1960 at 4:50 pm. It was originally narrated by Paul Sutherland, but the BBC did not want Canadian accents and so for the BBC showings, all the voices were provided by Johnny Morris. The series was eventually sold to 34 countries around the world.
UK VHS releases
|VHS Title||Release Date||Episodes|
|Further Tales of the Riverbank - The Picnic and other Stories (VC1259)||5 October 1992||The First Day of Spring, Sunken Treasure, The Fortune Teller, The Flying Lesson, The Picnic, King Gus's Birthday, Hammy the Helpful Hamster, Flying High, The Circus|
|Further Tales of the Riverbank - A Nice Surprise and other Stories (VC1279)||4 January 1993||G.P.'s Medicine, Litter Bugs, The Riverbank Clock, The Drought, Say Cheese, Mischief, First Past The Post, Hammy The Flying Postman, A Nice Surprise|
|Further Tales of the Riverbank - The Race and other Stories (VC1310)||1 March 1993||Windy Weather,The Magic Word, G.P to the Rescue, King Gus's False Alarm, The Race, Hammy's Crystal Ball,Roderick to the Rescue, The Flood|
UK DVD releases
|DVD Title||Release Date||Episodes|
|Further Tales of the Riverbank - Volume 1'||September 2013||The First Day of Spring, Sunken Treasure, Hammy the Helpful Hamster, The Flying Lesson, The Circus, Litter Bugs, River Bank Race, The Flood, Hammy's Crystal Ball.|
|Further Tales of the Riverbank - Volume 2'||April 2015||Hammy the Flying Postman, The Riverbank Clock, Say Cheese, GP to the Rescue, GP's Medicine, A Nice Surprise, Windy Weather, Roderick to the Rescue.|
After the original thirteen episodes, 39 further episodes were made in black and white. The majority were written by David Ellison, Charles Fullman, Paul Sutherland and Cliff Braggins. The episodes of Tales of the Riverbank purchased by the BBC were adapted by staff writer Peggy Miller. Much of the filming was done on location at Wootton Creek on the Isle of Wight.
A later series with 26 episodes was filmed in colour in the 1970s, retitled Hammy Hamster (full title: Hammy Hamster's Adventures On the Riverbank) launched in 1972. The BBC had introduced a policy of not using human voices for live animals and so this series was shown in the UK by ITV. In Australia the show aired on ABC TV through the '70s as Adventures on the River Bank.
A further series, from 1995 to 1998, was produced for YTV and Channel 4; 65 episodes of that series were made. It is ranked 79th in the UK Channel 4's 2001 poll of the 100 Greatest Kids' TV shows. In the United States, Once Upon A Hamster was broadcast in a late-night slot, which helped the programme transcend its intended audience and develop a cult status among American viewers.
Dave Ellison has recently launched his own website  to regularly update information about Hammy Hamster and his friends. He has also been involved with optimising the TV series, last shown on Channel 4, for release on DVD. The first nine episodes are now readily available.
Three children's books were published by Scholastic Publications Ltd in 1993 based on the series and illustrated by Pauline Hazelwood.
In the later series the list of characters was expanded from the original first three listed below.
|Hammy Hamster||The series' main protagonist and best-known character. He is curious and kind and lives in an old boot on the Riverbank. He became GP's co-pilot in the episode The Aeroplane Ride.|
|Roderick the Water Rat||Hammy's best friend. He is cautious, resourceful and owns a small motorboat. In the Canadian and U.S. versions of the series, this character was Matty or Martha Mouse (although the "mouse" is really a rat). In Australia, the character was known as Matthew.|
|G. P. the Guinea Pig||Boastful and creative, he is the Riverbank's resident inventor. His creations included a "winch-a-ma-bob" and a "recyclamobile". He lived in a wooden house with a prominent water wheel at the front. He had a small plane, which he flew in several episodes, and spoke in a voice that sounded rather like W. C. Fields (in the BBC version, he speaks with a strong Yorkshire accent).|
|Turtle||A slow and plodding character. He teaches his friends the importance of patience.|
|Wise Old Frog||A grouchy but clever frog. His wise advice is often sought by the other characters.|
|Granny Rabbit||Acts as a grandmother to the whole community. She is fond of baking, singing and story-telling.|
|Berti and Herbi||Roderick's sneaky hamster nephews, who have no relation to Hammy. Appear in Bubbles.|
|The Owl||Always on a tree branch, the only word it usually ever says is "who", but will sometimes say other question words.|
A feature-length film, also titled Tales of the Riverbank, was released in September 2008 directly to DVD. It used a mix of puppets, live action, and special effects. Directed by John Henderson, produced by Handmade Pictures and starring Stephen Fry as Owl, Ardal O'Hanlon as Hammy, Steve Coogan as Roderick and Jim Broadbent as G. P., the story follows three friends who live in a riverbank. After being swept away from their homes by a storm, they embark on an adventure to find their home and save it from the danger of the Fat Cats' factory.
The series was filmed at Cothy Butts near Fishbourne on the Isle of Wight. At the end of filming in 1973, the animals were released into the wild at this site. The rats, hamsters and cavies died not long after release, but the Mongolian Gerbils survived for at least three years, the colony reaching c. 100 individuals by this time. 
US news broadcast accidental reference
A publicity image by Paul Sutherland of Hammy - an image showing Hammy holding a clapperboard that is reprinted on page 69 of True North: Everything You Wanted to Know About Canadian Television by Peter Kenter (Vancouver/Toronto: Whitecap, 2001, ISBN 1-55285-146-X) made an unexpected appearance on a January 2009 news broadcast regarding the disappearance of a young girl named Molly Bish. During a report regarding the arrest of a potential suspect eight years after the girl's disappearance, an error resulted in an image of a hamster - specifically, the clapperboard publicity image of Hammy Hamster - being shown instead of a photo of the suspect.
- Obituary of Paul Sutherland in The Independent 12 June 2004
- Off The Telly web-site
- Telly Nation web-site
- Obituary of Paul Sutherland Toronto Star 20 May 2004
- Lever, C., 1977 The Naturalised Animals of the British Isles,
- Youtube: "Eyewitness News: Hamster's Mug Shot?", Jan. 29, 2009; accessed August 16, 2015