Hi, I'm Dave Ellison, and a long time ago in Toronto, Canada, I met a hamster. We got on quite well with each other and decided to go into business together. We became partners in a children's television programme called 'Tales of the Riverbank'.
I started in television way back in the days of Alexandra Palace and worked with people like Frieda Lingstrom who, as head of Children's programming, introduced 'Muffin the Mule' and 'The Flower Pot Men' to our screens. Then in 1954 I got a job in Canada with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as a film editor. It was during this time that I met a French film producer called Marc Godart who was making a series of thirteen episodes based on the French version of Aesop's Fables. This was called 'Les Fables de Fontain' and he was using live animals to tell the stories. He asked me to edit the series for him.
The trouble was he was using rather large animals like goats, pigs, sheep and worst of all a spider monkey. Animals like this were not easy to work with in the studio and on one occasion this monkey jumped off the set, climbed up into the lighting grid and stayed there for two weeks.
The series was a disaster, but it gave me the idea of using small animals which were easy to handle and that's where my friend the hamster comes on the scene. By this time I had gone into business with Paul Sutherland running a company called Film Editorial Services Limited specialising in editing documentary and children's films. Paul and I decided to make a pilot film based on a story I had made up as a bed time story for his two little boys. We went shopping for animals and found Hammy in the pet department of Eatons department store in Toronto.
With Hammy, a white rat, and a guinea pig, we started filming our pilot in a friend’s garage. It was winter with temperatures of minus 20 degrees outside and the heat of the lights required for filming melted the snow around the garage doors and we found ourselves paddling around in water seeping through from outside.
The finished pilot looked good and I took it to the CBC hoping they would agree and that they would commission a series. But their Head of Children’s Programmes said it was not suitable for children and they weren’t interested.
My thoughts turned back to my roots at the BBC and I took the next plane to London, met with Owen Read, Head of the BBC Children’s and his deputy head Ursula Eason and ended up with a contract for thirteen, 15 minute episodes. Which was later extended to thirty nine. By now we had moved from our friend's garage to studios on Yonge Street, the main drag of Toronto. Sales followed world wide with Australia, New Zealand and China being early buyers. Canada’s second network, CTV, had just opened up and after we won the Canada Film Awards they took the series. The CBC were not too pleased.
I then spent six years producing documentary films for the C.O.I. in London and then a series of nature films for the BBC titled ‘Along the Trail’ which was designed to show animals of the world to the very young. I then made twenty six new episodes of ‘Tales of the Riverbank’, which was filmed in colour on the Isle of Wight.
Over the years the series has taken many international awards and has played in over fifty territories around the world in many languages.
In the early 90’s, Working Title Films approached me with the idea of making a series of five minute episodes to be titled ‘Further Tales of the Riverbank’, this series played very successfully over Channel 4 for several years and was marketed around the world.
With books, comic strips, videos and now disks, my friend the Hamster from Eatons Department store has told his story well. I hope you enjoy his ‘Further Tales of the Riverbank’.