During the winter of 1958 writer/producers, Dave Ellison and Paul Sutherland shot a pilot based on a story Ellison had made up as a bedtime story (The Night the Moon came down to Bathe) for his godson.
After showing the pilot to Owen Reed, the head of Children’s Programmes, Ellison contracted with the BBC for a series of 13 x 15 minute black and white episodes. The series was to be called 'Tales of the Riverbank'.
Johnny Morris, a well known children’s TV presenter, was signed to do the narration and the first episode went on air in July, 1960.
Sales of the series took off within weeks of the first broadcast and Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Russia and China were early customers. Sovexport, Russia’s government film agency, gave its nod of approval after the pilot was shown at the Moscow Film Festival and won first prize. In Canada it won the National Film Award. The BBC subsequently commissioned a further 26 episodes.
By 1962 the programme was playing worldwide in many languages and the first book based on the series appeared featuring specially shot stills. It was published by Rupert Hart Davies.
In 1964, Odhams Press commissioned a weekly strip for publication in one of its comics and in 1970 the strip was taken over by Polystyle Publications and ran in Pippin until the mid 1980’s.
Production of the black and white series ended in 1962, but re-edited five minute versions were syndicated in the USA during the 1960’s.
In 1971, a new series, filmed in colour, went into production. Sponsored and distributed by Astral Belleview Pathe, 26 x 30 minute episodes were made, scripted in such a way that two 15 minute programmes could be made out of each episode.
It was during this series that Roderick the White Rat underwent a rather strange operation which resulted in him becoming a mouse in the U.S. market. Contracted to Mattel Toy Corporation, Roddy Rat became Matty Mouse but nobody along the Riverbank seemed to notice. Sales around the world followed in the footsteps of the original black and white series and the programme was in distribution until the mid 1990’s. During this period 6 books based on the series were published by Studio Publications.
In 1989, BBC Enterprises contracted episodes for the 'Watch with Mother' videos, which became their best-sellers to date.
A year later, Polygram entered into a deal with the producers to put out the entire black and white series on video. This was a great success, reaching number 2 in the charts and staying in the top ten for eighteen weeks.
In 1993, Scholastic Children’s Books commissioned a series of new stories and activity books and Working Title Productions in conjunction with Channel 4 contracted for 26 x 5 minute episodes under the title, Further Tales of the Riverbank.
These programmes played successfully for several years, as did the videos that went on sale at the time.
Canadian Film Awards - 1960
Moscow Film Festival - 1961
Chicago International Children’s Film Festival - Best Short Film - 1995
The Charleston International Film Festival - Silver Award - 1995
Award of Excellence - Alliance for Children’s Television - 1995
The Charleston International Film Festival - Gold Award - 1996
Houston International Film Festival - Gold Award - 1997
Chicago International Children’s Film Festival - Gold Award - 1997
The original series first went on air during the afternoon of Sunday 3rd July, 1960, starting a run of fifty years over networks around the world.
Created and written by Dave Ellison and Paul Sutherland the first episodes were filmed in Toronto, Canada.
Using live animals to play all the parts, the writers knew that any child who talks to his Teddy Bear or her favourite doll is sure to know that it is entirely logical for a pet hamster, guinea pig, rabbit, mouse or rat to drive around in a jeep, fly an aeroplane, skipper a boat or go down to the bottom of the sea in a diving bell. Which of course it is.
The hero of the series is a rather naive little hamster who moves into an old boot house not far from Captain Roderick the White Rat’s riverside home.
They immediately become the firmest of friends and embark on a series of adventures that involve all the other characters that live along the Riverbank.
The hamster is not really very worldly wise and gets himself led into some strange situations. However, without knowing how he does it, he always seems to solve the various predicament his two friends have got themselves into.
Captain Roderick is a kindly gentleman, a yachtsman who lives in a very comfortable riverside home with a private jetty outside his front door and a very smart motorboat tied up alongside. His favourite occupation is taking long trips up the river in his boat visiting all his friends and talking about this and that. He is also an excellent cook and plays the piano very well.
His nearby neighbour is Professor Guinea Pig the famous inventor and renowned aviator. Professor Guinea Pig lives in the old mill just upstream from Captain Roderick and they visit each other at least once a day.
Among his most famous inventions are the aeroplane, the hovercraft, the balloon and the diving bell, all of which are used by the three friends in their daily adventures.
One of the problems about his inventions is that they don’t work in the way he intends. He thought he was inventing the vacuum cleaner but the machine he came up with didn’t suck, it blew, and so became the hovercraft.
Although he can’t remember if he invented it or not, his favourite possession is his jeep. With a great deal of ‘toot tooting’ and grinding of gears, he can be seen and heard every day as he drives along the Riverbank’s bumpy roads.