Darcy: Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Raynard Rat: Superstar!
Roland: Yeahhhhh! Ratfans!
Roland Rat is a children's television puppet popular during the early to mid eighties on Breakfast TV in the UK.
It takes a very special kind of TV puppet to achieve this. Critics (who do not look closely enough at this sort of thing) really could not get a handle on Roland. Certainly the character is a great deal more sophisticated than your Muffin the Mule and your Ed the Duck.
The character was created and voiced by David Claridge who has spent most of his career as a puppeteer. His work is widespread, even with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson on The Young Ones, his puppets and voices can be heard occasionally.
Roland scored a first, he introduced The Transformers to us British kids for the very first time. 'Run VT Errol!' The earliest adventures of Optimus Prime were chopped up into short segments and administered in doses within Roland's morning slot.
The Roland Rat segments on TM-AM were pure 80's. Roland's slimeball associate for example D'arcy DeFarcey the fictional head of the BBC Light Entertainment department came from the same mould as Gerald Ratner, Robert Maxwell and the Saachi Brothers. Roland himself was egotistical, ambitious, shallow, and obsessed with his own fame.
A Media Phenomenon
The importance of this TV puppet cannot be underestimated, because Roland single-handedly saved a failing ITV franchise.
The current director general of the BBC; the great Greg Dyke, was in charge of TV-AM at the time and gave Claridge (and Roland) their first break.
TV-AM was rapidly sinking down the (cathode-ray) tubes, but the puppet was gaining a foothold as the real star of morning television. Remember, this was not Saturday morning stuff - kids switched on in droves during weekday mornings just before leaving for school. Roland would eventually be incorporated into the presentation duties, frequently stealing the show from Anne Diamond and Nick Owen.
The Sun newspaper in the UK still refers to Dyke as 'Roland Rat's Dad'. And Roland's connection with the TV mogul is used as criticism - in that Dyke is responsible for dumbing down television - however I would argue, conversely, that Roland Rat 'dumbed up' television. Roland Rat awoke a sense of humour in his adoring rat fans. He was a smart arse. He was a wise cracker. The comedy that David Claridge wrote and performed was the best type, appealing to kids but really aimed at the mums and dads. The best family entertainment always works on a number of levels because any good producer will realise that the kids rule the remote control and once you get the kids watching, you then get the rest of the family. This way mums and dads and even grandparents were all in on the joke... and all laughing. References to politics and adult oriented gags make a kid smarter - not dumberer.
Roland's Puppet Associates
Key Moments in TV
- Kevin the Gerbil - Roland's assistant obsessed with the colour pink (particularly his plastic pink bucket) and the compassionate foil to Roland's brusque celebrity delusions.
- Errol the Hamster - a Welsh hamster puppet, originally conceived as a videotape operator working behind the scenes but later became more prominent. Errol was always cautious and slow. He longed for a quiet life, and wary of Roland's enthusiasm.
- Little Reggie - Roland's young cross-eyed nephew who could only mutter in a sort of Brummie accent: 'It's great 'ere innitt?'
- Glenis the Guinea Pig - Roland's girlfriend who reads the Tatler, Vogue and Elle.
In 'Rat on the Road' Roland toured the UK in his Ratmobile - a pink Ford Anglia, which I have had the personal privilege to sit inside. When he completed this tour, poking fun at the UK regions, he did a special series of features from Hong Kong where the puppets confused and annoyed the locals of Kowloon. They referred to him as 'Loland Lat' even to the point of spelling it that way. Ho ho.
Roland and the gang also did a magnificent series on TV-AM called 'Roland's Countdown to Christmas' - kids sent off to TV-AM for a Roland Rat advent calendar and opened a window each day up to the festive time of Yule whilst watching the show. Roland, Kevin, Errol, Reggie and Glenis would each sing their own version of the 12 days of Christmas as each door opened. The words I can't remember:
Roland: "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ... a Roland Rat Superstar cap!"
Errol: "On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ... two leek pies."
And so on, in fact each subsequent day Errol would have eat eaten another slice of the Leek pie, he would sing... 'Half a Leek pie', then... 'No more Leek pie', and ... 'I'll have to get another Leek pie'.
I still have the advent calendar somewhere. It's probably in the same box as the Roland Rat LP that I bought with the money I was saving up for a Millennium Falcon.
The gag with the LP was that Kevin got the titles printed up wrong. The LP was called 'The Cassette of the Album' whereas the tape version was called 'The Album of the Cassette'. Roland had some pop hits. On The Cassette of the Album, Errol sang with a rousing Welsh male voice choir 'Leeks are Wonderful' and Kevin did a top-notch cover of Cliff Richard's 'Summer Holiday':
Kevin: "We're going where the sun shines brightly..."
Roland: "It's raining."
Kevin: "We're going where the sea is blue..."
Roland: "It's grey."
Kevin: "We've seen it in the movies, now let's see it if its true..."
Roland: "Dear oh dear."
Then there was 'Rat Rappin' which had lots of old school scratching - but scratching fleas in this case.
Roland's main catchphrase was Yeahhhhhh! After about the ninetieth yeahhhhh, even the most loyal Rat-Fans wanted to kick the puppets head in (see Alexei Sayle: The Young Ones: Episode 6: 'Flood'). Roland also interviewed the late racing car driver Roland Ratzenberger. I wonder why...
Wither now rat-fans?
- Roland moved to the BBC where he rapidly lost his popularity.
- TM-AM eventually lost the franchise to GM-TV.
- Greg Dyke got to be BBC Director General. I got a Millennium Falcon for Christmas.
- ...and we the viewer have Otis the Aardvark... Jesus Christ.
On Tuesday, Jan 29 2004, Greg Dyke quit the BBC. He did so because of the David Kelly affair. This brought Roland back into the public eye. But now of course, we all know that the dossier was sexed up, Roland Rat's dad should get his job back after all.