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Tales of the Riverbank
Tales of the Riverbank.png
Hammy the Hamster and G.P. the Guinea Pig during the episode Hammy the Flying Postman
Genre Children's television
Created by Dave Ellison
Paul Sutherland
Written by Dave Ellison
Charles Fullman
Paul Sutherland
Cliff Braggins
Presented by Peggy Miller
Voices of Paul Sutherland (Canada)
Johnny Morris (UK)
Opening theme Raccolta, op. 43, no. 6: Andante in C by Mauro Giuliani
Country of origin Canada/UK
Original language(s) English
No. of series 5
No. of episodes 143
  First: 13
  Second: 39
  Hammy Hamster: 26
  HBO/C4: 65
Producer(s) Dave Ellison
Paul Sutherland
Cinematography Josef Seckeresh
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 Once Upon a Hamster for the Canadian version, is 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 was 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.

A later remake was produced by YTV and Channel 4 in 1995 which ran for three years, and a feature-length film was made in 2008 using puppets rather than live animals.


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 artefacts 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.

Further episodes

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.

The last series, Further Tales of the Riverbank, made from 1991 to 1992, was produced for WTTV and Channel 4; 26 episodes of that series were made. It is ranked 79th in Channel 4's 2001 poll of the 100 Greatest Kids' TV shows. This series was the only one to have been released on DVD, in a set of three DVDs published in-house by Hammytime Productions UK.

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.

The late Dave Ellison launched his own website to regularly update information about Hammy Hamster and his friends. He was also involved with optimising the TV series, last shown on Channel 4, for release on DVD.

Three children's books were published by Scholastic Publications Ltd in 1993 based on the series and illustrated by Pauline Hazelwood.

Main characters

In the later series the list of characters was expanded from the original first three listed below.

Character Description
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.

Feature film

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.

Environmental impact

The series was filmed at Cothey Butts near Fishbourne, 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 around 100 individuals by this time.

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