Roland Rat Superstar, self proclaimed saviour of TVam, as well as self proclaimed superstar for that matter, first hit our TV screens in 1983. He was brought in to introduce the five minute cartoon breaks that TVam had at certain times every morning. My favourite of these was Superchicken, but that’s potentially something for another time.
Anne Diamond and Nick Owen would hand over to Roland from their comfy sofa to Roland and his Shedvision. This was a motif that was set to continue with Roland Rat. Whilst he pretended to have all the trimmings of a superstar, everything around him was quite obviously not all that wonderful, as broadcasting from a shed is a good example of. Roland would come on screen, usually insult Anne and Nick in some way, and then the cartoon would start.
Roland was soon joined by fellow puppet Kevin the Gerbil, a slightly effeminate rodent with a penchant for anything pink. This was particularly irritating to Roland when he instructed Kevin to get a car for him, which ended up being an old Ford Zodiac sprayed pink, with Ratmobile written along the side.
Another associate who arrived slightly later was Errol the Hamster, who was in charge of anything technical to do with sound or video. It was Errol’s job to start the cartoons running, which was cued by Roland shouting “Errol! Run VT“. Errol was a Welsh hamster, which meant that Roland usually poked fun of him with jokes about leeks.
When it came to the school holidays Roland would normally get a much longer chance to entertain the kids, or his millions of fans as he would put it. The first such example was Rat on the Road, aired at 9am after the main TVam show during the Summer holidays in 1983. In this series Roland travelled around the UK in the Ratmobile, meeting people and generally getting into trouble. I believe this is also when we were first introduced to Roland’s agent, the scheming D’Arcy De Farcy, who was little more than a con man really.
The following year Roland’s girlfriend, Glenis the Guinea Pig, was revealed in a short series called Operation F.O.G.I (Free Our Glenis Immediately). Before this Glenis had been mentioned, but this was the first time we actually got to see her, as the gang attempted to rescue (steal) her from Harrod’s pet department.
In 1986 Roland left TVam, claiming he had done enough to bring them back from the brink of closure, and moved to the BBC, creating Roland Rat The Series, and even his own BBC channel (this was the first version of BBC3!). This show was a kind of sketch show involving all Roland’s friends and family, including Little Reggie his baby brother (who had been around on TVam before. He farted a lot and said “Great ‘ere innit“), Iris and Freddy (Roland’s Mum and Dad – Freddy looked exactly like Roland but with greyer fur) and even his pet flea, Colin. This show got two series, but then Roland left the UK to go and live in LA with all the other superstars.
Channel 5 offered Roland a comeback soon after it first start transmitting with LA Rat, detailing Roland’s adventures in LA, but it wasn’t very popular. A stint on Channel 4’s Big Breakfast was doomed to failure too, ending when the once popular breakfast show ended up under the axe.
During his hey day Roland Rat was everywhere. The Roland soft toy was in scarce supply when it was released, and he had chart success with single “Rat Rappin’” and a cover of Elvis hit “Love Me Tender“. Nowadays he only makes the odd guest appearance now and then, most recently taking part in the Weakest Link Puppet special! For further details on the superstar rat and all his chums, there’s a wealth of information available on the Rat Fans website.