Paul Sutherland

Creator of the children's television series 'Tales of the Riverbank'





Paul Sutherland, writer, producer and director: born 1931; three times married (two sons); died Toronto, Ontario 15 May 2004.







Paul Sutherland, writer, producer and director: born 1931; three times married (two sons); died Toronto, Ontario 15 May 2004.



The sight of real-life animals travelling in miniature planes, cars and hot-air balloons and living in furnished homes graced British screens in the enchanting Canadian series Tales of the Riverbank during the heyday of Watch With Mother on BBC television.

Hammy Hamster, GP the Guinea Pig, Roderick Rat and their friends were filmed at double-speed so that their movements appeared slower and friendlier when played back normally. The haunting guitar score and distinctive tones of Johnny Morris, who narrated the programmes in Britain, added to the illusion of being transported into a world of adventure and camaraderie away from humans.

In Canada, the soothing voice of Paul Sutherland narrated Tales of the Riverbank (1960-63). Both narrators closed each episode with the tantalising words: "But that's another story . . ."

Sutherland created, produced and directed the series with David Ellison and drew on his own hobbies as an aviator, sailor and diver to generate exciting, non-violent entertainment that children could watch with their parents. The gentle action centred on the river and woods, and the timid Hammy's house - a converted old boot that the creatures dragged downstream with the aid of a winchamabob created by GP, "the mad inventor of the riverbank". The animals would be coaxed into such performances with the inducement of cheese and peanut butter.

Paul Sutherland was matter-of-fact about his modus operandi. "Casting is simple," he said:

The animal has to look right and can't be too crazy or wild. Acting talent

doesn't figure into it - you can't teach them how to act. We've never been accused of being mean to the actors - we treat them with kid gloves.

Sutherland was working as a news editor for CBC, Canada's national broadcasting organisation, when he and Ellison dreamed up the children's series and filmed it in a makeshift Toronto studio. CBC turned down the production but the pair sold the original 52, 15-minute, black-and-white episodes to the BBC and, eventually, 34 other countries. In Britain, after being shown in a teatime slot, it eventually became part of Watch with Mother at lunchtimes.

It was revived for 26 colour episodes made specially for the BBC (retitled Hammy Hamster in Canada, 1971), then on Canadian television as Once Upon a Hamster (1994-98), which gained a cult, late-night following in the United States. Ellison also served as associate producer on Further Tales of the Riverbank (1992), which was specially made for Channel 4 in Britain.

After his success with the original series, Sutherland worked in video production and advertising. Notably, he co-scripted Buster Keaton's final film, the 30-minute silent short The Scribe (1966), made for the Construction Safety Association of Ontario. Keaton portrayed a newspaper reporter trying to highlight safety problems to construction workers but walking into disasters instead of preventing them.

Anthony Hayward

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before