Towards the end of January I had a phone call from the chairman of our local rat club, the Midlands Rat Club, to say he'd been contacted by the BBC. They were interested in filming my 12 year old son, Joe, with our pet rats for a 'Creature Feature' on Children's BBC's Xchange programme. After checking with Joe we agreed that we would like to participate. (Actually, he was bouncing off the walls.) I was slightly apprehensive as to how we would be portrayed but I knew that children's TV tends to show rats in a more sympathetic light than some other programming. The rest of the club committee agreed that this would bring an excellent opportunity for positive PR for the club, although some (possibly most) were nervous at the thought of being filmed.
The plan was that the film crew would follow us to a rat show taking place in early February, with Joe telling the viewers about his rats and about entering them in the show. They then asked if they would be able to begin the piece at our home to introduce our rats and show how they are kept. This sent me into a minor flurry of house tidying. We're a cluttersome household at the best of times.
The club members who are online were informed about the filming, and asked to bring along as many children as they had handy. Most were positive about the idea, especially as the feature was only to be four minutes long so would not impinge on the show too much. Or so we thought.
As I usually host a stand selling rat related gifts at the shows, I found myself busy enough with my preparations to keep any nerves at bay during the week preceding the show. Joe seemed completely blasé about the idea of talking to the camera, and was looking forward to the day.
The morning finally arrived and I was up at six, packing our van with my stand stock and checking on all of the rats. The three man film crew arrived just before nine, planning to film for an hour before we set off. The whole feature was planned and scripted, although with room for us to add our own input to it.
After an introduction from Joe, which also featured me and my daughters Kim and Ginnie holding some of our rats, he was guided through a commentary and our rats were all introduced to the camera. Joe and Kim gave them some facts about pet rats and then they filmed Joe around the house with the rats, in the kitchen, watching TV and doing his homework. They also did a short interview with me which I don't expect to be included, as I suspect I was gabbling. My husband disappeared into the garage and didn't reappear until it was all over.
We left the house an hour and a half late. Kim had planned to stay at home, as we only have three seats in the van, but the crew offered to take her along with them so that she could continue to contribute. Thankfully the show was in Kettering, only a short hop from our home in Rugby, so we arrived before the judging began and in time to enter our rats. We were greeted with 'Where were you?' and 'We thought you weren't coming' from the members who are used to us being there from the beginning of the show. The film crew gave their apologies for holding us up, and we began to settle in for the day.
While I was setting up my stand Joe and his sisters booked our rats in and got them tabled for judging. Joe was filmed showing the viewers around the show, the pet and the varieties competitions. The film crew spent a full day talking to both children and adults, filming the judging, the rat agility competition and finally the presentation at the end. All for a four minute feature! We came through for them, with Kim, Ginnie and Joe each winning a rosette for their rats.
We found the film crew friendly and eager to make the day as easy for us as possible. It was a really positive once-in-a-lifetime experience for Joe. The feature was shown two weeks later on the CBBC channel, where it attracted a great deal of interest from our fellow rat lovers.
Annette, February 2005