I'm sure I could have chosen an easier profession than being a comedian. Still, I was young, keen and now a Pontins’ Bluecoat earning £29 a week. I loved it! Free accommodation, gas and electricity and as much food and drink as I wanted - or as much as the guests wanted to buy me - and those lovely female campers. I was in heaven; so much so, I stayed for 10 years, eight of those as entertainments manager.
During this early time in my career, I started to meet all the stars I'd seen on the television and some are still good friends of mine today - Roy Hudd being one of them.
Peters and Lee were top of the hit parade with 'Welcome Home', Bert Weedon was teaching us to play the guitar in a day and Frankie Vaughan was teaching me how it should be done. It was bliss soaking up all this new knowledge and I was also learning the art of comic timing from wonderful comedians such as Tommy Trinder, Bob Monkhouse and Roy Castle, to name but a few.
I started to notice that a lot of these star names always wore a gold emblem of a rat on their lapel and I could see they were proud to do so, so I asked the very funny Jimmy Wheeler to tell me more.
|PJ receives his emblem from Bryan Burdon|
"Gawd blimey lad! That's the emblem of the Grand Order of Water Rats," he said. "We all wear the emblem with pride because it's the ultimate accolade in show business; to be accepted into this wonderful order."
He then told me some of the great names that were or had been Water Rats - Will Hay, Bud Flanagan, Sid Field, Max Bygraves, Maurice Chevalier and my heroes Laurel and Hardy. It was at that very moment that I decided that one day, hopefully, I could become a Rat. (I met a few rats along the way, but they were agents!)
It only took me 37 years to achieve my ambition, but it was certainly worth the wait. I became Water Rat 852 on 26th July 2005.
The Grand Order of Water Rats was born 116 years ago, when a group of music hall stars owned a trotting pony called Magpie. This little fellow was a good runner and started winning many races around London.
The winnings were donated to help out fellow performers who had fallen on hard times. One day, while taking Magpie back to the stables in a torrential downpour of rain, the driver of a horse-drawn London bus spotted the music hall stars with their sodden pony and yelled "What yer got there then? It's our trotting pony!" they replied. "Trotting pony?" laughed the driver. "Looks more like a blooming water rat!" So the Water Rats were born.
The Rats are a collection of showbiz blokes. They are performers, musicians and general dogs-bodies, who pleasure in each others' company with charitable hearts that bind them together. I am the new kid on the block, so I am Baby Rat.
Our King Rat is currently Melvyn Hayes and he keeps us all in order. As I sit in the Lodge and look around, I almost have to pinch myself. Sir Norman Wisdom, Sir Henry Cooper, Joe Brown, Tom O'Connor, Joe Pasquale, Brian May, Rick Wakeman and my old mate Roy Hudd. Many of the people I have always admired are in that room; and me, PJ the DJ is now one of them.
Jimmy Wheeler said "We all wear the emblem with pride". With pride, Jimmy? I polish mine every morning!