“When the makers of Roary the Racing Car asked me to narrate this very popular children’s television show, I didn’t realise I’d gain so many new young fans!”
If you don’t have children aged six or under, you could be forgiven for not knowing what Roary the Racing Car is.
Quite simply, this children’s television programme has become one of the most successful shows of all time. It is screened in 110 countries worldwide and has characters including Big Chris, voiced by comedian Peter Kay, who’s favourite things include “fixing cars and singing karaoke” at ‘Silver Hatch’ circuit. Then there’s Tin Top, an American stock car; Mr Carburettor, the Enzo Ferrari-esque owner of Silver Hatch; Murray Walker, played by the man himself and, of course, Roary, a Formula Ford lookalike and the star of the show.
Sir Stirling was originally approached to play one of the characters but declined, explaining that he wasn’t an actor, and was instead offered the narrator’s role. It’s not something he’d done before and he admits that adapting to the role was no easy task. “I use a lot of commas [to punctuate my speech],” says Moss. “If there are two or three lines which have one comma, I’ll put in five purely to help me. It’s a different and interesting business.”
An interesting business it is indeed – the world of stop frame animation and CGI is one far removed from anything Moss had experienced. Most of the ‘filming’ is done with a normal camera which takes 26 shots for just one second of film. In between each shot the characters are altered with painstaking accuracy. Eleven seconds of footage will take a whole day to film.
“I got involved because [my agent] Patrick Crew said, ‘Look, you’re well known among older people, but the really young people don’t know your name,’” explains Stirling. “Usually when kids listen to things, they listen with their grandparents early in the morning. The grandfather is likely to say, ‘Oh, I remember Stirling Moss’, and then those children will learn about me even though they’re only three or four years old.”
Being well known by children born 40 years after he stopped racing is no mean feat, and it is projects like Roary that have made Moss so popular with a new generation. At a recent Number 10 Downing Street function, a well-known newsreader approached Stirling merely to say, “my son loves you”.
“Children who watch the programme won’t have heard of Stirling Moss or Murray Walker,” says Greg Lynn, executive producer of the show. “We put them in because the adults know them, the media knows them and it’s something to hang it on. When you think about motor racing and ask yourself, ‘who is the most famous name in the world?’ every time you come up with Stirling Moss. That’s why he’s the narrator and that’s why he’s been such a success.
“With the big names behind the programme it also makes it timeless. In 30 years all the kids who grew up watching this will say to their kids, when Roary may be running as an ‘oldie’, ‘God, I used to watch that, and that’s Stirling Moss who was a famous racing driver.’” I think you can see where Lynn is going…
“A lot of children are interested in motor sport,” Murray Walker reminds us. But how has Roary become such a success? “Adults can watch it and it isn’t stupid,” reckons Moss. “That’s one of the great things. We laugh and that’s half the battle.” The storylines are aimed at children, but with subjects such as ‘a visit from the circuit inspector’ many of them ring true in the real world. And it is this approach – along with involvement from the likes of Stirling Moss, Murray Walker and Peter Kay – that has earned Roary the Racing Car so many fans.