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ROCKINGHAM: Downton Abbey served up as a rat tale in an alley near you

thespec 2017-01-12 16:25:27

Cora Crawley

Courtesy of Cadillac Bill Cora Crawley in a scene from Downton Alley.

Titanic News

Courtesy of Cadillac Bill News of the Titanic sinking reaches Crawley House.

Matthew Crawley

Courtesy of Cadillac Bill Matthew Crawley in a scene from Downton Alley.

Cadillac Bill

Courtesy Cadillac Bill Bill Boyd-Wilson, host of the Cadillac Bill Show and creator of Downton Alley.

Dinner at Downton

Cadillac Bill Dinner at Crawley House.

Ankixa Risk

John Rennison,Hamilton Spectator file photo Taxadermist Ankixa Risk works with rats amongst other animals. next play/pause pre

Downton Alley is a somewhat magical and totally mythical place located somewhere in the bowels of Hamilton's Stinson neighbourhood.

On that litter-strewn alley, you may come across a large cardboard packing case with a rather unassuming rat hole cut into it as an entrance.

That box is home to Isobel, Cora, Matthew, Daisy, Lady Hairy, Lady Eat-It and Mrs. Ratmore. They are all stuffed — taxidermied to be precise — rats, carefully dressed in Edwardian costumes, driving their Rolls-Royce limousines and lounging in their well-adorned (for rats) manor.

You can watch these dead rats act out their version of the entire first season of "Downton Abbey" in seven episodes on YouTube.

Yes, that's right, a local filmmaker has made a spoof of "Downton Abbey" using stuffed rats. It's called "Downton Alley" and the first seven episodes will have their grand première this Friday, Jan. 13 (there is something simpatico about dead rats and Friday the 13th) during a gala event at The Casbah.

The videos will be shown in between musical performances by Lori Yates, Ginger St. James and Tim Gibbons — who also provide many of the voices for the "Downton Alley" rats. Gibbons, it turns out, is a particularly versatile voice-over artist.

Many of the show's stars — both dead and alive — will be in attendance.

The idea of using stuffed rats to act out the beloved English TV series may seem a tad outrageous, but it is par for the course for filmmaker Cadillac Bill (a.k.a. William Boyd-Wilson).

Bill is the frontman for longtime Hamilton rock band The Creeping Bent Orchestra. He is also host of "The Cadillac Bill Show," a bizarre Cable 14 talk show now entering its fourth season. The show's motto is "No news, No sports, No weather — All the time."

Bill, who also works part time, driving the Hamilton Public Library's Bookmobile, is known around town for his extraordinarily dry wit and his carefully paced English accent. (Bill was raised in suburban Bletchingley, south of London, and moved with his family to Canada at the age of 10.)

"The rats were fairly easy to direct," Bill says with the deadpan of an undertaker. "No dead rats were harmed in the making of this."

The actors and costumes were provided by local artist/taxidermist Ankixa Risk, who runs regular taxidermy workshops under the name Casual Taxidermy. Her passion is transforming dead rats into objets d'art.

Bill had Risk on as a guest on his show and fell in love with her rats. He knew he had to feature them in their own movie. Bill wasn't a fan of "Downton Abbey" — he hadn't even seen an episode — but everyone he knew seemed to be watching it. So why not make his own version using Risk's rats? To Bill, it was the obvious thing to do.

"Ankixa is a real artist," Bill says. "She has this real talent for injecting personality into her rats. They're all so lovable."

He downloaded the scripts of the first season, then rewrote them with plenty of rat puns and condensed each episode to less than 10 minutes, a time-span ideal for the attention span of dead rats (and the Cadillac Bill production budget).

"Anyone who loves 'Downton Abbey' is going to love this even more because it's done with stuffed taxidermied rats," Bill explains. "It's the way 'Downton Abbey' should have been done originally but wasn't. I've immensely improved it … the Downton actors were all so stiff."

To add some life to the show, he brought in the voices of many of his musician friends, including Yates, St. James, Gibbons, local punk rocker Sammy Squid, and most of the members of the Creeping Bent (Shane Shaft, France Vomit and Dan Kolthof).

Oh, and there was Milly, a friend's guinea pig — a real live guinea pig — to take the role as Carson the butler.

Milly, however, proved more challenging to work with than the rats. Her bowler hat kept falling off during filming. The live action production made it difficult to disguise such costume malfunctions — occasionally you will notice a large human hand reach in and replace the hat on Milly's head.

"Technically, if I had rolled up a little piece of tape and put it under the hat, it would have stayed on longer," Bill says. "But I didn't think of it at the time."

After about a month's filming in the back alley behind the taxidermist's Stinson home, Cadillac Bill is now ready for the big unveiling on Friday the 13th. His enthusiasm comes bubbling forth like a funeral dirge.

"I would say this is going to be the most exciting and unusual event in the history of venues," Bill says with Lurch-like delivery. "Not only is it the airing of all this Downton Alley stuff, but people can meet the taxidermied rats, they can meet Ankixa the taxidermist and all the voices including Lori, Tim, Ginger and The Creeping Bent. This is a must see."