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Moral in my evil rat tail; David Walliams reckons kids love his baddie Burt because he's wicked - but funny at the same time.

Byline: STEVE HENDRY

David Walliams's success as bestselling children's author and talent show judge has overshadowed his acting career in recent years - but he combines all his talents in Ratburger.

He stars in the Christmas Special of his own story, playing shifty burger man Burt, who was inspired by a contestant on Britain's Got Talent.

He said: "The character of Burt is partly based on a guy we met on BGT. This man came on and he had dark glasses, greasy black hair and false teeth rattling in his mouth.

"His first line was, 'I know what you're thinking - they've dug up Roy Orbison'.

"You knew the line was meant to get people on side, but it was such an odd opener.

"We asked, 'What's your act?' He replied, 'I'm going to eat live cockroaches'. Then he got out a brown paper bag and proceeded to start eating these cockroaches. As you can imagine, he immediately got buzzed off.

"In a way, I was slightly disappointed that he didn't go through to the next round because he was such an amazing character.

"But he got me thinking. I created this whole imaginary life for him. I imagined that he had a burger van, used his cockroaches to make special sauce and turned rats into burgers. I had so much fun with the idea. It was a seed of truth that grew into the tree of this story."

Ratburger tells the story of a young girl called Zoe (Talia Barnett), who has a stepmother that despises her, a dad who's never around and she has a miserable time at the hands of school bully Tina Trotts (Tillie Amartey).

Her only chum is Harry (George Kent) - until she discovers a dancing rat in her bedroom.

Zoe names him Armitage and sets out to show off her rodent pal's skills at the school talent show. But her stepmother and Burt have other ideas, most of which include throwing Armitage into the mincer and putting ratburgers on the menu.

David thinks Burt's nefarious plans for the rat - and the people who stand in his way - are exactly what draws children into his stories and he has tried to learn lessons from the master of children's fiction, Roald Dahl.

He said: "Children like gruesomeness and they like yuckiness. I remember first hearing in history lessons at primary school about people being hung, drawn and quartered. It was really gruesome, but also really fascinating.

"That's one reason why Horrible Histories is so huge. It's a great way for children to learn about history through stories of disease and torture. It's frightening but we like to be frightened.

"I've tried to learn from Roald Dahl - he is a master of creating villains. He makes them truly evil but funny at the same time.

"Look at Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. She swings children around by their ponytails and throws them out of the window. If she simply pushed them, that wouldn't be so funny. If there is no buffoonery, those characters are just pure evil and it starts to become disturbing.

"Burt wants to turn people into burgers. Obviously, that's completely evil - in fact, it's murder - but I think it works because it's a funny idea."

The three-time Children's Book of the Year winner has recruited an all-star cast including Sheridan Smith, Mark Benton, Nigel Planer, Sarah Hadland, Sophie Thompson and Ben Bailey Smith. He's particularly excited to be working with Sheridan.

David said: "Everyone wants to work with her. There's nothing she can't do. I've tried to think of a part she couldn't play and I can't. She can play The Queen or a downtrodden character in The Moorside and everything in between those two extremes."

He's also had to work with rats, which has pluses and negatives.

He said: "It's great, although I have to admit one was pooing over me during a scene. I gave it lots of love and attention, but of course it doesn't know what's happening.

"We have a rat expert on set the whole time, who has trained them. You don't want to do anything that might hurt them. They are beautiful creatures.

"The moral of the story is don't judge a book by its cover. People are disgusted by rats but Zoe is constantly trying to remind people they are beautiful animals. It's a really fun, exciting story.

"But I'm not saying all children should befriend rats. I don't want parents to write in saying, 'Thanks to your story, my daughter now has bubonic plague.'" nRatburger is on Sky1, on Christmas Eve, at 6pm.

CAPTION(S):

ON A ROLL. David Walliams, Sheridan Smith, Talia Barnett and Mark Benton in Ratburger
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 24, 2017
Words:780
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