Chris Tarrant is very excited about Sally James’ trick, 1980
What makes a great TV moment? It’s something that leaves you open-mouthed in amazement when you first see it, and continues to startle and entertain no matter how many times you watch it. More than three decades on, this moment from Tiswas is still hilarious and still absolutely startling in its audacity. We assume you’ve already clicked through to see what it is, but in case YouTube’s overloaded or something, the premise is a familiar Saturday morning staple as Sally James announces she’s going to perform a magic trick, to general boredom from the assembled cast and crew. Though ingenious enough, Chris Tarrant has clearly spotted that the trick takes a bit of setting up which might make for rather dull television. Hence he then decides that, rather than play down the quality of the trick, he’ll talk it up – and how! Hence an extended stream-of-consciousness rant, delivered at the top of his voice, mixing effusive and elaborate praise with plenty of grown-up references for the adult audience to enjoy (“Eat your heart out, Blankety Blank! This is where Lew Grade’s been going wrong!”). That would be great if Tarrant had just sat at the desk, but instead he continues to extol the virtues of Sally’s trick on a tour of the studio, and then up to the production gallery, not just breaking the fourth wall but smashing through it and then jumping up and down on whatever’s left. The fact the cameras can barely keep up with him, as we just see him in the distance and hear fragments of his bellowing, illustrates how clearly spontaneous the whole things was. While all this is going on, Sal’s trying her best to actually do the trick, but is totally overshadowed by Tarrant’s antics. Eventually he bounds back down the stairs, exclaiming “No wonder Noel Edmonds is out of work!” to an enormous laugh and gives Sal moral support for the last stages of the trick by making increasingly desperate shrieks in a croaking voice. This really is going beyond the call of duty and few people would have put so much energy into so much silliness, and the fact it clearly took so much out of him is what makes it even funnier. Later on, other shows would make a virtue of their informality and glorify in their artificial nature, but Tiswas did it first, and did it best. Incredible in 1980, this is still hilarious and thrilling in 2014, and therefore we have no hesitation in naming this the finest two minutes and 41 seconds of television ever made.