TV Cream

Saturday mornings

Tiswas

Tiswas!THE TITAN of Saturday morning television. Its shadow fell over everything else that followed in the much-prized but frequently ‘difficult’ Saturday slot. Oh, to switch over from the fair-to-middling first half hour of the earlier-starting Swap Shop (the Beeb’s regular scheduling of John Craven’s too-sober-for-Saturday News Swap segment at this time can’t have helped their case) to see that ITV clock – “And now, with the time coming up to ten o’clock, let’s go over to studio one to see what’s happening,” quoth the announcer in none-more-understated manner. This didn’t give any clue (or indeed warning) to the madness to follow. As chairman CHRIS TARRANT maintained, “This is what they want!” Did Swap Shop have John Peel and Buster Bloodvessel in a cage?* Did Noel Edmonds have the joys of Wunda-Gloo at his disposal? No.

Nowadays, you know where you are with a Saturday morning show from week one. Bang, out it comes all over the country, with tabloid column inches and, increasingly, semi-clad female presenters adorning the front of single male ‘entertainment’ mags left, right and centre. With Tiswas, needless to say, things were very different. Here’s a potted history of the show, which turned out every bit as chaotic and messy as the programme itself.

Tiswas!

1974 – 1976 : Is this what they want?

It was hardly an auspicious beginning. In ATVland at ten o’clock on the morning of Saturday 5th January 1974, just after Jobs Around The House : Damp, a children’s programme with the long-winded billing ‘Today Is Saturday or the Tis-Was Show’ was broadcast from ATV’s Studio 4 in Birmingham; a mixture of pop music, cartoons, sport, comedy and other child-friendly items, linked in a loose, off-the-cuff style by John Asher, with one Chris Tarrant ‘bringing you the news behind the news’. It was an experiment, a trial run attempt to ‘bind’ the disparate elements of standard kids’ matinee TV together in one coherent (or as it turned out, incoherent) programme. In between old Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker cartoons and episodes of Tarzan (Ron Ely vintage) Asher, Tarrant and a small invited audience introduced phone-ins, competitions, and such features as the Who, Which, What Year Contest and ‘angonasec, along with a healthy dose of slapstick, old gags and improvised tomfoolery – all on a budget of less than 250 quid for a two-and-a-half-hour show.

As the series progressed, they relocated to the now-legendary Studio 3, Tarrant began to share equal billing with Asher (as the ‘Tiswas Twins’) and the name gradually permutated to ‘Tiswas (or Today Is Saturday)’. The show made it through its allotted eleven-week initial run, despite the uneasy climate of government-imposed broadcasting restrictions looming over all live programming at the time, and was deemed enough of a success to return for a full winter season on September 14th.

Tuh... ... tis... ... ah, you're ahead of us.

During the first proper run of the show (now called simply Tiswas), with Asher and ‘Old Strawhead’ Tarrant in charge (insofar as anyone could ever be in charge of the thing), alongside Peter ‘Poochie’ Tomlinson presenting film clips requested by viewers (mainly the fighting skeletons scene from Jason and the Argonauts as it turned out) in Tiswas Trailertime, and ATV head of sport ‘Me, Myself, Yours Truly’ Trevor East doing Tiswas Sportstime in a Derby County shirt. Also putting in their twopenn’orths were ‘Not The’ Peter Matthews, the show’s compiler and editor, the odd unseen producer, and moonlighting ATV continuity announcer Joan Palmer.

The flan and bucket ante was upped considerably throughout the next two seasons of the show, Tarrant and pals realising from copious kids’ letters that this was, well, the sort of thing they required – a stern notice handed out to members of the by-now 50-strong studio audience read “The company cannot be held responsible for any mishaps during transmission caused by stray pies or other scripted missiles”. But more serious items were introduced – ‘crusading’ causes such as water/road safety and the provision of better play facilities – alongside the semi-serious Tiswas Fascinating Fact File. This modicum of ‘respectable’ content kept the IBA wolf from the door… for now. This early era of the ‘Was (remembered fondly by Midlanders, though of course unknown to the rest of the country) climaxed in June ’76, when the 100th edition was marked with an entire episode broadcast from Hednesford Raceway, Cannock, in front of an audience of 30,000, with banger races providing an appropriate supplement to the usual schtick. The ‘Was was clearly here to stay.

1977 – 1981 : This is what they all want!

“Tiswas [had an] anarchic feel which really made an impact. On a basic level, one week, the show would start and Tarrant would be tucking into egg and chips as he started hosting it, another he’d be washing his hair in a bowl of water – at the time, one of very staid presentation, this was really something new and had the kind of impact you obviously couldn’t reproduce nowadays … but there was also a genuine feel of improvisation and the show almost about to fall apart. A common catchphrase and obvious in-joke was ‘we don’t just throw this programme together, you know’ and it’s apparently true that they didn’t really rehearse and the cameramen never knew for sure what bit was coming next or what they were supposed to be doing. The other thing is that the slapstick in Tiswas in the Tarrant years was really *aggressive* – it was fairly alarming in kids’ TV then, and would be unthinkable now. A lot of the regular guests, too, were adult entertainers with anarchic styles, whether Michael Palin and Terry Jones, Spike Milligan or Bernard Manning, which created a kids’ show that was extraordinarily perverse and adult.” – David Savage.

The next four years were the show’s ‘golden age’, in that the popularity of the show snowballed and, one by one, the rest of the ITV regions, who subsisted on either their own less memorable Saturday shows (mostly started up as copies of The ‘Was and/or attempts to rival the BBC’s Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, which had kicked off in September of ’76) succumbed to its undeniable might. One of these early efforts, ’76’s Saturday Scene on LWT, an otherwise uninspired mix of pop gossip and standard cartoon fare, was to provide Tiswas with a major new cast member in ‘The Lovely’ Sally James, who defected to ATVland for the start of the ’77 season as a replacement for Peter Tomlinson (Asher had decamped the previous year). Also present alongside Tarrant and ‘Truly Wonderful’ Trev was recent New Faces victor and future hallowed Generation Game memory despoiler Jim Davidson, who turned out for a handful of shows early on in the ’77 run, but made little impression. More worthwhile was local stand-up Jasper Carrott, who brought the Dying Fly dance to our screens. The old Tarzan adventures gave way to first Daniel Boone, then, more fittingly, Batman, and, to be frank, second division animated shows such as Dynomutt and Return To The Planet Of The Apes.

The imperial phase title sequenceThe following year saw the departure of East, his place filled by a selection of ‘assorted loonies’ including Vision On and Ken Campbell Roadshow veteran ‘Sylveste’ McCoy, ex-Scaffolder John Gorman (initially, like most of the team, only in character parts), and another New Face, Dudley-derived Lenworth J Henry. The show was becoming popular all over, by word of mouth and celebrity endorsement (to take two extremes, Kenny Everett regularly taped the show when he went down to London for his Saturday stint on Capital, while Bagpuss creator Oliver Postgate recently ‘came out’ as a flan fan). Celebrity guests were increasingly abundant as well, from Wheeltapperite comedians (Frank Carson, Duggie Brown etc.) to sports stars to ‘pop and rock acts of the day’, all too keen to get a broadside from Tarrant et al in The Cage. By now, the rest of the country had begun to take note. First to succumb was HTV, who had been showing extracts from the show for a couple of seasons, followed by Granada, Yorkshire, and the Scottish regions. By the end of the ’70s, only the south of England and Tyne-Tees were still immune to the ‘Was’s charms, preferring to get by on a diet of Our Show and Bill Oddie’s Saturday Banana, but even these had fallen into line by the start of the 1980-81 season (which saw fourth Bucketeer Bob Carolgees step up to the pie table). At long last, ITV had a national Saturday morning show to rival (in the sense of beat hollow) Noel ‘out of work’ Edmonds. The mood in the studio for these shows was triumphant – “This is what’ll take over from Waggoner’s Walk!” yelled Tarrant in typically sarcastic mode. What a pity they only had one season of classic Tiswas left…

1982 : This is no longer what they want.

By 1980, Tiswas had proved itself. From the humblest of beginnings on ATV to (very near) full national coverage, its freeform approach made it incredibly popular, largely due to it being one of the first children’s shows to capture the attention of adults too – something now deemed essential for a Saturday morning terrestrial show to do. But that was then, and the close-to-the-bone nature of many Tiswas gags, stunts and incidents set alarm bells ringing at the IBA, the ITV regulating authority. Efforts to tone down the Tarrant mix, under the guise of concern over the show’s ‘educational value’, unsettled the remaining Tiswas Twin, and Tarrant jumped ship at the end of that year’s season, along with Carolgees and Gorman, to start the abortive ‘adult ‘Was’, OTT, at the other end of the Saturday schedule.

The final series began with a new, and less suitable, cast member in Gordon Astley, alongside a rather motley and ever-changing line-up including Den ‘Darts’ Hegarty, Clive ‘Wizard’ Webb and Fogwell ‘Anklebiters’ Flax, and many of the ‘Was staples were, throughout the run, either done away with or toned down to an unrecognisable imitation of past pomp. By the end the show consisted mainly of cartoons (with Woody Woodpecker and old Popeye shorts brought in to augment the staple Warners’ fare) and the team sitting behind a desk reading out viewers’ letters and cracking terrible ‘1001 Jokes for Kids’ gags. The final ever edition, on April 3rd, which featured both Spike Milligan and Ted ‘Foot and’ Moult live in the studio, along with that surefire sign of trouble on live kids’ telly, an elephant (see also Blue Peter, Saturday Superstore) was not definitely billed as such (in Granadaland, the continuity voice introducing hinted that it ‘might’ be the last ever show), but ratings were by now slumping, the much-loved ATV had metamorphosed into Central, and the mood was not upbeat. Astley struck a (forlorn) note of hope by announcing that his ‘Save Tiswas‘ campaign would be touring the shopping centres of the land, flogging t-shirts and getting kids to sign petitions to keep it on, but one final straw spelt the sure end of the show – after this series, Sally James was leaving. The very last line heard on Tiswas was from an unidentified film clip: “She didn’t even say goodbye!” The show was not revived by Central the following autumn, and after an uneventful summer season of bits and pieces was replaced by the ill-fated Big Daddy’s Saturday Show.

2000 : Is this still what they want?

There have been several mooted attempts to replay the Tiswas format, in various updated forms. As well as the likening of current favourite SM:TV to the ‘Was at its heights, the short-lived ’90s Saturday morning show Wow served up a version of both the gunge element of ‘Was (hardly an innovation by the standards of kids’ TV at that time) and the wanton disruption of the running order. More significantly, several TV companies have sought to fully revive the ‘brand’, drawing parallels with Noel Edmond’s abortive post-House Party attempt to ironize Swap Shop (though tellingly, no Tiswas cast and production team members have offered their cooperation with such plans). In the spring of 2000 Carlton TV floated the idea of repeating some of the remaining Tiswas shows to beef up their anaemic late-night schedules, presumably in a re-edited form, on a thirtysomething nostalgia tip, as was the style at the time. Chris Tarrant and Lenny Henry were reportedly less than happy with the idea of the shows being rerun, and the repeats never materialised. John Gorman was recently approached by another company with a view to putting together a new version of Tiswas, but, quite rightly, turned down the idea on the grounds that it was the chemistry of the original personalities that made it work, and that could not now be repeated.

Tis was!

THE CAST

JOHN ASHER (1974-5)
Although Tarrant was there from the off, Asher was (nominally, at least) the main presenter for the ‘trial run’ series of eleven shows in ’74 and beyond, though he left just as the show was getting into its initial stride.

GORDON ASTLEY (1981-2)

Damned by many fans for his association with the show’s dying phase, though that was hardly his fault. Admittedly far from a perfect replacement for Tarrant, he struggled manfully through the final season reading out loud from 1,001 Jokes for Kids, and the fact remains, he was slightly too subdued, too sober, for what had gone before. Even if he’d been ten times as good he was doomed from the outset, mind.

DEN BONG (1980-2)
That is to say, DEN HEGARTY from fifties timewarp doo-wop outfit The Darts, taking pseudonym from his most-uttered word in their recordings. Grey-quiffed, mad-eyed colossus who was very much to the ‘Was as Jim Ignatalski was to TAXI. Now works for the Citizens Advice Bureau, believe it or not.

BOB CAROLGEES (1979-81)
Another former local jock, who appeared initially as Houdi Elbow, escapologist extraordinaire (Houdi-‘knee’, see?) and supposed Brummie “genius” in pyjamas and bandaged head. Latterly as self with Charlie the peanut-catching monkey, mildly irritating Spit the Dog (“The funky spitting punk dog” – yes, he had his own song) and pointless variation Koff the Cat. Well, there’s always one. Real name – Robert Johnston. “Oi downt knooow, Chreees!”

TREVOR EAST (1975-78)
Derby fan ‘Me, Myself’ Trev was head of sport at ATV, and presented Sportstime, an early ‘Was ‘strand’, but wasn’t averse to mucking in with the rest of the schtick. Regarded as somewhat of a prat by Midlands sport fans at the time, and nowadays sits on the board at Sky Sports.

Old school! Old joke!

JOHN GORMAN (1977-81)
Was in the Scaffold late ’60s, singing about medicinal compounds with Roger McGough and Mike “have you seen my brother?” McGear. Appeared as “Smello” (in bath with string vest, chips etc.), Albert the studio cleaner (“I fought in two wars!” etc.), PC Plodd, and some kind of “Get on with it!” -style sergeant in uniform.

LENNY HENRY (1977-81)
Straight off NEW FACES and into a big hat. He appeared as himself, Trevor McDoughnut (ITN newsreader parodied in very rough terms, occasionally with “real” one popping in – reads gag in big glasses, gets covered in water) but mainly remembered for Algernon Winston Spencer Castlereagh Razzmatazz, bizarre rasta with wooly hat, diet of condensed milk sandwiches and going “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO- KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” a lot with his own song, a kind of reggaefied version of “Michael Row The Boat Ashore”. Also David Bellamy. “Gwapple me gwapenuts Kwis!”

SALLY JAMES (1977-82)
Ahem. What to say? Sal came from the distinctly unremarkable pop ‘n’ cartoons milieu of Saturday Scene, and it was only Tiswas and the little-seen SIX FIFTY-FIVE SPECIAL for her before an early retirement to a school uniform retailing life, but still miles beyond Philbin, Green etc. Probably for that reason, she is fixed in the minds of a generation as the formative-years-enhancing idol. Took the role of long-suffering, sensible big sister suckered into impish little brothers’ pranks. Looked fabulous in baked beans. Her Pop Interviews, as later serialised in “Tops!” magazine, were (almost) legendary. “Can I do my trick now, Chris?”

SYLVESTER ‘SYLVESTE’ McCOY (1977-79)
Mad mime artist from Vision On, characterised on The ‘Was as some kind of werewolf, for reasons best known to the team. ‘Weedy’ appearance meant he always bore the brunt of compost corner etc.

JOAN PALMER
Poochie’s fellow ATV announcer and semi-regular guest on the show in the early years.

THE PHANTOM FLAN-FLINGER (or ‘Phlan Phlinger!’ depending on which placard you believed).
The identity of this Darth-Vader-made-out-of-cloth cream pie-wielding menace was a closely-guarded secret, but we can reveal that, after an initial outing with Jim Davidson under the cloak, he was vividly portrayed by Midlands cabbie and mate of Tarrant’s Benny Mills. Developed flanning technique on whichever celebs were in the studio at the time, although of course, since Chris and the boys deployed just as many shaving foam-stacked paper plates as he did, the ‘threat’ posed by him puzzled the over-logical child. Made his flans in a back room which was occasionally visited, and towards the end acquired a family of wife Flanderella (same garb, blonde curly wig, played by Oliver Spencer) and two kids (same garb, just smaller).

MICHAEL PRICE
Another in-vision ATV announcer and semi-regular on the show’s mid-period. Introduced as ‘Prickle Mince’ by Tarrant.

DAVID RAPPAPORT (1981-82)
Of Young Ones, Time Bandits, Small World fame. As “Shades”, the short-but-cool leather jacket and star-framed sunglasses uniformed mini-Fonz, to effortlessly sort out some bit of bother, presenter of Blue Peter pastiche Green Nigel, and the tutu-ed Fairy of the Desk.

Tomorrow the rat!CHRIS TARRANT (1974-81)
The main man. Local Birmingham DJ and news reporter, started from the beginning when the ‘Was was an ATV-only experiment. Whatever he might have done since, he sorted out the only kids’ TV rule – don’t bother with rules. While the ‘Shop, the ‘Store (even the ‘Nine) had to carefully choreograph any “spontaneity”, Tarrant let it all hang out. The studio was divided into six sectors, and 5 cameras would cover the chaos using the same techniques then used to cover football matches [there were no hand-held video cameras used at ATV until the 1980s] Also, CT would make sure all the camera operators had a copy of the running order, but this would bear no resemblance to CT’s actual activities or movements. And no programme segment was supposed to last more than 5 minutes. Chaotic genius, fo’ sho’. Dodgy moments aside (when a 12-year-old contortionist was on, one of the team (semi-regular WILLIE RUSHTON, no less) remarked out loud “Sitting duck for a deviant!” etc.) he managed to pull it off. “No wonder Noel Edmonds is out of work!”

TELECINE 3
The production room above the studio, and hence the sober, techie name for the voices of the various ‘Was producers down the years (including PETER HARRIS, ROB HARDING and GLYN EDWARDS – ‘one of the top five professional Punch and Judy men in Britain’) and also long-time programme compiler and editor ‘Not The’ PETER MATTHEWS, who manfully tried to exert a sober, techie influence on the Bolshevik proceedings downstairs from the gallery, which Tarrant would periodically visit with a threatening flan in hand. A Trotskyite allegory? TV production pecking order as metaphor for capitalist hegemony? Er… sure, why not?

TERRY THOMAS (not Terry-Thomas)
Yet another extra curricular ATV alumnus roped in on occasion, who introduced a fishing show on ATV. Introduced with the phrase “tight lines”. The show would come “live” from the Tipton Canal.

PETER TOMLINSON (1975-77)
The third of the ATV-only ‘Was triumvirate alongside Tarrant and East. Originally an in-vision continuity announcer for HTV (West) before moving to ATV, where on a Friday night he would introduce the Friday night horror film with his Teddy Bear to keep him company. Presented film news and trailers. ‘Poochie’ was replaced by La James – a swap far more enticing than anything Noel arranged on the other side. He later became the prize announcer on Blockbusters.

CLIVE WEBB (1980-82)
Appeared as Wizard Webb, some kind of, er, ‘Tis-Wiz’ wizard bloke. Performed deranged magic tricks, and always the first to react to the call of “Competition Time!” Went off with Gorman for HOW DARE YOU! along similar lines.

Others involved – JASPER CARROTT, PAUL ‘THE KID’ HARDIN, WILLIE RUSHTON, FRANK CARSON, and assorted other comedians.

Adding to the Tiswas mythology were a shedload of standard props, routines and anecdotes which became part of the ‘Was way of life. Some were there from the start, some evolved over the years, others happened entirely by accident. Here are a few of the more memorable ones –

ATVLAND Birmingham B1 2JP. Was the ATV Studios wherefrom the ‘Was was broadcast. Now a car park.

BUCKETS OF WATER …and semolina, spaghetti, baked beans, “Wunda Gloo” and whatever other revolting substance they had to hand. The main weapon, after the flan, of Tiswas revolution, often undoing the effects of the flan, at least until the next one came along. It’s a yin-yang thing. Utilised in conjunction with the cage, and in various programme ‘strands’ such as Flan Your Folks, You Name It, We’ll Throw It Over You, Tarrant’s Tiswas Torrents etc. Which all amounted to pretty much the same thing, essentially. But rest assured, concerned parents, there were pre-show warnings handed out to the kids, and a special ‘clean’ area of the studio reserved for the Gloo-shy.

THE CAGE If you were an adult, there was only one way to get into the studio audience for Tiswas – volunteer for a soaking in the cage. Along with various guest celebs and several t-shirted nubile women, members of the adult public were locked up for the duration, as if after some kiddie-instigated military coup, and doused liberally with water and gunk whenever Tarrant felt the show’s pace was flagging, or indeed whenever he felt like it. John Peel, Rick Parfitt and several members of soft rockers Rainbow were present in one cage line-up when someone lit up a joint, live on kids’ TV, until doused with a bucket by a worried Tarrant, who to this day solemnly refuses to name the guilty party. (It was one of the Rainbow ‘lads’.)

COMPETITION TIME Self-explanatory, really. the announcement of this brought a reflex action of mayhem to the studio, often resulting in a conga across the floor (“It’s com-pe-ti-tion time! Now!”)

The inevitable annual The even more inevitable annual

COMPOST CORNER (“COOOOMPOOOST COOOORNEEER!”) this call-and-response-to-arms heralded an alleged gardening segment, which was really little more than an excuse to dress someone up as a sunflower, stick their feet in a bucket and cover them with crap. ‘David Bellamy’ often assisted. Quack quack, bark!

THE DESK What on other, more staid Saturday shows, was the dictatorial centre of operations became just another location on Tiswas. Chris and Sal started the show sat behind it (with seated audience behind them) but it didn’t last that way for long. Kids were pulled up by the ears from behind it for all to see. Suspect news items (“Only 24 shoplifting days to Christmas!”) were read out. A sort of plunger mechanism often broke. And of course, flanning supplies were concealed therebeneath at all times.

THE DYING FLY A daffy limb-waggling craze (lie on floor on back, act like eponymous insect) discovered by Jasper Carrott when he did a gig in Newcastle (Goerdie’s way, apparently, of livening up a crap gig), and subsequently put on RoSPA’s list of the “most dangerous activities of 1980”. Carried out to that odd diddle-diddle-diddle tune for violin and typewriter.

FILM AND TV PARODIES Legendarily half-arsed excuses for the usual messy chaos in the manner of film and TV favourites. So you had Flanorama, with Tarrant blithely interviewing the ‘Flinger about the Green Pound and other economic issues, Spaghetti Western, which was about a minute of standing about, looking shifty and whistling before bunging the eponymous pasts left, right and centre, and Bunfight at the OK Corral, which possibly needs no further explanation.

THE FLAN MIX That is to say, shaving soap and food colouring, slapped on a paper plate. The mcompleted flans were left out for half an hour to take away any soapy sting on contact with the kids’ eyes. Safety regulations did exist, even at 2JP. Stuart M recalls: “My brother and I were both born and bred in Birmingham and went in for a Tiswas show. We were off to a wedding in the afternoon and dressed in our Sunday best – not the ideal attire. We were under strict instructions not to get wet, covered in custard pie etc. and for the whole show we dodged it all and stayed clean. By the end of the show the studio was like a bomb site and as we left I slipped in some water and went sprawling across the floor getting thoroughly messed up. Whilst we were in the studio the parents were kept in a separate area where they could watch the show, drink coffee etc.”

THE GAG DISCO Shot on film at a less-than-salubrious-looking  nightspot (turns out it was Stringfellows, of all non-Brum places), and featuring crew and kids doing various half-hearted grooves, and periodically stopping for some very naff gags indeed.

Gordon! And, more to the point, Sal!

THE QUIET BITS The madness stopped on occasion (well, quietened down at the back at least) for Tarrant to deliver the ‘improving’ content of the show – either ‘crusading’ items on road safety or the welfare of seals, or ‘fascinating’ facts like the story of the Marie Celeste (illustrated with Jackanory-style pictures). All very worthy stuff, and it kept the regulators off their backs, but certainly the dullest part of the show for many a Honey Smack-addled morning kid. It only lasted about five minutes, though, and then on with the mayhem.

TELLY SELLY TIME Basically, the adverts (for the Evel Knievel Stunt Bike, Tin Can Alley, Breville Sandwich Toaster etc.) Always indicated by an animated flan flinger with placard shambling across the screen.

THE TITLES A compilation of studio madness, cartoon snippets and clips of films like Bullitt and Star Wars played out to initially a slice of ‘zany’ library music, and later that pub-rock Midlands stomp, which whetted the appetite for two and a half hours of early morning destruction like no other. Plenty of Sally featured of course, as did, er, Tarrant in just his pants.

UNDERATES Misspelt competition for the smaller viewers, who inevitably cried when in studio, or, in one famous incident, whispered into Tarrant’s ear. Tarrant: “Can’t you wait?” Kid shakes head furiously. “Well, you’d better go then.” Kid is sent off, missing his minute’s glory. Aaah. Auntie Rotter: “When I was Six years old I won the eights and under competition, painting a picture of the Tiswas studio after the show had finished, and was invited to Birmingham to appear on the show. The date was March 1st 1980, and the show had a ‘leap year’ theme where all the male presenters set about getting Sally James to propose to them, also there was a sub-plot of a disease called ‘Cooper-itis’ infecting the studio causing everyone (including star guest Richard O’Sullivan, who was there to plug the new series of Dick Turpin) to wear a fez and go ‘a-ha-ha, I went to the doctor…’ a lot. I was rewarded for my poor art work with a tiswas t-shirt, an oil painting set (mega-handy for a six year old), a four foot tall stuffed rabbit and a reflective road safety medallion.”

THE WELLY PHONE Two wellies tied together, used as a prop telephone for call-ins. See also “welly wanging” a late ’70s rustic sport (throwing old boots as far as possible) which also encroached upon Nationwide and Record Breakers. Well, there was a strike on…

THE TITAN of Saturday morning television was Tiswas. Its shadow fell over everything else that followed in the much-prized but frequently ‘difficult’ Saturday slot. Oh, to switch over from the fair-to-middling first half hour of the earlier-starting SWAP SHOP (the Beeb’s regular scheduling of John Craven’s too-sober-for-Saturday News Swap segment at this time can’t have helped their case) to see that ITV clock – “And now, with the time coming up to ten o’clock, let’s go over to studio one to see what’s happening,” quoth the announcer in none-more-understated manner. This didn’t give any clue (or indeed warning) to the madness to follow. As chairman CHRIS TARRANT maintained, “This is what they want!” Did Swap Shop have John Peel and Buster Bloodvessel in a cage?* Did Noel Edmonds have the joys of Wunda-Gloo at his disposal? No.

Nowadays, you know where you are with a Saturday morning show from week one. Bang, out it comes all over the country, with tabloid column inches and, increasingly, semi-clad female presenters adorning the front of single male ‘entertainment’ mags left, right and centre. With Tiswas, needless to say, things were very different. Here’s a potted history of the show, which turned out every bit as chaotic and messy as the programme itself.

1974 – 1976 : Is this what they want?

It was hardly an auspicious beginning. In ATVland at ten o’clock on the morning of Saturday 5th January 1974, just after Jobs Around The House : Damp, a children’s programme with the long-winded billing ‘Today Is Saturday or the Tis-Was Show’ was broadcast from ATV’s Studio 4 in Birmingham; a mixture of pop music, cartoons, sport, comedy and other child-friendly items, linked in a loose, off-the-cuff style by John Asher, with one Chris Tarrant ‘bringing you the news behind the news’. It was an experiment, a trial run attempt to ‘bind’ the disparate elements of standard kids’ matinee TV together in one coherent (or as it turned out, incoherent) programme. In between old Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker cartoons and episodes of Tarzan (Ron Ely vintage) Asher, Tarrant and a small invited audience introduced phone-ins, competitions, and such features as the Who, Which, What Year Contest and ‘angonasec, along with a healthy dose of slapstick, old gags and improvised tomfoolery – all on a budget of less than 250 quid for a two-and-a-half-hour show. As the series progressed, they relocated to the now-legendary Studio 3, Tarrant began to share equal billing with Asher (as the ‘Tiswas Twins’) and the name gradually permutated to ‘Tiswas (or Today Is Saturday)’. The show made it through its allotted eleven-week initial run, despite the uneasy climate of government-imposed broadcasting restrictions looming over all live programming at the time, and was deemed enough of a success to return for a full winter season on September 14th.

During the first proper run of the show (now called simply Tiswas), with Asher and ‘Old Strawhead’ Tarrant in charge (insofar as anyone could ever be in charge of the thing), alongside Peter ‘Poochie’ Tomlinson presenting film clips requested by viewers (mainly the fighting skeletons scene from Jason and the Argonauts as it turned out) in Tiswas Trailertime, and ATV head of sport ‘Me, Myself, Yours Truly’ Trevor East doing Tiswas Sportstime in a Derby County shirt. Also putting in their twopenn’orths were ‘Not The’ Peter Matthews, the show’s compiler and editor, the odd unseen producer, and moonlighting ATV continuity announcer Joan Palmer. The flan and bucket ante was upped considerably throughout the next two seasons of the show, Tarrant and pals realising from copious kids’ letters that this was, well, the sort of thing they required – a stern notice handed out to members of the by-now 50-strong studio audience read “The company cannot be held responsible for any mishaps during transmission caused by stray pies or other scripted missiles”. But more serious items were introduced – ‘crusading’ causes such as water/road safety and the provision of better play facilities – alongside the semi-serious Tiswas Fascinating Fact File. This modicum of ‘respectable’ content kept the IBA wolf from the door… for now. This early era of the ‘Was (remembered fondly by Midlanders, though of course unknown to the rest of the country) climaxed in June ’76, when the 100th edition was marked with an entire episode broadcast from Hednesford Raceway, Cannock, in front of an audience of 30,000, with banger races providing an appropriate supplement to the usual schtick. The ‘Was was clearly here to stay.

1977 – 1981 : This is what they all want!

“Tiswas [had an] anarchic feel which really made an impact. On a basic level, one week, the show would start and Tarrant would be tucking into egg and chips as he started hosting it, another he’d be washing his hair in a bowl of water – at the time, one of very staid presentation, this was really something new and had the kind of impact you obviously couldn’t reproduce nowadays … but there was also a genuine feel of improvisation and the show almost about to fall apart. A common catchphrase and obvious in-joke was ‘we don’t just throw this programme together, you know’ and it’s apparently true that they didn’t really rehearse and the cameramen never knew for sure what bit was coming next or what they were supposed to be doing. The other thing is that the slapstick in Tiswas in the Tarrant years was really *aggressive* – it was fairly alarming in kids’ TV then, and would be unthinkable now. A lot of the regular guests, too, were adult entertainers with anarchic styles, whether Michael Palin and Terry Jones, Spike Milligan or Bernard Manning, which created a kids’ show that was extraordinarily perverse and adult.” – David Savage.

The next four years were the show’s ‘golden age’, in that the popularity of the show snowballed and, one by one, the rest of the ITV regions, who subsisted on either their own less memorable Saturday shows (mostly started up as copies of The ‘Was and/or attempts to rival the BBC’s Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, which had kicked off in September of ’76) succumbed to its undeniable might. One of these early efforts, ’76’s Saturday Scene on LWT, an otherwise uninspired mix of pop gossip and standard cartoon fare, was to provide Tiswas with a major new cast member in ‘The Lovely’ Sally James, who defected to ATVland for the start of the ’77 season as a replacement for Peter Tomlinson (Asher had decamped the previous year). Also present alongside Tarrant and ‘Truly Wonderful’ Trev was recent New Faces victor and future hallowed Generation Game memory despoiler Jim Davidson, who turned out for a handful of shows early on in the ’77 run, but made little impression. More worthwhile was local stand-up Jasper Carrott, who brought the Dying Fly dance to our screens. The old Tarzan adventures gave way to first Daniel Boone, then, more fittingly, Batman, and, to be frank, second division animated shows such as Dynomutt and Return To The Planet Of The Apes.

The following year saw the departure of East, his place filled by a selection of ‘assorted loonies’ including Vision On and Ken Campbell Roadshow veteran ‘Sylveste’ McCoy, ex-Scaffolder John Gorman (initially, like most of the team, only in character parts), and another New Face, Dudley-derived Lenworth J Henry. The show was becoming popular all over, by word of mouth and celebrity endorsement (to take two extremes, Kenny Everett regularly taped the show when he went down to London for his Saturday stint on Capital, while Bagpuss creator Oliver Postgate recently ‘came out’ as a flan fan). Celebrity guests were increasingly abundant as well, from Wheeltapperite comedians (Frank Carson, Duggie Brown etc.) to sports stars to ‘pop and rock acts of the day’, all too keen to get a broadside from Tarrant et al in The Cage. By now, the rest of the country had begun to take note. First to succumb was HTV, who had been showing extracts from the show for a couple of seasons, followed by Granada, Yorkshire, and the Scottish regions. By the end of the ’70s, only the south of England and Tyne-Tees were still immune to the ‘Was’s charms, preferring to get by on a diet of Our Show and Bill Oddie’s Saturday Banana, but even these had fallen into line by the start of the 1980-81 season (which saw fourth Bucketeer Bob Carolgees step up to the pie table). At long last, ITV had a national Saturday morning show to rival (in the sense of beat hollow) Noel ‘out of work’ Edmonds. The mood in the studio for these shows was triumphant – “This is what’ll take over from Waggoner’s Walk!” yelled Tarrant in typically sarcastic mode. What a pity they only had one season of classic Tiswas left…

1982 : This is no longer what they want.

By 1980, Tiswas had proved itself. From the humblest of beginnings on ATV to (very near) full national coverage, its freeform approach made it incredibly popular, largely due to it being one of the first children’s shows to capture the attention of adults too – something now deemed essential for a Saturday morning terrestrial show to do. But that was then, and the close-to-the-bone nature of many Tiswas gags, stunts and incidents set alarm bells ringing at the IBA, the ITV regulating authority. Efforts to tone down the Tarrant mix, under the guise of concern over the show’s ‘educational value’, unsettled the remaining Tiswas Twin, and Tarrant jumped ship at the end of that year’s season, along with Carolgees and Gorman, to start the abortive ‘adult ‘Was’, OTT, at the other end of the Saturday schedule.

The final series began with a new, and less suitable, cast member in Gordon Astley, alongside a rather motley and ever-changing line-up including Den ‘Darts’ Hegarty, Clive ‘Wizard’ Webb and Fogwell ‘Anklebiters’ Flax, and many of the ‘Was staples were, throughout the run, either done away with or toned down to an unrecognisable imitation of past pomp. By the end the show consisted mainly of cartoons (with Woody Woodpecker and old Popeye shorts brought in to augment the staple Warners’ fare) and the team sitting behind a desk reading out viewers’ letters and cracking terrible ‘1001 Jokes for Kids’ gags. The final ever edition, on April 3rd, which featured both Spike Milligan and Ted ‘Foot and’ Moult live in the studio, along with that surefire sign of trouble on live kids’ telly, an elephant (see also Blue Peter, Saturday Superstore) was not definitely billed as such (in Granadaland, the continuity voice introducing hinted that it ‘might’ be the last ever show), but ratings were by now slumping, the much-loved ATV had metamorphosed into Central, and the mood was not upbeat. Astley struck a (forlorn) note of hope by announcing that his ‘Save Tiswas’ campaign would be touring the shopping centres of the land, flogging t-shirts and getting kids to sign petitions to keep it on, but one final straw spelt the sure end of the show – after this series, Sally James was leaving. The very last line heard on Tiswas was from an unidentified film clip: “She didn’t even say goodbye!” The show was not revived by Central the following autumn, and after an uneventful summer season of bits and pieces was replaced by the ill-fated Big Daddy’s Saturday Show.

2000 : Is this still what they want?

There have been several mooted attempts to replay the Tiswas format, in various updated forms. As well as the likening of current favourite SM:TV to the ‘Was at its heights, the short-lived ’90s Saturday morning show Wow served up a version of both the gunge element of ‘Was (hardly an innovation by the standards of kids’ TV at that time) and the wanton disruption of the running order. More significantly, several TV companies have sought to fully revive the ‘brand’, drawing parallels with Noel Edmond’s abortive post-House Party attempt to ironize Swap Shop (though tellingly, no Tiswas cast and production team members have offered their cooperation with such plans). In the spring of 2000 Carlton TV floated the idea of repeating some of the remaining Tiswas shows to beef up their anaemic late-night schedules, presumably in a re-edited form, on a thirtysomething nostalgia tip, as was the style at the time. Chris Tarrant and Lenny Henry were reportedly less than happy with the idea of the shows being rerun, and the repeats never materialised. John Gorman was recently approached by another company with a view to putting together a new version of Tiswas, but, quite rightly, turned down the idea on the grounds that it was the chemistry of the original personalities that made it work, and that could not now be repeated.

THE CAST

JOHN ASHER (1974-5)
Although Tarrant was there from the off, Asher was (nominally, at least) the main presenter for the ‘trial run’ series of eleven shows in ’74 and beyond, though he left just as the show was getting into its initial stride. Released a cover of Chubby Checker’s ‘Let’s Twist Again’ in November of ’75, which made number 14 until the original was re-released and overtook it.

DEN BONG (1980-2)
That is to say, DEN HEGARTY from fifties timewarp doo-wop outfit The Darts, taking pseudonym from his most-uttered word in their recordings. Grey-quiffed, mad-eyed colossus who was very much to the ‘Was as Jim Ignatalski was to TAXI. Now works for the Citizens Advice Bureau, believe it or not.

BOB CAROLGEES (1979-81)
Another former local jock, who appeared initially as Houdi Elbow, escapologist extraordinaire (Houdi-‘knee’, see?) and supposed Brummie “genius” in pyjamas and bandaged head. Latterly as self with Charlie the peanut-catching monkey, mildly irritating Spit the Dog (“The funky spitting punk dog” – yes, he had his own song) and pointless variation Koff the Cat. Well, there’s always one. Real name – Robert Johnston. “Oi downt knooow, Chreees!”

TREVOR EAST (1975-78)
Derby fan ‘Me, Myself’ Trev was head of sport at ATV, and presented Sportstime, an early ‘Was ‘strand’, but wasn’t averse to mucking in with the rest of the schtick. Regarded as somewhat of a prat by Midlands sport fans at the time, and nowadays sits on the board at Sky Sports.

JOHN GORMAN (1977-81)
Was in the Scaffold late ’60s, singing about medicinal compounds with Roger McGough and Mike “have you seen my brother?” McGear. Appeared as “Smello” (in bath with string vest, chips etc.), Albert the studio cleaner (“I fought in two wars!” etc.), PC Plodd, and some kind of “Get on with it!” -style sergeant in uniform.

LENNY HENRY (1977-81)
Straight off NEW FACES and into a big hat. He appeared as himself, Trevor McDoughnut (ITN newsreader parodied in very rough terms, occasionally with “real” one popping in – reads gag in big glasses, gets covered in water) but mainly remembered for Algernon Winston Spencer Castlereagh Razzmatazz, bizarre rasta with wooly hat, diet of condensed milk sandwiches and going “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO- KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” a lot with his own song, a kind of reggaefied version of “Michael Row The Boat Ashore”. Also David Bellamy. “Gwapple me gwapenuts Kwis!”

Henry’s deranged Algernon Razmatazz goes apeshit over De Condensed Milk. His wife-to-be persuaded him to stop doing it on grounds of racism, but surely it’s just far too deranged to garner that description?

SALLY JAMES (1977-82)
Ahem. What to say? Sal came from the distinctly unremarkable pop ‘n’ cartoons milieu of Saturday Scene, and it was only Tiswas and the little-seen SIX FIFTY-FIVE SPECIAL for her before an early retirement to a school uniform retailing life, but still miles beyond Philbin, Green etc. Probably for that reason, she is fixed in the minds of a generation as the formative-years-enhancing idol. Took the role of long-suffering, sensible big sister suckered into impish little brothers’ pranks. Looked fabulous in baked beans. Her Pop Interviews, as later serialised in “Tops!” magazine, were (almost) legendary. “Can I do my trick now, Chris?”

SYLVESTER ‘SYLVESTE’ McCOY (1977-79)
Mad mime artist from Vision On, characterised on The ‘Was as some kind of werewolf, for reasons best known to the team. ‘Weedy’ appearance meant he always bore the brunt of compost corner etc.

JOAN PALMER
Poochie’s fellow ATV announcer and semi-regular guest on the show in the early years.

THE PHANTOM FLAN-FLINGER (or ‘Phlan Phlinger!’ depending on which placard you believed).
The identity of this Darth-Vader-made-out-of-cloth cream pie-wielding menace was a closely-guarded secret, but we can reveal that, after an initial outing with Jim Davidson under the cloak, he was vividly portrayed by Midlands cabbie and mate of Tarrant’s Benny Mills. Developed flanning technique on whichever celebs were in the studio at the time, although of course, since Chris and the boys deployed just as many shaving foam-stacked paper plates as he did, the ‘threat’ posed by him puzzled the over-logical child. Made his flans in a back room which was occasionally visited, and towards the end acquired a family of wife Flanderella (same garb, blonde curly wig, played by Oliver Spencer) and two kids (same garb, just smaller).

MICHAEL PRICE
Another in-vision ATV announcer and semi-regular on the show’s mid-period. Introduced as ‘Prickle Mince’ by Tarrant.

DAVID RAPPAPORT (1981-82)
Of Young Ones, Time Bandits, Small World fame. As “Shades”, the short-but-cool leather jacket and star-framed sunglasses uniformed mini-Fonz, to effortlessly sort out some bit of bother, presenter of Blue Peter pastiche Green Nigel, and the tutu-ed Fairy of the Desk.

CHRIS TARRANT (1974-81)
The main man. Local Birmingham DJ and news reporter, started from the beginning when the ‘Was was an ATV-only experiment. Whatever he might have done since, he sorted out the only kids’ TV rule – don’t bother with rules. While the ‘Shop, the ‘Store (even the ‘Nine) had to carefully choreograph any “spontaneity”, Tarrant let it all hang out. The studio was divided into six sectors, and 5 cameras would cover the chaos using the same techniques then used to cover football matches [there were no hand-held video cameras used at ATV until the 1980s] Also, CT would make sure all the camera operators had a copy of the running order, but this would bear no resemblance to CT’s actual activities or movements. And no programme segment was supposed to last more than 5 minutes. Chaotic genius, fo’ sho’. Dodgy moments aside (when a 12-year-old contortionist was on, one of the team (semi-regular WILLIE RUSHTON, no less) remarked out loud “Sitting duck for a deviant!” etc.) he managed to pull it off. “No wonder Noel Edmonds is out of work!”

TELECINE 3
The production room above the studio, and hence the sober, techie name for the voices of the various ‘Was producers down the years (including PETER HARRIS, ROB HARDING and GLYN EDWARDS – ‘one of the top five professional Punch and Judy men in Britain’) and also long-time programme compiler and editor ‘Not The’ PETER MATTHEWS, who manfully tried to exert a sober, techie influence on the Bolshevik proceedings downstairs from the gallery, which Tarrant would periodically visit with a threatening flan in hand. A Trotskyite allegory? TV production pecking order as metaphor for capitalist hegemony? Er… sure, why not?

TERRY THOMAS (not Terry-Thomas)
Yet another extra curricular ATV alumnus roped in on occasion, who introduced a fishing show on ATV. Introduced with the phrase “tight lines”. The show would come “live” from the Tipton Canal.

PETER TOMLINSON (1975-77)
The third of the ATV-only ‘Was triumvirate alongside Tarrant and East. Originally an in-vision continuity announcer for HTV (West) before moving to ATV, where on a Friday night he would introduce the Friday night horror film with his Teddy Bear to keep him company. Presented film news and trailers. ‘Poochie’ was replaced by La James – a swap far more enticing than anything Noel arranged on the other side. He later became the prize announcer on Blockbusters.

CLIVE WEBB (1980-82)
Appeared as Wizard Webb, some kind of, er, ‘Tis-Wiz’ wizard bloke. Performed deranged magic tricks, and always the first to react to the call of “Competition Time!” Went off with Gorman for HOW DARE YOU! along similar lines.

Others involved – JASPER CARROTT, PAUL ‘THE KID’ HARDIN, WILLIE RUSHTON, FRANK CARSON, JIM DAVIDSON and various other “COMEDIANS”-era comedians who added little to the proceedings but a few naff jokes, nad for that best-forgotten final season further semi-regular helpers Fogwell “One-Nine For Santa” Flax and the terrible Gordon Astley who took over for the final season after Tarrant and co. left for the ill-fated “adult” version of Tiswas, OTT.

‘WAS STUFF

Adding to the Tiswas mythology were a shedload of standard props, routines and anecdotes which became part of the ‘Was way of life. Some were there from the start, some evolved over the years, others happened entirely by accident. Here are a few of the more memorable ones –

ATVLAND Birmingham B1 2JP. Was the ATV Studios wherefrom the ‘Was was broadcast. Now a car park.

BUCKETS OF WATER …and semolina, spaghetti, baked beans, “Wunda Gloo” and whatever other revolting substance they had to hand. The main weapon, after the flan, of Tiswas revolution, often undoing the effects of the flan, at least until the next one came along. It’s a yin-yang thing. Utilised in conjunction with the cage, and in various programme ‘strands’ such as Flan Your Folks, You Name It, We’ll Throw It Over You, Tarrant’s Tiswas Torrents etc. Which all amounted to pretty much the same thing, essentially. But rest assured, concerned parents, there were pre-show warnings handed out to the kids, and a special ‘clean’ area of the studio reserved for the Gloo-shy.

THE CAGE If you were an adult, there was only one way to get into the studio audience for Tiswas – volunteer for a soaking in the cage. Along with various guest celebs and several t-shirted nubile women, members of the adult public were locked up for the duration, as if after some kiddie-instigated military coup, and doused liberally with water and gunk whenever Tarrant felt the show’s pace was flagging, or indeed whenever he felt like it. John Peel, Rick Parfitt and several members of soft rockers Rainbow were present in one cage line-up when someone lit up a joint, live on kids’ TV, until doused with a bucket by a worried Tarrant, who to this day solemnly refuses to name the guilty party. (It was one of the Rainbow ‘lads’.)

COMPETITION TIME Self-explanatory, really. the announcement of this brought a reflex action of mayhem to the studio, often resulting in a conga across the floor (“It’s com-pe-ti-tion time! Now!”)

COMPOST CORNER. (“COOOOMPOOOST COOOORNEEER!”) this call-and-response-to-arms heralded an alleged gardening segment, which was really little more than an excuse to dress someone up as a sunflower, stick their feet in a bucket and cover them with crap. ‘David Bellamy’ often assisted. Quack quack, bark!

THE DESK What on other, more staid Saturday shows, was the dictatorial centre of operations became just another location on Tiswas. Chris and Sal started the show sat behind it (with seated audience behind them) but it didn’t last that way for long. Kids were pulled up by the ears from behind it for all to see. Suspect news items (“Only 24 shoplifting days to Christmas!”) were read out. A sort of plunger mechanism often broke. And of course, flanning supplies were concealed therebeneath at all times.

THE DYING FLY A daffy limb-waggling craze (lie on floor on back, act like eponymous insect) discovered by Jasper Carrott when he did a gig in Newcastle (Goerdie’s way, apparently, of livening up a crap gig), and subsequently put on RoSPA’s list of the “most dangerous activities of 1980”. Carried out to that odd diddle-diddle-diddle tune for violin and typewriter.

FILM AND TV PARODIES Legendarily half-arsed excuses for the usual messy chaos in the manner of film and TV favourites. So you had Flanorama, with Tarrant blithely interviewing the ‘Flinger about the Green Pound and other economic issues, Spaghetti Western, which was about a minute of standing about, looking shifty and whistling before bunging the eponymous pasts left, right and centre, and Bunfight at the OK Corral, which possibly needs no further explanation.

THE FLAN MIX That is to say, shaving soap and food colouring, slapped on a paper plate. The mcompleted flans were left out for half an hour to take away any soapy sting on contact with the kids’ eyes. Safety regulations did exist, even at 2JP. Stuart M recalls: “My brother and I were both born and bred in Birmingham and went in for a Tiswas show. We were off to a wedding in the afternoon and dressed in our Sunday best – not the ideal attire. We were under strict instructions not to get wet, covered in custard pie etc. and for the whole show we dodged it all and stayed clean. By the end of the show the studio was like a bomb site and as we left I slipped in some water and went sprawling across the floor getting thoroughly messed up. Whilst we were in the studio the parents were kept in a separate area where they could watch the show, drink coffee etc.”

THE GAG DISCO Shot on film at a less-than-salubrious-looking  nightspot (turns out it was Stringfellows, of all non-Brum places), and featuring crew and kids doing various half-hearted grooves, and periodically stopping for some very naff gags indeed.

THE QUIET BITS The madness stopped on occasion (well, quietened down at the back at least) for Tarrant to deliver the ‘improving’ content of the show – either ‘crusading’ items on road safety or the welfare of seals, or ‘fascinating’ facts like the story of the Marie Celeste (illustrated with Jackanory-style pictures). All very worthy stuff, and it kept the regulators off their backs, but certainly the dullest part of the show for many a Honey Smack-addled morning kid. It only lasted about five minutes, though, and then on with the mayhem.

TELLY SELLY TIME Basically, the adverts (for the Evel Knievel Stunt Bike, Tin Can Alley, Breville Sandwich Toaster etc.) Always indicated by an animated flan flinger with placard shambling across the screen.

THE TITLES A compilation of studio madness, cartoon snippets and clips of films like Bullitt and Star Wars played out to initially a slice of ‘zany’ library music, and later that pub-rock Midlands stomp, which whetted the appetite for two and a half hours of early morning destruction like no other. Plenty of Sally featured of course, as did, er, Tarrant in just his pants.

UNDERATES Misspelt competition for the smaller viewers, who inevitably cried when in studio, or, in one famous incident, whispered into Tarrant’s ear. Tarrant: “Can’t you wait?” Kid shakes head furiously. “Well, you’d better go then.” Kid is sent off, missing his minute’s glory. Aaah. Auntie Rotter: “When I was Six years old I won the eights and under competition, painting a picture of the Tiswas studio after the show had finished, and was invited to Birmingham to appear on the show. The date was March 1st 1980, and the show had a ‘leap year’ theme where all the male presenters set about getting Sally James to propose to them, also there was a sub-plot of a disease called ‘Cooper-itis’ infecting the studio causing everyone (including star guest Richard O’Sullivan, who was there to plug the new series of Dick Turpin) to wear a fez and go ‘a-ha-ha, I went to the doctor…’ a lot. I was rewarded for my poor art work with a tiswas t-shirt, an oil painting set (mega-handy for a six year old), a four foot tall stuffed rabbit and a reflective road safety medallion.”

THE WELLY PHONE Two wellies tied together, used as a prop telephone for call-ins. See also “welly wanging” a late ’70s rustic sport (throwing old boots as far as possible) which also encroached upon Nationwide and Record Breakers. Well, there was a strike on…

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Pearlyman

    October 19, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    That Flan Flinger scared the four-year-old me to death…

  2. Mike Reynolds

    October 20, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Greatest ever Saturday Morning show, didn’t Peter Harris also produce the Muppet Show for a time?

  3. Paul

    October 22, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Probably the single most important (only) reason why I’m glad to have been born and raised in the midlands. I got to watch the show morph from cartoon segue to anarchic behmoth. I can almost smell the Bird’s Eye grillburgers cooking…

  4. Chris Curtis

    March 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

    This is a big relief. There was a big discussion today after work – all about the name of the (slightly tipsy) angler who occasionally appeared on Tiswas. Terry Thomas! How could I forget? I remember him turning out for a Tiswas XI at Meadow Lane many years ago, though I can’t remember why. Someone’s testimonial game, probably. What a star!!!

  5. Steve

    February 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    I read as carefully as I could but I did not see Pie-The-Prof listed under the features. There’s even a picture of the lovely Sally in her, erm, ‘costume’. Dear God that got some hormones boiling in this particular teenager. And the full meaning of the TISWAS acronym? Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile. Oh – I smiled. Lots. No point in trying to remake TISWAS – it was perfectly of its time. Leave it as the best kids TV show EVER, and one of the better ones even if you’re grown up.

  6. Glenn Aylett

    February 24, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I was watching a clip from late 1981 when Sally James is interviewing the Human League and just as Phil Oakey is talking about his new synthesiser, without warning Joanne Catherall( the dark haired band member) gets a custard pie shoved in her face and then starts a custard pie fight with Susanne Sulley and then Oakey, still trying to discuss his new synthesiser, gets gunged. His attempts to play it straight are hilarious while his band mates are having a custard pie fight.

  7. Paul Hughes

    March 9, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Great article about a great show, but it’s a shame there’s no mention of Matthew Butler, the little lad who used to sing Bright Eyes dressed in a rabbit costume. I’m sure he’s a fondly remembered part of the show for a lot of people.

  8. Gavin

    March 12, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Matthew was reunited with Chris Tarrant on Frank Skinner’s show a few years back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMGRBapLZME

  9. Glenn Aylett

    May 9, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Border started taking Tiswas in 1977. From then on Swap Shop rapidly became toast round here, except for the middle class kids who saw Tiswas as rubbish( and even a few of these were watching on the sly). The Cage or News Swap, custard pies or Cheggers at a rugby ground swapping Cluedo for Monopoly, what would you sooner watch?

  10. borgduck

    June 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I watched a Sally James Tiswas clip this morning. That one, pictured above. I can see why it’s one of the most popular!

  11. Dave @ATVland

    December 21, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    The lovely Sally James…
    Do i remember correctly that the late Joan Thirkettle reading the news as Joan Electrickettle through chaos by lenny henry & others? Dave

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