Tiswas was a British Saturday morning television show which was first shown on the 5th January 1974 on ATV. Broadcast from Birmingham in studio 4, and later studio 3 of the ATV building, it showed a variety of content, including pop music, cartoons and sketches much like Saturday morning television does presently, but in a vastly different style.
In an attempt to collate many different types of children's entertainment segments sypathetically into one large show, Tiswas used different presenters to keep the show fast moving and coherant. For this two and a half hour weekly show, a budget of just £250 was given, therefore the programme used low tech gimmicks to keep their audience which proved to be very innovative and effective.
In the Beginning
Originally only scheduled for an eleven week run, as it reached the final shows, it was judged to be succesful enough to have its contract continued, even with new government restrictions which had been brought in to preside over live television broadcasts.
For the continuation of the contract, John Asher, the main presenter of Tiswas left. Chris Tarrant, who was already a co-presenter, was left to preside over the programme, as much as anyone could over the mayhem which was Tiswas.
Throughout the next two seasons, the show included increasing more slapstick comedy in the form of custard pies and bucket of water.
This led to a disclaimer being in the show saying,
"The company cannot be held responsible for any mishaps during transmission caused by stray pies or other scripted missiles"
As well as slapstick messiness, serious items were introduced to the show. These included education about water safety, road safety and encouraging the provision of better play facilities. These campaigns, and the Tiswas Fascinating Fact File was respectable content which helped keep the IBA from pulling the plug on the programme.
This first incarnation of Tiswas which climaxed in June 1976 was marked by a special 100th show where the entire programme was broadcast from Hednesford Raceway in Cannock with a live audience of 30,000. Due to the location, banger racing was included into the show to add to the occasion.
The next four years, between 1977 and 1981 were the shows most popular time with a huge growth in the viewers.
At this time, a local stand-up comedian called Jasper Carrott joined the show. He successfully introduced a dance to the show called The Dying Fly where the dancers lay on there back writing in the style of a dying fly.
In 1979, Trevor East left the show to have his space filled up with a variety of entertainers. This included Sylvester McCoy, John Gorman and Lenny Henry.
"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" - David Savage
The improvised feel to the show was due to the lack of rehearsals. The cameramen usually were not sure where the next piece of action was coming from and the style of the show reflected this. The type of guest on Tiswas reflected this also, usually being adult entertainers with anarchic styles such as Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Spike Milligan and Bernard Manning.
By now the whole country had started to recognise its brilliance. HTV had been showing extracts for a couple of seasons but were now being followed by Granada, Yorkshire and Scottish television regions. The south of England and Tyne-Tees were slow starters, but by the beginning of the 1980-81 season, ITV saw a national Saturday morning television show to rival all others.
In 1982 the final series of Tiswas began with a new cast member in the form of Gordon Astley, but the show was starting to decline. More cartoons were mixed in to bulk up the programme and an item where the crew sat behind a desk reading out viewers letters and jokes. On the final show on April 3rd, Spike Milligan was the celebrity guest. Spike on a live childrens television show signified the start of trouble. Along with Ted Moult and an elephant, the crew were not in an upbeat mood. The show wasn't advertised as the last, but ratings were slumping and the much loved ATV had merged into Central television. Astley announced a "Save Tiswas" campaign and declared that he would be touring shopping centres selling t-shirts and getting children to sign petitions to keep the show. The straw that broke the camels back was that in the same show it was announced that Sally James, the reason that many Dads tuned in to watch the show, was leaving that day. In fact, the last line ever heard on Tiswas was an disgrumtled voice complaining that James didn't say goodbye to them on her last day with the show.
There have been a number of unsuccessful attempts to get a new series of Tiswas off the ground. The idea was floated in the spring of 2000 to Carlton TV with the option of repeating old episodes on late night television in a re-edited form. Chris Tarrant and Lenny Henry were unhappy with this idea and it never happened. John Gorman was approached by a different company with the offer of a new incarnation of Tiswas but turned it down on saying that the chemistry of the original personalities could never be repeated.
John Asher was the main presenter for the first 11 shows in 1974.
Den Bong from The Darts appeared in numerous programmes.
Bob Carolgees first starred as Houdi Elbow, an escapologist, and later on with Spit the Dog. He was with Tiswas from 1979 to 1981.
Trevor East was with Tiswas from 1975 to 1978. Despite being head of Sport at ATV, he regularly joined in the rest of the Tiswas gang in their stunts and sketches.
John Gorman, previously from the Scaffold, made appearances as Smello, Albert the Studio Cleaner and PC Plod.
Lenny Henry shortly after appearing on New Faces appeared as Trevor McDoughnut, Algernon Winston Spencer Castleray Razzmatazz, David Bellamy and himself from 1977 to 1981.
Sally James was the reason that many fathers encouraged their children to watch Saturday morning television. Frequently wearing a wet t-shirt or covered in a food substance which made her t-shirt cling, she was the sororal figure who frequently got lured into joining in the pranks set up by other presenters of the show. James starred in Tiswas from 1977 to 1982.
Sylvester McCoy played a character not disimilar to a werewolf, and frequently appeared in Compost Corner from 1977 to 1979.
Joan Palmer was a frequent guest star on Tiswas who was a ATV television announcer.
The Phantom Flan-Flinger was a character dressed entirely in black with his identity concealed. He threw comedy custard flans at random people who were in the Tiswas studio, celebrities and audience alike.
Flanella was The Phantom Flan-Flingers wife. She wore the same black smock as her husband with a blonde curly wig. The Flan-Flingers had a family which consisted of two children. These were dressed in black like their parents, but were shorter in stature.
Michael Price was another ATV television announcer who was a frequent guest star on Tiswas. He was usually called Prickle Mince by Chris Tarrant.
David Rappaport previously starred in The Young Ones and Time Bandits. As the caharcter Shades, he wore a leather jacket and sunglasses with star shaped frames. He also played Green Nigel and the Fairy of the desk whist wearing a tutu in his time with Tiswas in 1981 and 1982.
Chris Tarrant was with Tiswas from 1974 until the 1981. A Birmingham local DJ and news reporter joined the programme in the beginning when it was still a ATV experiment. Tarrant would help co-ordinate the madness which occurred in the studio by making sure the cameramen had a copy of the running order of the show. The studio was split into six sections and was filmed in much the same way as a football match is due to the lack of handheld cameras. No segments was longer than 5 minutes so this was a vital role to the programme succeeding.
Terry Thomas was a presenter on a fly fishing programme on ATV which was made at Tipton canal, who was roped in to help on the show on occassions.
Peter Tomlinson was with the show in 1976 and 1977. He was originally a continuity announcer on HTV before moving to ATV where he would announce the Friday night horror movies with his teddy bear. After he was replaced by Sally James on Tiswas he became the prize announcer on Blockbusters].
Clive Webb was Wizard Webb and performed deranged magic tricks between 1980 and 1982.
The Cage was the only way you could get into the studio if you were an adult. Along with special guests, adult members of the public were locked in a cage in the studio for the duration of the show. Whenever he felt like it, Chris Tarrant would launch projectile liquids towards them. On one occassion, Tarrant threw a bucket of water on a member of soft rock group Rainbow who lit up a joint in the cage live on television.
Buckets of Water was a section where suprise suprise buckets of water were thrown over people who were in the cage. Other substances such as Spaghetti, baked beans and semolina were also thrown.
Competition Time was a segment which induced the studio to form a Conga and dance around the studio.
Compost Corner was a basic gardening segment which was an excuse to dress someone as s unflower and put their feet in a bucket of compost. This was usually accompanied by Lenny Henry dressed as David Bellamy.
The Desk was where Tarrant and James sat to read spoof news stories. Custard flans were also hidden behind it on occasions.
The Quiet Bits where factual content was introduced to the show. This included safety issues and facts such as the story of the Marie Celeste.
Underates was where the younger members of the audience could have their chance at getting seen on television.
The Welly Phone was two wellington boots tied together with a piece of string. This was used as a prop for phone-ins.
My own childhood memories