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NUMBER 73 / 7T3

TVS
2nd January 1982 - 26th March 1988

TVS's predecessors Southern Television had made the plucky but unlucky Saturday Banana, hosted by Bill Oddie up until the end of 1979, replacing it with the titanic Tiswas, brought in from ATV. Their unwillingness to even consider replacing it with another local production couldn't have endeared them to those charged with awarding the next round of ITV franchises in 1981. Sure enough, Southern was given its marching orders and a much more professional team in the shape of TVS was awarded the contract.

One of their promises was a new Saturday morning kids' show. However, Tiswas' producers ATV had also been shown the door, but instead of being replaced by a new company a sort of sequel in the form on Central had been awarded the job and they decided to continue with the show, albeit with a greatly reduced cast. The disappointment of Tiswas' established fans would be to Number 73's benefit.

The Daily Mirror, presumably quoting TVS' own press release, claimed that Number 73 "Is a house lived in by an eccentric old lady who plays host each week to children and famous personalities for music, comedy and competitions." The "old lady" was in fact nothing of the sort. She was Danish actress, writer and presenter Sandi Toksvig, now something of a International Treasure. Toksvig played Ethel as an old lady to begin with but Benjamin Button-ing it she got younger by the next series.

The show was first broadcast from Southern's old Southampton studios, while the later series were broadcast from Gillingham, and then at TVS's newly built studios in Maidstone in Kent.

The first series had a opening credit sequence which showed kids piling into a house, but thankfully they weren't to be seen in the show itself. The more well known 'hey you' intro song was brought into the third series.

The show debuted the same day as Central's OTT, the ill-fated adult take on Tiswas featuring many of the faces that had left. It was ironic that a show like 73 that was meant not as a replacement, but as an alternative would outlive both OTT and Tiswas.

Each show had a plot-line and would be given an episode title, like a drama and in amongst the plotlines would be a set of characters. Sandi Toksvig was Ethel, who owned the house, Andrea Arnold was roller-skating lodger Dawn, Nick Staverson was Ethel's nephew Harry, while Patrick Doyle played Ethel's would be paramour, Percy. Many actors, and hence characters, would come and go throughout the show's life-span. Each show would end with the frankly bonkers Sandwich Quiz, which would pit two of that week's guests against each other.

Existing Saturday morning shows had either been set in a stuffy, tightly controlled studio environment like Swap Shop / Superstore et al or in a jungle or playground like Tiswas, but Number 73 was set in its own unique dramatic universe and as such won over many looking at an alternative to the BBC's prescriptive fun or the forced anarchy of the new re-boot of Tiswas. By Spring 1983 the show was now picked up across the whole ITV network.

Each week the house would play guests to a pop group who would perform two songs live in the basement. Iggy Pop had been invited to play in 1987 only to take interest in a large teddy bear who he dance around with and dry humped, leading to a ban from children's TV in the UK.

After Sandi Toksvig's departure in summer 1986 the show lost direction, employing too many characters and trying too many ideas that didn't stick and as a result the public lost interest. The show was re-booted as 7T3 when the street's landlord knocked down all the street's houses, only to be replaced by a American Wild West theme park. The musical guests continued to play live in the saloon, but by early 1988 the game was up and was it shut down for good.

Toksvig would become a British media regular as a performer and writer, while Andrea Arnold became a greatly respected film director.