Producer and Tiswas star Chris Tarrant often exclaimed "this is what they want" while
hurling buckets of water and manure over his co-stars and guests. However, there
was one occasion when he got it wrong.
Tiswas was a kids' show, broadcast Saturday mornings from ATV Land in Birmingham,
but it had to go through numerous cast changes over a few series until it became
un-missable. The fact that students and then adults caught on to the pantomime humour
was not lost on Tarrant and in 1981 decided that since ATV had effectively lost its
franchise he would leave the show and make an adult version for its successor, to
be broadcast live on Saturday, just after chucking out time. He explained his reasoning
to the Daily Mirror that "they found 54 percent of the audience (of Tiswas) was over
twenty-one." The Tiswas team had toured Britain in 1981 and the response they received
assured Tarrant that he was doing the right thing.
Joining him from Tiswas were Lenny Henry, John Gorman and Bob Carolgees, while Helen-Atkinson-Wood
from Radio 4's Radio Active would effectively replace Sally James. Comedian Alexi
Sayle joined them and participated in the location sketches, while co-host American
actress Colette Hillier looked so befuddled on the first show she wouldn’t make it
to the second. But to be fair her dress does become undone at one point.
A part of the fun and charm of Tiswas was watching the cast keep a lid on the self-made
anarchy for the sake of upsetting the kids, a point that was totally lost on OTT.
Adults off the leash are more boorish than kids off the leash and in the end it just
wasn't funny, and quite often embarrassing. It seemed most of the time that the cast
were the only ones having fun.
Rick Wakeman claims that the idea for the show's title came from him, citing the
Over The Top club of about twenty members who's behaviour had seen them banned from
numerous restaurants, while Michael Palin who had been on Tiswas would also claim
to have suggested the title.
Each week a band would appear live with Fashion, The Human League, Robert Palmer,
The Blues Band, Nine Below Zero among others, it also had an archive pop clip spot
as well as a film where the hosts would re-inact the lyrics to awful songs.
All the goodwill that Tiswas had generated had been sacrificed for a few boob and
knob gags, but it got worse. Instead of admitting that they'd made a mistake and
go back to Tiswas they shifted the show to a pub and re-named it Saturday Stayback
the following year.