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Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

"This is what they want."


History now has it that Tiswas was the first decent Saturday morning show, and although it predates Swap Shop the honour would actually go to Ed and Zed or Zokko on the BBC. ITV had an obvious gaping hole in their schedule, but it took until 1974 for anyone to come up with a decent plan.


Until Tiswas came along, we all had a lie-in until about 11.00 am and then we would be treated to Gerry Anderson repeats, sports tuition shows, RAC road reports, Junior Police Five and Sesame Street. London Weekend would be the first to take the plunge with Saturday Scene in January 1974 in which Sally James interviewed glam rockers in-between other shows and features. ATV had an idea to do something similar, a show which linked cartoons, pop promo clips and interviews. There was a thirty-five minute Tiswas Trailer Time on 7th September 1974 with the show proper starting the following week. Co-hosted by news and schools' presenter Chris Tarrant and fellow presenter John Asher it started with a single continuity desk, later expanding to the larger studio 3 at ATV in Birmingham. Other ATV presentation regulars would come and go over the next two years until Sally James, from the recently departed Saturday Scene, joined in September 1977 along with Jim Davidson who appears to have only been a presenter for a few weeks. Tarrant was initially unhappy with James' inclusion, but soon changed his mind when he recognised a kindred spirit.


John Gorman from The Scaffold became a regular from September 1978, playing various characters including The Masked Poet, Smello, Cabbage Face and the studio janitor. Later Bob Carolgees joined with notorious punk glove puppet Spit The Dog, and Lenny Henry, fresh from summer season, brought jokes and dodgy impressions.


Regular items included Creature Feature in which animals were brought into the studio which was fine if they took the Blue Peter line and had just kept it to hamsters and gerbils, but this being Tiswas, apes and bears were not out of the question. Another regular was Flan Your Folks in which kids get to win prizes much to their parents' physical distress. Sally James had her own Almost Legendary World Exclusive In Depth Pop Profiles and Almost Legendary Pop Interviews, similar to her role on Saturday Scene, while Compost Corner gave Lenny Henry the chance to do his David Bellamy impression. There were other regular characters like the dreadful Phantom Flan Flinger and the even more mysterious piano-playing pig. Actually it was Johnny Patrick.


There was no mystery that the cast wrote their own scripts, but on occasion others would contribute, Jasper Carrott among them.


The version of Tiger Rag used for the theme was replaced by a specially commissioned song in September 1980, 'Saturday is Tiswas day'. Although it never relied on pop music the show had two hit singles of its own. The Four Bucketeers' Bucket Of Water Song produced by Neil Innes and a frightening version of Bright Eyes by the then five year old Matthew Butler.


The mixture of Saturday morning pictures misbehaviour and pop clips soon made it a necessity to watch. The series finally networked in 1979 and now attracted names like Paul and Linda McCartney, Elvis Costello, the Two-Tone brigade, Genesis, Status Quo, members of Led Zeppelin, among others. Many pop stars even volunteered for the cage where they would be drenched with water and gunge by Tarrant.


The letters that make up the title were meant to spell "This/Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile", but as a placard on one show claimed more realistically "This Is Saturday, Watch And Suffer."


The unpredictable nature of the children-only audience mixed with Gorman's adult off-camera comments made this a must-see, first attracting a college audience who would go on to make up the inmates of the cage, then adults. Realising the potential for an adult version of the show Tarrant decided to leave after the 1981-82 series, taking Gorman, Carolgees and Henry with him for the poorly received OTT. The idea that Tiswas was actually an adults' show masquerading as a kids' show was a mistake, leading only to its demise. Tiswas continued for a further series with Sally James and new co-hosts, including Den Heggarty from Darts, but its fate was not dissimilar to OTT and Tiswas was put to sleep.


Undoubtedly Tiswas attracted the same fanbase and respect that Monty Python had, the show even played host to Pythons' Michael Palin and Terry Jones.


It's sad to report that very few of the shows exist, but Network came to the rescue and released a DVD compilation of the three VHS titles released in the early 1990s. However, many shows seem to have been recorded by the parents of kids appearing on the show and some can be found online.


For the whole sordid story go to Tiswas OnLine.


If you want to enter any of the competitions (underates and overates) then write to Tiswas, ATVLand, Birmingham, B1 2JP.



TISWAS


ATV

7th September 1974 (Tiswas Trailer Time), 14th September 1974 to 3rd April 1982