1 9 7 4 – 1 9 8 1 (UK)
150+ x 120 minute episodes
Ostensibly a children’s show, the innovative, anarchic Tiswas format attracted a wide audience.
“Tiswas” stood for ‘Today Is Saturday, Wear A Smile’ and this is what Saturdays were made for . . . Staggering out of bed on a Saturday morning to watch a studio full of grown adults throwing custard pies and buckets of water at each other.
The show was created to challenge the staid, rigid format of the BBC’s Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and was loose, shambolic, deliciously subversive and forever perched on the brink of chaos.
Presented from ATV’s Birmingham studio, at first the show aired only in the Midlands – A 10-week run beginning 5 January 1974 blended Tarzan re-runs with a two and a half hour package of requests, cartoons and quizzes.
Hyperactive John Asher and Chris Tarrant were helped by ‘straight man’ station announcer Peter Tomlinson and, later, sports presenter Trevor East.
Leading presenter, Chris Tarrant, looked as if he had been out on the beer the night before (he claimed in later years that this was in fact often the case).
By the end of its fifth series, Tiswas was shown across six ITV regions, and the eternally bedenimed and thigh-booted Sally James (from LWT’s defunct Saturday Scene) brought a breezy sexiness to Saturday morning television with her insider view of the pop scene, ‘Almost Legendary’ interviews, and her Tiswas t-shirt stretched into an almost illegal shape.
James began as an actress in the 1960s. She was in To Sir With Love (1966) and did a few soap operas.
The Phantom Flan Flinger (pictured below) dispensed custard pies and water, while comics Sylvester McCoy and John Gorman supplied terrible jokes, as did local impressionist Lenny Henry.
Extreme stand-up acts of the day – Spike Milligan, Jasper Carrott, Bernard Manning – also took part.
Almost immediately the show attained cult status with Tiswas appreciation societies bursting into life in pubs and universities across the UK. Running from Glam to New Romantic, Tiswas sandwiched the punk years and will remain forever associated with the flamboyant fringes of pop style.
1980 saw a successful university tour by The Four Bucketeers – who had a genuine Top 30 hit that year with The Bucket of Water Song – but such pandering to a cult following ultimately killed the series. Tarrant and company set up the disastrous yet influential OTT for adults in 1981, leaving Sally James with an untried crew – including Gordon Astley and Fogwell Flax – for the final season.
John Asher (1974-1976)
Chris Tarrant (1974-1981)
Sally James (1977-1982)
John Gorman (1978-1981)
Lenny Henry (1978-1981)
Bob Carolgees (1978-1981)
Clive “Wizard” Webb
David “Shades” Rappaport
Spit the Dog
Matthew (The Rabbit Boy)