It's a frightening thought, but there are now grown adults - one could be your bank manager, even - who never lived through the Tiswas years. 'What was Tiswas?' they'll ask you as you negotiate an overdraft. In which instance, just point them in the direction of this handy primer. They'll thank you for it, and maybe allow you an extra 500 quid.
JOHN ASHER (1974-5)
Although Tarrant was there from the off, Asher was (nominally, at least) the main presenter for the 'trial run' series of eleven shows in '74 and beyond, though he left just as the show was getting into its initial stride. Released a cover of Chubby Checker's 'Let's Twist Again' in November of '75, which made number 14 until the original was re-released and overtook it.
DEN BONG (1980-2)
That is to say, DEN HEGARTY from fifties timewarp doo-wop outfit The Darts, taking pseudonym from his most-uttered word in their recordings. Grey-quiffed, mad-eyed colossus who was very much to the 'Was as Jim Ignatalski was to TAXI. Now works for the Citizens Advice Bureau, believe it or not.
|BOB CAROLGEES (1979-81)
Another former local jock, who appeared initially as Houdi Elbow, escapologist extraordinaire (Houdi-'knee', see?) and supposed Brummie "genius" in pyjamas and bandaged head. Latterly as self with Charlie the peanut-catching monkey, mildly irritating Spit the Dog ("The funky spitting punk dog" - yes, he had his own song) and pointless variation Koff the Cat. Well, there's always one. Real name - Robert Johnston. "Oi downt knooow, Chreees!"
TREVOR EAST (1975-78)
Derby fan 'Me, Myself' Trev was head of sport at ATV, and presented Sportstime, an early 'Was 'strand', but wasn't averse to mucking in with the rest of the schtick. Regarded as somewhat of a prat by Midlands sport fans at the time, and nowadays sits on the board at Sky Sports.
|JOHN GORMAN (1977-81)
Was in the Scaffold late '60s, singing about medicinal compounds with Roger McGough and Mike "have you seen my brother?" McGear. Appeared as "Smello" (in bath with string vest, chips etc.), Albert the studio cleaner ("I fought in two wars!" etc.), PC Plodd, and some kind of "Get on with it!" -style sargeant in uniform.
LENNY HENRY (1977-81)
Straight off NEW FACES and into a big hat. He appeared as himself, Trevor McDoughnut (ITN newsreader parodied in very rough terms, occasionally with "real" one popping in - reads gag in big glasses, gets covered in water) but mainly remembered for Algernon Winston Spencer Castlereagh Razzmatazz, bizarre rasta with wooly hat, diet of condensed milk sandwiches and going "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO- KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!" a lot with his own song, a kind of reggaefied version of "Michael Row The Boat Ashore". Also David Bellamy. "Gwapple me gwapenuts Kwis!"
Henry's deranged Algernon Razmatazz goes apeshit over De Condensed Milk. His wife-to-be persuaded him to stop doing it on grounds of racism, but surely it's just far too deranged to garner that description?
SALLY JAMES (1977-82)
Ahem. What to say? Sal came from the distinctly unremarkable pop 'n' cartoons milieu of Saturday Scene, and it was only Tiswas and the little-seen SIX FIFTY-FIVE SPECIAL for her before an early retirement to a school uniform retailing life, but still miles beyond Philbin, Green etc. Probably for that reason, she is fixed in the minds of a generation as the formative-years-enhancing idol. Took the role of long-suffering, sensible big sister suckered into impish little brothers' pranks. Looked fabulous in baked beans. Her Pop Interviews, as later serialised in "Tops!" magazine, were (almost) legendary. "Can I do my trick now, Chris?"
SYLVESTER 'SYLVESTE' McCOY
Mad mime artist from Vision On, chgaracterised on The 'Was as some kind of werewolf, for reasons best known to the team. 'Weedy' appearance meant he always bore the brunt of compost corner etc.
Poochie's fellow ATV announcer and semi-regular guest on the show in the early years.
|THE PHANTOM FLAN-FLINGER (or 'Phlan Phlinger!' depending on
which placard you believed).
The identity of this Darth-Vader-made-out-of-cloth cream pie-wielding menace was a closely-guarded secret, but we can reveal that, after an initial outing with Jim Davidson under the cloak, he was vividly portrayed by Midlands cabbie and mate of Tarrant's Benny Mills. Developed flanning technique on whichever celebs were in the studio at the time, although of course, since Chris and the boys deployed just as many shaving foam-stacked paper plates as he did, the 'threat' posed by him puzzled the over-logical child. Made his flans in a back room which was occasionally visited, and towards the end acquired a family of wife Flanderella (same garb, blonde curly wig, played by Oliver Spencer) and two kids (same garb, just smaller).
Another in-vision ATV announcer and semi-regular on the show's mid-period. Introduced as 'Prickle Mince' by Tarrant.
DAVID RAPPAPORT (1981-82)
Of Young Ones, Time Bandits, Small World fame. As "Shades", the short-but-cool leather jacket and star-framed sunglasses uniformed mini-Fonz, to effortlessly sort out some bit of bother, presenter of Blue Peter pastiche Green Nigel, and the tutu-ed Fairy of the Desk.
|CHRIS TARRANT (1974-81)
The main man. Local Birmingham DJ and news reporter, started from the beginning when the 'Was was an ATV-only experiment. Whatever he might have done since, he sorted out the only kids' TV rule - don't bother with rules. While the 'Shop, the 'Store (even the 'Nine) had to carefully choreograph any "spontaneity", Tarrant let it all hang out. The studio was divided into six sectors, and 5 cameras would cover the chaos using the same techniques then used to cover football matches [there were no hand-held video cameras used at ATV until the 1980s] Also, CT would make sure all the camera operators had a copy of the running order, but this would bear no resemblance to CT's actual activities or movements. And no programme segment was supposed to last more than 5 minutes. Chaotic genius, fo' sho'. Dodgy moments aside (when a 12-year-old contortionist was on, one of the team (semi-regular WILLIE RUSHTON, no less) remarked out loud "Sitting duck for a deviant!" etc.) he managed to pull it off. "No wonder Noel Edmonds is out of work!"
The production room above the studio, and hence the sober, techie name for the voices of the various 'Was producers down the years (incliding PETER HARRIS, ROB HARDING and GLYN EDWARDS - 'one of the top five professional Punch and Judy men in Britain') and also long-time programme compiler and editor 'Not The' PETER MATTHEWS, who manfully tried to exert a sober, techie influence on the Bolshevik proceedings downstairs from the gallery, which Tarrant would periodically visit with a threatening flan in hand. A Trotskyite allegory? TV production pecking order as metaphor for capitalist hegemony? Er... sure, why not?
TERRY THOMAS (not Terry-Thomas)
Yet another extra curricular ATV alumnus roped in on occasion, who introduced a fishing show on ATV. Introduced with the phrase "tight lines". The show would come "live" from the Tipton Canal.
The third of the ATV-only 'Was triumverate alongside Tarrant and East. Originally an in-vision continuity announcer for HTV (West) before moving to ATV, where on a Friday night he would introduce the Friday night horror film with his Teddy Bear to keep him company. Presented film news and trailers. 'Poochie' was replaced by La James - a swap far more enticing than anything Noel arranged on the other side. He later became the prize announcer on Blockbusters.
CLIVE WEBB (1980-82)
Appeared as Wizard Webb, some kind of, er, 'Tis-Wiz' wizard bloke. Performed deranged magic tricks, and always the first to react to the call of "Competition Time!" Went off with Gorman for HOW DARE YOU! along similar lines.
Others involved - JASPER CARROTT, PAUL 'THE KID' HARDIN, WILLIE RUSHTON, FRANK CARSON, JIM DAVIDSON and various other "COMEDIANS"-era comedians who added little to the proceedings but a few naff jokes, nad for that best-forgotten final season further semi-regular helpers Fogwell "One-Nine For Santa" Flax and the terrible Gordon Astley who took over for the final season after Tarrant and co. left for the ill-fated "adult" version of Tiswas, OTT.
|Adding to the Tiswas mythology were a shedload of standard props, routines and anecdotes which became part of the 'Was way of life. Some were there from the start, some evolved over the years, others happened entirely by accident. Here are a few of the more memorable ones -|
ATVLAND Birmingham B1 2JP. Was the ATV Studios wherefrom the 'Was was broadcast. Now a car park.
BUCKETS OF WATER ...and semolina, spaghetti, baked beans, "Wunda Gloo" and whatever other revolting substance they had to hand. The main weapon, after the flan, of Tiswas revolution, often undoing the effects of the flan, at least until the next one came along. It's a yin-yang thing. Utilised in conjunction with the cage, and in various programme 'strands' such as Flan Your Folks, You Name It, We'll Throw It Over You, Tarrant's Tiswas Torrents etc. Which all amounted to pretty much the same thing, essentially. But rest assured, concerned parents, there were pre-show arnings handed out to the kids, and a special 'clean' area of the studio reserved for the Gloo-shy.
|THE CAGE If you were an adult, there was only one way to get into the studio audience for Tiswas - volunteer for a soaking in the cage. Along with various guest celebs and several t-shirted nubile women, members of the adult public were locked up for the duration, as if after some kiddie-instigated military coup, and doused liberally with water and gunk whenever Tarrant felt the show's pace was flagging, or indeed whenever he felt like it. John Peel, Rick Parfitt and several members of soft rockers Rainbow were present in one cage line-up when someone lit up a joint, live on kids' TV, until doused with a bucket by a worried Tarrant, who to this day solemnly refuses to name the guilty party. (It was one of the Rainbow 'lads'.)|
COMPETITION TIME Self-explanatory, really. the announcement of this brought a reflex action of mayhem to the studio, often resulting in a conga across the floor ("It's com-pe-ti-tion time! Now!")
|COMPOST CORNER. ("COOOOMPOOOST COOOORNEEER!") this call-and-response-to-arms heralded an alleged gardening segment, which was really little more than an excuse to dress someone up as a sunflower, stick their feet in a bucket and cover them with crap. 'David Bellamy' often assisted. Quack quack, bark!|
THE DESK What on other, more staid Saturday shows, was the dictatorial centre of operations became just another location on Tiswas. Chris and Sal started the show sat behind it (with seated audience behind them) but it didn't last that way for long. Kids were pulled up by the ears from behind it for all to see. Suspect news items ("Only 24 shoplifting days to Christmas!") were read out. A sort of plunger mechanism often broke. And of course, flanning supplies were concealed therebeneath at all times.
|THE DYING FLY A daffy limb-waggling craze (lie on floor on back, act like eponymous insect) discovered by Jasper Carrott when he did a gig in Newcastle (Goerdie's way, apparently, of livening up a crap gig), and subsequently put on RoSPA's list of the "most dangerous activities of 1980". Carried out to that odd diddle-diddle-diddle tune for violin and typewriter.|
FAR CANAL Old rugby song of easily-worked-out innuendo, not sung by the cast at the end of Tarrant and co's last show, as rumour (well, our rumour, mostly) has it, but featured heavily in the parent-baiting live 'Was shows.
THE FLAN MIX That is to say, shaving soap and food colouring, slapped on a paper plate. The mcompleted flans were left out for half an hour to take away any soapy sting on contact with the kids' eyes. Safety regulations did exist, even at 2JP. Stuart M recalls: "My brother and I were both born and bred in Birmingham and went in for a Tiswas show. We were off to a wedding in the afternoon and dressed in our Sunday best - not the ideal attire. We were under strict instructions not to get wet, covered in custard pie etc. and for the whole show we dodged it all and stayed clean. By the end of the show the studio was like a bomb site and as we left I slipped in some water and went sprawling across the floor getting thoroughly messed up. Whilst we were in the studio the parents were kept in a separate area where they could watch the show, drink coffee etc."
THE GAG DISCO Shot on film at a less-than-salubrious-looking Brum nightspot, and featuring crew and kids doing various half-hearted grooves, and periodically stopping for some very naff gags indeed.
Two mainstays of musical mayhem - That almost legendary TOTP invasion by the Bucketeers; and the infamous Bob Blackman leads the tray-on-head "Mule Train" (if you have to ask, you'll never know)
THE QUIET BITS The madness stopped on occasion (well, quietened down at the back at least) for Tarrant to deliver the 'improving' content of the show - either 'crusading' items on road safety or the welfare of seals, or 'fascinating' facts like the story of the Marie Celeste (illustrated with Jackanory-style pictures). All very worthy stuff, and it kept the regulators off their backs, but certainly the dullest part of the show for many a Honey Smack-addled morning kid. It only lasted about five minutes, though, and then on with the mayhem.
TELLY SELLY TIME Basically, the adverts (for the Evel Knievel Stunt Bike, Tin Can Alley, Breville Sandwich Toaster etc.) Always indicated by an animated flan flinger with placard shambling across the screen.
|THE TITLES A compilation of studio madness, cartoon snippets and clips of films like Bullitt and Star Wars played out to initially a slice of 'zany' library music, and later that pub-rock Midlands stomp, which whettted the appetite for two and a half hours of early morning destruction like no other. Plenty of Sally featured of course, as did, er, Tarrant in just his pants.|
UNDERATES Misspelt competition for the smaller viewers, who inevitably cried when in studio, or, in one famous incident, whispered into Tarrant's ear. Tarrant: "Can't you wait?" Kid shakes head furiously. "Well, you'd better go then." Kid is sent off, missing his minute's glory. Aaah. Auntie Rotter: "When I was Six years old I won the eights and under competition, painting a picture of the Tiswas studio after the show had finished, and was invited to Birmingham to appear on the show. The date was March 1st 1980, and the show had a 'leap year' theme where all the male presenters set about getting Sally James to propose to them, also there was a sub-plot of a disease called 'Cooper-itis' infecting the studio causing everyone (including star guest Richard O'Sullivan, who was there to plug the new series of Dick Turpin) to wear a fez and go 'a-ha-ha, I went to the doctor...' a lot. I was rewarded for my poor art work with a tiswas t-shirt, an oil painting set (mega-handy for a six year old), a four foot tall stuffed rabbit and a reflective road safety medallion."
THE WELLY PHONE Two wellies tied together, used as a prop telephone for call-ins. See also "welly wanging" a late '70s rustic sport (throwing old boots as far as possible) which also encroached upon Nationwide and Record Breakers. Well, there was a strike on...
FLAN BY FLAN - a chronology of chaos.