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Tarrant, Chris (1946-)

Presenter, Producer

Main image of Tarrant, Chris (1946-)

Born 10 October 1946 in Reading, Christopher John Tarrant studied English at the University of Birmingham. After graduating he worked for a time as a supply teacher - once he walked out on a girlfriend and, with nowhere to go, lived in his mini-van in the school grounds.

Tarrant "drifted" into directing public information films for the Central Office of Information, after the husband of a teaching colleague suggested he work beside him. During three years there, work included Jimmy Savile's 'Clunk-Click' car safety adverts. Considering presenting, Tarrant wrote shamelessly to TV companies, using blatant self-promotional lines like, "I am the face of the 70s and this is your last chance to snap me up." Midlands franchise ATV recruited him to daily news magazine ATV Today (regional ITV, 1964-81) in 1972, where he interviewed various local eccentrics in increasingly wacky reports. While also at ATV he narrated the schools series Stop, Look, Listen (ITV, 1971-79).

ATV placed Tarrant in the original line-up of experimental Saturday morning kids show TISWAS (ITV, 1974-82) which slowly grew beyond modest origins into a national hit. Tarrant exerted an increasing influence on its direction, eventually becoming producer. Guest rosters reflected Tarrant's personal tastes in comedy and music - various Pythons and club comics Jasper Carrott, Mike Harding and Max Boyce regularly took part alongside rock groups like Status Quo and Genesis. He produced one other children's show for ATV Kidsworld (ITV, 1979) a roving magazine presented by schoolchildren.

A TISWAS university tour convinced Tarrant this cult audience needed addressing directly, so he quit TISWAS in Spring 1981 to produce a late night adult variant. Disastrous if fascinating, OTT (ITV, 1982) was where old style working men's club turns met alternative comedy head on. Genuinely innovative yet reactionary, the racy and raucous 'post-pub' series embarrassed makers Central but nonetheless Tarrant was allowed to front and produce retooled sequel Saturday Stayback (ITV, 1983). Tarrant was next found at the opposite end of the schedules, with By the Seaside, a live summer roadshow for ailing breakfast broadcaster TV-am in 1983 which, alongside a series starring puppet Roland Rat, helped attract viewers and rescue the station.

In 1984 Tarrant began his multi-award-winning show for broadcaster Capital Radio. With 2 million listeners daily it was often London's favourite breakfast show and ran until 2004. Tarrant was still occasionally seen on TV and fronted light items on London's irreverent news magazine The 6 o'clock Show in 1986-87. He also presented an unbroadcast pilot for karaoke show Stars in their Eyes (ITV, 1990-2006) although Leslie Crowther would eventually host the televised series. Quiz Everybody's Equal (ITV, 1989-90) innovated an electronic keypad system allowing the entire studio audience to take part. A shaky format that Tarrant almost held together, the partnership between him and indie programme-makers Celador would one day bear considerable fruit.

Core TV exposure in the '90s was via clips show Tarrant on TV (ITV, 1990-2006) taking over a format fronted by Clive James from 1982 (and by Keith Floyd in 1989). A later alternative take Tarrant on CCTV used closed circuit camera clips. Tarrant also hosted two series of Cluedo (ITV, 1990-93) a murder mystery quiz based on the board game, and tacky dating show Man O Man (ITV, 1996-99).

In 1998 Celador finally found a world-beating quiz format with Tarrant at the helm. Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (ITV, 1998-) was developed by David Briggs, producer of similar games for Tarrant at Capital Radio. Generally genial and wacky, Tarrant played it straight when the tension rose. His catchphrases entered the British psyche, among them "But we don't want to give you that!" and "Final answer?" By 2008 he had fronted over 500 episodes. Tarrant's latest big money quiz is The Colour of Money (ITV, 2009-).

With his overgrown schoolboy persona Tarrant is no stranger to tabloid controversy, widely-reported marital strife and moments of silliness - such as throwing cutlery at a fellow diner in a restaurant or falling out of a tree while indulging his lifelong passion for angling.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Television Awards in 2000 and an OBE in 2004 for his charity work.

Alistair McGown

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of TISWAS (1974-82)TISWAS (1974-82)

Saturday morning anarchy presided over by Chris Tarrant and Sally James

Thumbnail image of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (1998-)Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (1998-)

Spectacularly successful quiz show with giant cash prizes

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