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TISWAS (1974-82)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of TISWAS (1974-82)
ATV (Central for last 14 shows in 1982) for ITV (ATV Midlands only 1974-76)
ProducersChris Tarrant
 Glyn Edwards
Directors includeMike Holgate
 John Pullen

Presenters: Chris Tarrant; Sally James; Trevor East; Lenny Henry; John Gorman; Bob Carolgees; Sylvester McCoy; Gordon Astley; Dan Hegarty; Fogwell Flax; David Rappaport; John Asher; Peter Tomlinson

Show full cast and credits

Mayhem, madness and anarchic humour for Saturday mornings. Chris Tarrant and assorted loonies provide two hours of entertainment - and endless custard pies and buckets of water - in a show that revolutionised live television in Britain.

Show full synopsis

As a boy, Chris Tarrant spent Saturday mornings fishing, and was amazed others could spend theirs watching television. Nonetheless, TISWAS would not just revolutionise children's entertainment but also much live British television.

At first The TISWAS Show, or This Is Saturday, aired only in the Midlands. A ten-week run beginning 5 January 1974 blended Tarzan reruns with a two and a half hour package of requests, cartoons and quizzes. Hyperactive 'TISWAS Twins' John Asher and news presenter Chris Tarrant helmed, helped by 'straight man' station announcer Peter Tomlinson and, later, sports presenter Trevor East.

Ramshackle features included occasional buckets of water, but around the fourth series TISWAS took shape. Nothing of this key series has survived but evidently Tarrant and East introduced more slapstick. The series evolved in the relative seclusion of the ATV region until HTV sampled the programme in April 1976.

By the end of its fifth series, TISWAS was shown across six ITV regions. Sally James, from LWT's defunct Saturday Scene, brought an insider view of the pop scene with 'Almost Legendary' interviews. The Phantom Flan Flinger dispensed custard pies and water. Comics Sylveste (now 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.

Influentially, TISWAS had no pretensions towards professionalism. As James once read out a letter, Tarrant unexpectedly took off round the studio delivering an excited rant: 'This is what they want! This is the stuff! Who needs Crossroads?' TV's polite fa├žade fell away.

The show had a New Wave feel with The Specials, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello and Motorhead among its fans, while hungover students voted TISWAS high in music paper polls. Melody Maker noted; "... the TISWAS team don't patronise their audience; they enthusiastically abuse and systematically terrorise them ... by being threatened [the kids] think they're being initiated into an adult world."

1980 saw a successful university tour by The Four Bucketeers, but such pandering to a cult following ultimately killed the series. Tarrant and company set up the disastrous yet influential OTT (Central, 1982) for adults, leaving James with an untried crew for the final season.

The chaotic legacy and 'gunge' of TISWAS could later be seen in all manner of live 'zoo' television and post-pub entertainment from The Word (Channel Four, 1990-95) to The Big Breakfast (C4, 1992-2002).

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. The phantom flan flinger (1:26)
2. The dying fly (1:29)
3. Competition winners (4:35)
4. End of show chaos (1:18)
Henry, Lenny (1958- )
Tarrant, Chris (1946-)
Children's Entertainment and Comedy
Children's TV in the 1970s
Children's Television
Saturday Morning TV