Today was the day – in 1982 – that ITV transmitted the last edition of Tiswas, the anarchic Saturday morning children’s TV show.
I worked as a researcher on the last series of the show. It is a series that people tend to have forgotten, because it was not presented by Chris Tarrant.
Central Television, being slightly incompetent, had failed to arrange a production office for Tarrant and his team so, for the first few weeks of pre-production on his show, they squatted in our office (which we were happy with), refusing to leave in a successful effort to force the Central bureaucracy into giving him an office.
In the middle of our series of Tiswas, the ITV franchise-holder who produced the series changed from ATV to Central Television. In fact, this was a cosmetic change.
It was the same company – same building, same people, same executives and mostly the same programmes – but theoretically it was a different company.
Tiswas started each show with clips from the previous week’s show. On the Saturday after the change-over, the accountants at ATV told the show’s producer, Glyn Edwards, that he would have to pay hundreds of pounds to buy the rights to screen clips from his own previous week’s ATV show at the start of this week’s Central show.
I do not know exactly what happened, but I think he told them to fuck off and, if they didn’t like it, to sue themselves.
Tiswas was an interesting introduction to TV research for me. The show was live and the series lasted 39 weeks. It varied in length but, from memory, it was often up to three hours long comprising (as it was for kids with short attention spans) items that sometimes only lasted 20 seconds.
It was somewhat hectic during the live transmissions, the only respite coming during 7-minute cartoons or 3-minute rock band performances.
After this, my Saturday mornings never smelled the same.
On a Saturday morning, the Tiswas studio smelled sweet: a combination of the shaving foam used in the ‘custard’ pies and the talcum-powder-like smell of the little ‘explosions’ that were set off.
After all the colour and the sound. I used to come home, dead tired on the mid-afternoon train from Birmingham to London and just plonk myself down on my sofa and mindlessly watch Game For a Laugh on ITV. I later worked on that show, too. The production of Game For a Laugh was surprisingly more hectic and pressurised than Tiswas because Tiswas had been running for about seven years and was a very smooth operation.
The trick was, in the week leading up to transmission, to have two large production meetings which the lighting, sound supervisors, floor managers etc attended.
The producer ran through what was intended and any obvious major problems were ironed-out or allowed-for with contingency plans. Because everyone knew what might go wrong, it seldom did… to such an extent that the producer Glyn Edwards once discussed how to add more chaos into the show because almost nothing went wrong.
This, he felt, was not in the spirit of Tiswas.
It was a big lesson I learnt: to stage anarchy effectively, you have to be very organised in your preparations.
Of course, things did go wrong.
I remember a child writing in saying he wanted to sit between the two humps of a camel. I phoned up a circus owner, explained this and booked a camel. When the beast arrived, about half an hour before the show started, it only had one hump.
“I paid for two humps,” I told the circus owner.
“It’s got two humps,” said the circus owner.
“It clearly has one hump,” I said. “I can see it only has one hump.”
He then tried to argue that the dromedary was, in fact, a Bactrian and that sometimes a camel’s two humps looked as if they were one hump. I think the phrase “think of saggy tits” came into his argument at one point.
We never booked an animal from his circus again. But the child was happy just to sit on a camel and may have had mathematical problems.
I think I must have encountered the comedian Charlie Chuck in a previous incarnation on Tiswas.
The producer, Glyn Edwards, wanted a German ‘oompah band’.
I found The Amazing Bavarian Stompers for him and booked them but, while they were performing in the studio, I was off somewhere setting-up the next item on the show. In the canteen afterwards, I remember hearing people talk about the ‘mad drummer’ leaping over his drum kit and being generally anarchic – a good thing on Tiswas.
Charlie Chuck, at that time, was drummer for The Amazing Bavarian Stompers and, when I became chummy with him a decade or so later, he mentioned having been on Tiswas. So we probably met in passing. One of the strangenesses of TV.
I also distantly remember some Tiswas party in a Birmingham restaurant.
It had been difficult to book the party, because Birmingham restaurants were wary of Tiswas parties. On a previous occasion, a fire extinguisher had been let off during a Chris Tarrant celebration and word had got round the restaurant trade.
On this occasion, everyone was well-behaved… though, halfway through, I looked up from my meal and presenter Den Hegarty decided, at that moment, to start eating the flowers decorating the middle of the table.
It did not seem odd at the time.
On Tiswas, few things did.
YouTube has a clip of the last two minutes of the final Tiswas show.