Memories of Tiswas, Frankie Howerd’s wandering hands and Norman Collier

Tiswas, 1981: Den Hegarty, Frank Carson and associate producer David McKellar

Tiswas, 1981: Den Hegarty, Frank Carson and David McKellar

So yesterday I drove up to Birmingham for a reunion of people who worked on the children’s TV series Tiswas. It turned out there were 100 fans there too.

Everyone I knew years ago seem to have grown white hair and beards or both apart from presenter Sally James and you can never be too sure of anything nowadays.

I got chatting with David McKellar, who was Associate Producer/Script Associate on Tiswas when I was there. He was a wildly experienced gag writer. I remember being impressed when I realised he had written one of the few jokes I ever remembered, a fake news headline:

“Bad news for three-foot dwarfs… four feet snow drifts.”

I think David Frost delivered the gag in one of his TV series, probably The Frost Report.

David McKellar remembered Tiswas yesterday

David at the Tiswas gathering in Birmingham yesterday

David McKellar wrote for various David Frost shows as well as Ken Dodd, Frankie Howard, Tommy Cooper, Dave Allen, Jimmy Tarbuck, Les Dawson, Dick Emery, The Two Ronnies, Celebrity Squares… you name it…

He told me that, taking a look at Lenny Henry’s website recently, he noticed that Lenny had credited him with changing his career path.

“I had no idea,” David told me.

“How did you change his career?” I asked.

“He used to do gags as himself and I suggested he did characters. When he went on This Is Your Life, he mentioned my name. It’s good to be remembered.”

“It is nice,” I said, “to change someone’s life when you didn’t even realise it. Who did you write your first joke for?”

Max Miller

Max Miller paid David £1 in the street

Max Miller. He lived in Brighton. I lived in Brighton. I met him in the street, told him this joke and he gave me £1.”

“What was the joke?” I asked.

“I wish I could remember,” laughed David. “The thing about him was he never used  a dirty word on stage and he was the dirtiest comedian. It was the audience who were thinking the dirt in the act. Comics nowadays will say ‘wanking’ for no reason.”

“You wrote for Frankie Howerd, didn’t you?” I asked. “That was all innuendo.”

“You never went into a room alone with him,” said David.

“Jonathan Ross,” I said, “advised me never to get in a lift alone with Frankie Howerd.”

“He’s remembered,” I said, but people like Norman Collier are not and he was a great comedian.”

Norman Collier

The great Norman Collier – gone but not forgotten by some

“I remember,” said David, “he took me into a restaurant one night in Birmingham – on the Friday night before the Tiswas show (which was on Saturday morning) and he came in with a ten-foot ventriloquist’s dummy. He put it on the chair next to me and the waiter came along and gave us three menus. The dummy ordered a whole meal, then Norman got hold of a popadom, held it under the table and there was a Woof! Woof! sound. They threw him out because they didn’t allow dogs in the restaurant. But he had no dog. He left me sitting in there with a ten foot dummy.

“I was with him in Toronto and he had two dolls and vented them singing I’ll Be Loving You.… Two people bought singing dolls off him and they weren’t singing dolls.

“I was with him in Gibraltar… Barbary apes… He goes over and feeds them so their lips start moving and he starts talking to them and venting them talking to him. An hour and a half we were there. There was this couple from Alabama and they left thinking the apes talked. Norman stayed there until they were convinced and had left. They would have been telling everyone back in Alabama about the talking apes in Gibraltar.”

There is a clip of Norman Collier’s act on YouTube.

Den Hegarty had shaving foam problems

Den Hegarty had shaving foam problems

At this point, Tiswas presenter and ex Darts performer Den Hegarty came over, with two paper plates covered in ‘custard pie’ (actually white shaving foam) sticking to his face.

“Just like the old days,” said David.

“It’s not the stuff we used to use,” said Den. “We always used Erasmic. But this stuff stings the eyes. Though I didn’t used to get pies. I tended to get baked beans poured over me. Then people wrote in and complained we were wasting food and all the starving people in Africa could be fed with out baked beans. So then we had to make fake baked beans and they were poured over me.”

“The glamour of television.” I said.

The ending of the final episode of Tiswas is on YouTube.


Filed under Comedy, Television

2 responses to “Memories of Tiswas, Frankie Howerd’s wandering hands and Norman Collier


    Morning John I was in the notorious “cage” for the Easter 1980 edition. Ten of us Tiswas devotees travelled up from Beckenham in an array of fancy dress. It was a huge thrill when there was a knock on the dressing room door (was it you perhaps?) to hear “30 seconds to curtains Cage”. It was a great show starting with the “Dying Fly” dance. We were well prepared for our Tarrant dousing with high powered water pistols and Lenny Henry could be heard shouting “Oh no the cage fights back” as we sprayed Tarrant. There was also a great “Compost Corner” (Compost Corner) with Genesis in sunflower costumes. I provided the TV reunion, which took place maybe 3 or 4 years ago, with some clips from that episode which also had Paul and Linda McCartney singing and Jeff Capes. The bastards didn’t invite me along. I had a dance with the lovely Sally James “you’ll do for me Sal” a couple of years ago at a charity do. She has a school uniform shop in Surrey.  For the last Tiswas show we had a massive party in a house in Clapham with Watney party 4s and BCM (bread and condensed milk) wambos followed by a massive bucket of water fight in the street after. At Latitude 2012 Kevin Rowlands of Dexy’s fame did a show. I bumped into him in a marquee later. I took him totally by surprise when I asked him why he wasn’t a victim of the Phantom Flan Flinger when he appeared on Tiswas instead of discussing his performance. He said he told them he didn’t want to be flanned, the wanker. Me and a couple of mates set up a contract flanning service so people could book us to flan people for birthdays or whatever. One of the best was when we managed to get some uniforms almost identical to those the real waiters wore in a swanky West End restaurant and we are able to flan at the table a music producer we had been hired to flan. Probably the worst one was when me and my brother Ian flanned our sister on her hen night when she was all dolled up. We found the best consistency was Gillette shaving foam. Any plans yet for Malcolm reunion in January for 10th anniversary? Regards Bres



    Me again. One of my favourite comedians was Frank Carson. We used to love it when he was on Tiswas. It was easy to tell Tarrant, Lenny, Gorman and the crew appreciated his presence and skills. It was probably at a time in his life when he was unable to get much work as it was the era of the alternative comedian scene. In 2004 I managed to talk him into doing a charity gig for me. I hadn’t even got the event planned but knew it would fall into place once I had landed him, and so it did. I have some Video of his performance. The week before he invited me to be his guest at a dinner at the Grosvenor so I could get to know him as he put it. He couldn’t have made me feel more welcome. He knew everyone in the room and within 5 minutes he’d introduced me to Sir Henry Cooper, Sir Geoff Hurst and Rory Bremner. People remember him from The Comedians and his catchphrases but he had many one-liners and had a warm heart and could charm anyone. Even, literally, the Pope. After my charity dinner he persuaded a City police squad car to take him from Smithfield to his hotel in Kensington. He had some fantastic stories of his childhood and armed service duty. I said to him that he should write an auto-biography but he sadly never did. Oy oy


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