ITV (ended 1982)


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A direct spin-off from Tiswas. It owes its existence from the rather more adult fun the team got up to on their Four Bucketeer tours of universities and theatres in 1980 and 1981. Commonly referred to as "an adult version of Tiswas", although participant Bob Carolgees corrected me when I used that term - it was, apparantly, just a "late night" version. The first viewers got to know of the shows' existence, was on Chris Tarrant's final stint on Tiswas - 28th March 1981 (the last show of series 7, and also marking a departure for Lenny Henry, Bob Carolgees and John Gorman). In a desk-based link, Chris mentioned that Tiswas would return later in the year with Sally and "some new faces", and that he had been working on a late night version of Tiswas to be shown in the new year. It was provisionally entitled 'The Big Tis', although a chance remark from Michael Palin inspired Chris to retitle it as Over The Top. However, the acronym found more favour as the official title. With Sally James left to control the final series of Tiswas on Saturday mornings, Chris had personally recruited some new faces alongside his former Tiswas colleagues. Alexei Sayle, enjoying his first national TV exposure, would deliver a mad ranting monologue every week, much in the same way he would do to greater fame on BBC's 'The Young Ones' (as members of the Bolowski family). The Sally-shaped hole was filled by rising comedian Helen Atkinson-Wood, who would also go onto more exposure through a BBC sitcom (playing Mrs Miggins in Blackadder III). Was it more of the same? Well, from the start, Chris intended the show to be outrageous. It was one of the first networked productions from new ITV franchise Central Television, and it utilised the tried-and-tested elements made famous by Tiswas, although in a much more risque way. Cartoons were there in the form of Bob Godfrey's animated shorts for adults dealing with sexual subjects like fetishes and nudity. These had previously only been shown as filler in adult cinemas. "All those years of presenting Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, eh?" remarked a grinning Chris Tarrant on an early show. Messy slapstick was also present. The first few shows had a game slot where contestants would be randomly gunged and/or dropped into a tank of foam. Also adding to the mayhem were random flannings and soakings of audience members. We didn't miss out on music videos either. Although final-series Tiswas may have been embracing the current pop output, highlighting the new romantic movement, over on O.T.T. the clock had been turned back for its more mature audience, and thus it was common to see old live footage of bands like the Kinks, the Who or the Beatles. Current stars from the world of music did show up. Gillan did a good performance and Terry Hall's post-Specials outfit the Fun Boy Three did a turn, among many other acts. These studio-based performances usually ran at the end of the show as the credits scrolled, another Tiswas tradition. Comedy sketches were in abundance, although not many of them made a mark, despite using some writers from Tiswas, alongside other writing newcomers (such as Angus Deayton). Tiswas characters from the team found a home - plenty of Algernon Razzamatazz, and the odd showing of Gorman's PC Plod. The sketches tended to deal with controversial and adult subjects. Many were an excuse to show a naked bottom, and there were one or two involving racism (although it must be stressed that the target of comedy was racism, and not a condoning of it). Alexei Sayle eventually left the show towards the end of its 13 edition run, frustrated when Chris decided to give some airtime to controversial comedian Bernard Manning. The overall impression is of a show that was all too willing to be anarchic in the Tiswas sense, and go as extreme as Central would allow them to, but the sum of these parts didn't produce a worthy asset to television. It came across like a halfway-house between 'Not The Nine O'Clock' News' (highlighting the then-new 'alternative comedy' movement) and 'The Comedians' (old school comedy aimed at cabaret circuits). It was a daring and experimental move to undertake, especially for a new name to the ITV network that was treading in ATV's shadow. Ultimately, the show was a turn off for viewers, including Lenny Henry's own family who found it an embarrassment. The flak Chris Tarrant got from the media and various conservative viewers was immense. It was enough to ensure that O.T.T. got canned permanently by the time the last show went out. Although there was no second series of O.T.T., Chris would return to the airwaves with some former Tiswas personnel the following year with 'Saturday Stayback', which was like a neutered O.T.T..moreless