ITV (ended 1982)


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Well, what can one say about the legend that was Tiswas? Saturday morning TV in the UK has never been the same for it, that's for sure. Up until 1974 Saturday morning kids TV tended to be old westerns, cartoons and a US import. Hardly riveting stuff. And then the Midlands ITV company ATV decided to link these offerings together under an umbrella title of 'Today Is Saturday'. What this meant was using two guys in a small studio full of kids, cracking poor jokes and throwing custard pies and baked beans at the aforementioned children before moving on to the film. Doesn't sound much but don't be fooled: From little acorns come mighty oaks. For its second series the name was changed to TISWAS (Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile). There was a bigger studio, bigger cast, the jokes became sketches and the films began to take second place. More kids were shoved into the studio along with more pies and more water. They loved it. With crazy presenters such as Chris Tarrant and John Gorman the show, in the Midlands, grew from strength to strength. Elsewhere in the country hardly anyone knew - but that would change. ITV's complicated structure (of 15 regional companies who 'swap' their best productions for a national audience) meant that many areas did not see Tiswas for a long time. First Yorkshire and Granada started showing it and then it spread like wildfire. The last to capitulate to the might of Tiswas was London Weekend, who eventually provided the presenter of their show (Saturday Kids), the lovely Sally James as the female element of the programme. Suddenly dads everywhere began to sit up. By 1979 the show was networked nationwide and developed something of a cult following. Apart from the presenters and crew adults were banned from the Tiswas studio unless they agreed to be put in the 'Cage' where they could be duly flanned with pies. The arch villain was the Phantom Flan Flinger, bedecked entirely in black who would flan the presenters, the kids, the camera crew, whoever really (His identity was always a mystery, finally solved this year when it was revealed he was actually a Birmingham taxi driver, a friend of Chris Tarrant). Guests were pop stars and actors who were also mercilessly flanned. Tiswas was nothing but utter chaos and it showed. Sketches became quite risque and it was rumoured that one pop star guest actually lit up a joint live on air. The governing body of ITV, the IBA, became duly concerned about this and the lack of anything educational on the show and ordered some changes to be made. This began to spell the end of Tiswas. It's attraction was that it was not the BBC's staid offering Swap Shop and if kids wanted to be educated on a Saturday morning that was where they could go; if they wanted to chill out then Tiswas was the place. In 1982 Tarrant and fellow presenters Lenny Henry, Bob Carolgees and John Gorman left to do a late evening version of the show called OTT which bombed. James remained, and with the help of Gordon Astley kept Tiswas alive for one more season. Times had changed though and Tiswas was becoming tired. ATV, who had nurtured the show, became a more upmarket Central and they didn't really care for the anarchic Tiswas. In 1983 they axed it. There was still a tremendous loyalty for the show. In 1982 when southern company TVS dropped the final series to show their own output protesters picketed the studios. A campaign was started to make Central change their mind but to no avail. All that remains of Tiswas are memories and dusty tapes. Even its home, the legendary studio 2 is now a car park. Chris Tarrant went on to bigger and better things as presenter of 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?', Lenny Henry became a successful comedian and driving force behind the charity Comic Relief and Sally James runs her own business. A brief student revival in the early nineties saw some episodes released on video but that has been it. Tiswas, for children (and adults) of the 70's leaves a warm glow, like a bowl of Ready Brek. Only on Tiswas they would then pour it on you.moreless