"This is what they want!"
The inventor of the ITV Saturday Morning Kids Show
format, and probably the most anarchic of them all. Famous for the Phantom Flan Flinger
and starting off Chris Tarrant's career. Not so famous, but no less instrumental, for launching Lenny Henry's TV career. Tiswas
ran from 1974 to 1982, although in the first year it consisted more of short links between cartoons and other programmes, with less of its own identity, whereas 1982 was much more sedate than the classic years after many of the presenters left in 1981.
On any given Saturday morning, there would be a studio full of overexcited children, some there to show off a talent or do a competition, some as the audience. (Many of their parents would be locked in a cage at the back of the set, intermittently getting buckets of water thrown over them by the presenters.) Lenny Henry
would be impersonating newsreader Trevor McDonaldnote
; a pre-Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy
would be roaming around as a werewolf, biting the audience; bands would play (and not just kid-friendly groups: the performers included Elvis Costello
, the Pretenders
and Status Quo
), or be interviewed by Sally James (showing off the garters
she had been sent from Royal Navy ships); there would be comedy sketches, done by anybody from Michael Palin
to Bernard Manning; Spit the Dog
would live up to his name; John Gorman would be roaming around in character as a cleaner asking if he had died in two world wars in order to put up with a studio this messy; a 5-year-old boy in a rabbit suit would sing Bright Eyes; at least one item would go completely off track; and everyone would end up getting custard pies thrown over them.
It was very tied in with popular culture. There were the bands, and lots of impressions and parodies of other shows; but also they accidentally launched a dance craze (The Dying Fly) and the presenters had a number 1 hit with "The Bucket of Water Song".
Incredibly influential on other Saturday morning kids' shows—Dick & Dom in da Bungalow
, SMTV Live
, Ministry Of Mayhem
, even Live And Kicking
would not have been the same without Tiswas
. (Arguably, even late-night zoo programmes like The Word
drew on it). One noticable difference from its followers, however, is that most presenters since have tended to be cheeky big brother types in their teens or early twenties, while all the Tiswas
presenters except Lenny Henry
were in their 30s at least. Watching adults being completely childish has a relish all its own.
Tropes associated with Tiswas include:
- Affectionate Parody
- Ascended Extra: Several comedians started as one-off guests and became regulars (eg Jim Davidson, Frank Carson). Also the Bright Eyes kid, Matthew Butler (he even ended up going on the Four Bucketeers tour with them.)
- Breakup Breakout: Chris Tarrant and Lenny Henry went on to become household names. The rest of the teamnote didn't really.
- Catch Phrase: "Compost Corner!"
- Covered in Gunge: The show had a credited custard-pie maker.
- Expository Theme Tune: "Saturday, Saturday, Saturday is Tiswas day!"
- Excited Kids' Show Host
- Fun with Acronyms: Title stood for "This is Saturday, wake and smile."
- Improv: There were some pre-filmed items, some scripted sketches and an overall running order, but it was mostly ad libbed.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Most of the early shows were wiped by ITV. There is a Best of Tiswas DVD featuring clips from the later seasons.
- The Merch: Lots of tie-in products at the time: a magazine, annuals, books, and, of course, songs.
- Never Work with Children or Animals: The boy who had to go for a wee. The lad who started crying when it was his turn to read out his poem. Oh my god, the armadillo...
- Running Gag
- Spin-Off: Most of the presenters left in 1981 to make OTT, an attempt to use a similar format as a late-night comedy for adults.