(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – December 2021)
Saturdays were always special for us kids in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s.
Before we were old enough or good enough to represent our school in the sporting arena, we’d possibly go swimming at the local ‘baths.’ Or maybe, with only the occasional Hanna- Barbera cartoon screened on television to entertain us, we’d be allowed to catch a train to the Saturday Club at the local pictures house. There, we’d join the throng of similarly aged kids getting high on what would later be recognised as the ‘e numbers’ hidden in cartons of Kia Ora and ice cream as we watched some swashbuckling, black and white movie produced by The Children’s Film Foundation.
That would all change mid-Seventies.
For a start, I would by then have been seventeen years old and regarded with some suspicion had I attempted admission to The Saturday Club. That aside, television companies recognised the audience potential and began to expand their model of importing cartoons and reruns of Gerry Anderson gems.
The ITV network initially trialled programmes by linking cartoons, sketches, pop music and mini-series into one long, ‘umbrella show.’
Several regionalised ITV stations ran with the idea from 1974 onwards. Over time though, they all succumbed to the show inaugurated by the Midlands station, ATV, and by 1976 children of the three TV-channel generation, benefitted from a heavyweight ratings war between the ITV network and the BBC equivalent.
As you were once ‘Stones’ or ‘Beatles;’ as you were once ‘Donny’ or ‘David,’ you were now either ‘TISWAS’ or ‘Swap Shop.’
OK, so I wasn’t a ‘kid’ anymore but there’s nothing says an eighteen year old can’t enjoy these type programmes, right? So the choice came down to watching someone on BBC have a serious discussion with David Bellamy about conservation …. or watch some Brummie lad dressed in outsize khaki shorts and sporting a ginger coloured stick-on, Bellamy-esque false beard, repeating the innuendo loaded phrase, “Well – gwapple me gwapenuts!”
It was a no-bwainer!
It wasn’t until 1977 though, that we in Scotland, served by STV, got to see the programme regularly and in its entirety. By then, Sally James had been enlisted as co-presenter with Chris Tarrant. With some sporadic appearances under his belt, comedian Lenny Henry became a regular presenter in the following year, as did former member of The Scaffold, John Gorman. It would a further year down the line before Bob Carolgees & Spit the Dog joined up, completing the team I remember most fondly.
Comedians Jasper Carrot, Frank ‘it’s the way I tell ‘em’ Carson and Jim Davidson would also pop in to the show now and then.
Reflecting the music of the time, TISWAS (This Is Saturday – Watch and Smile) was chaotic and anarchic. It was slapstick. It was infectious. Whether it be in the school playground or the office workspace, the show’s catchphrases were repeated incessantly:
“O-o-o-o-o-k-a-a-a-ay!” we’d gargle in the voice of Lenny Henry’s character, Algernon Razzmatazz.
“Com-post Cor-ner!” we’d shout in a Crackerjack style.
“This is what they want!” we’d joyously proclaim when doing something fun.
“Ccchhhhrrrrt ….Spit!” we’d mimic when something met our disapproval.
“It’s Telly Selly Time,” we’d sing, annoying our parents any time there was an advert break in Coronation Street etc..
“Wuwal retweats, wuwal retweats, where wobin wedbweast goes tweet tweet,” we’d pwance and sing in the public pawk. (Oh – just me, then …?)
Initially inspired by Jasper Carrot and encouraged by Sally James, we’d all roll on our backs ‘dancing’ the ‘Dying Fly;’ the Phantom Flan Flinger would push ‘custard pies’ into the faces of the children in the studio audience and big-name guests alike; kids, and in later series’, their parents, would happily be enclosed in a cage and have buckets of water / gunge / goo poured all over them.
Distinguished TV newsreader Trevor McDonald would laugh and laugh at the sketches featuring Lenny Henry’s hilarious send-up, Trevor McDoughnut.
TISWAS catered for all – boy or girl, even young-at-heart Mums …. and with Sally James as presenter, quite a few Dads too, I can imagine!
It was just genius!
What else would a youngster now want to do on a Saturday morning? Go ingest some wee-infused, heavily chlorinated water at the swimming pool where you got shouted at for ‘bombing’ your pals?
Or spend the afternoon feeling sick from eating too many sherbet dabs and Spangles as you once again watched Lassie successfully navigate her way home in those days before Google Maps?
Nope – for me and millions like me, it was a bacon roll; a plate piled high with toast and jam; several cups of coffee; turn on the telly, allowing it plenty time to ‘warm up,’ sit back in the comfy chair and completely switch off from the world of school, study and exams.
It was Saturday after all, and boy, did I indeed watch and smile!