Category Archives: TV

tiswas: tv hall of fame induction

(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.

(Ha Ha! That’s gonna stay in your head ALL day, now! 🙂 )

“Com-post Cor-ner!” we’d shout in a Crackerjack style.

(Watch Chris Tarrant cringe at the even-for-Tiswas ‘non PC joke at 2’ 51″ )

“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!

________________

Old Grey Whistle Test (OGWT) 72-79: TV Hall of Fame Induction.

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, November 2021.

Back in the early seventies there was only one provider of contemporary music to the masses – The BBC.

Radio One ruled the airwaves unchallenged from 1967 until the commercial radio stations came along in the mid 70s, although to be fair if you could get a decent signal, Radio Luxembourg was a reasonable late night alternative… until you got fed up listening to adverts for Timotei Shampoo and Aqua Manda cologne.

In terms of TV, the Beeb had it all sewn up with its weekly chart show aimed at the teenage market – Top of the Pops, which launched in 1964.
Seven years later the OGWT came along and focused on the more discerning album buying audience.

TOTP had its moments of course, but epiphany’s like Starman or Virginia Plain were rare and for every ‘Jeepster” there was a ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’

The OGWT on the other hand, was a voyage of discovery, it wasn’t always great but it was always watchable.
The truth is that we rarely knew who was going to be on the show, but it mattered not, we just tuned in and went along for the ride, building our musical knowledge and refining our tastes as we went along.

The OGWT became a weekly ‘event’ and a post-mortem of each episode was mandatory.
I can still remember an attempt to describe the debut performance of Focus to a mate at school who’d missed the show.


“They’re a Dutch quartet with an amazing drummer, an unbelievable guitarist and a guy who looks like Archie Gemmill on keyboards…. who yodels a lot”

I’m not sure he rushed out to buy the album based on my summary.

The show was famous for its live studio performances, but in the early days tracks that couldn’t be performed live were usually accompanied by old black & white film footage, compiled by film archivist Philip Jenkinson.
A couple of those home-made videos left a lasting impression.

The first time I heard Queen was on the OGWT in 1973.
A rendition of ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ soundtracked over a vintage black & white movie clip.

My favourite though was the footage that accompanied Led Zeppelin’s – Trampled Underfoot. I’ve no idea how they synch’d a 1920’s silent movie clip so seamlessly with Zep’s homage to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, but they pulled it off.

I have too many great memories of the show to mention and have spent many an hour disappearing down OGWT, YouTube rabbit holes but when I reflect on what made the show special, there are a few elements that spring to mind….

1) The OGWT excelled at introducing us to new artists:
Putting aside the broadcasting monopoly that the Beeb enjoyed I still have to credit the show for introducing me to – Neil Young, Queen, Robin Trower, John Martyn, Bill Withers, Joan Armatrading, Talking Heads, Lynyrd Skynyrd, New York Dolls, The Wailers and many more.

2) The show wasn’t just electric, it was eclectic:
If you happened to tune in when – Dr Hook, Rick Wakeman, John Martyn and Mike Oldfield were all featured you could have been forgiven for thinking that the majority of the acts mirrored the presenter, i.e. white men with beards and long hair…. but the show was actually a lot more diverse than that.

Nice!

For instance, it was perfectly normal to have Bill Withers on the same show as Tangerine Dream or Curtis Mayfield with Captain Beefheart.
BB King would feature alongside Kris Kristofferson and Joni Mitchell could be on the same bill as Roxy Music.
It’s fair to say that every musical genre was given a fair crack of the whip on a show where the only criteria was quality.


3) The show produced seminal performances that live on forever:
At the end of the day it was the live studio performances that we all talked about and they remain the iconic moments of the show.
It’s difficult to cherry-pick as there were so many classic OGWT moments, but a few favourites that spring to mind are….

Bowie – Queen Bitch
Little Feat – Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor
Sensational Alex Harvey Band – The Faith Healer
Roxy Music – In Every Dream Home a Heartache
Gil Scott-Heron – Johannesburg


The OGWT of course was synonymous with whispering Bob Harris and his reign as the main presenter from 1972-79 covered the golden-age of the show.
Nothing lasts forever though, and as the punk movement gained momentum Bob started getting a bit grouchy and wasn’t handling the change of the guard very well…..

Bob and his ‘mock rock’ quip at 4:42

Bob had ‘previous’ of course, labelling Roxy Music as a triumph of ‘style over substance‘. And goofily described The New York Dolls as “mock rock” at the conclusion of a blistering rendition of ‘Jet Boy’….

Harris, subsequently became a target for New Wavers and Punks and narrowly escaped serious injury when Sid Vicious tried to ‘glass’ him in a London nightclub.
Rescued ironically by a team of Procol Harum roadies, Bob escaped relatively unscathed, but suffered cuts, bruises and a damaged ego.

Worn down by the abuse and feeling that he was swimming against the cultural tide, Bob would step down from his OGWT duties soon-after.

The show ploughed on for another 9 years post Bob, with a revolving door of presenters but by then there was bona fide competition from other channels and shows, like C4’s The Tube.

Gone but certainly not forgotten…. Fortunately we can still relive some of the shows iconic moments via clips from the vaults, many of which have millions of views.

So it’s this prime-time OGWT – the ‘Bob Harris years 72-79’, that helped to shape my musical tastes as a teenager that I would propose for the TV Hall of Fame….

A pre-Ziggy Bowie on the cusp of greatness