Television Tiswas

Interview: The ‘missing episodes’ of Tiswas

When I was little, I absolutely adored Tiswas. You need to know this. If not, nothing that follows will make any sense. A bit like Tiswas really. When the rest of the world had forgotten it, I just couldn’t shake off those happy memories.

In 2004 TiswasOnline began as a loose collection of fans of Tiswas wanting to chat about their childhood memories, with a view to properly documenting the series… and hopefully get a chance to watch some of the old shows too. I was in like a shot!

On a personal level it led to me dressing up as a rabbit on BBC2, assisting with the production of a new Tiswas programme for ITV, and ultimately producing a brand new series of Tiswas repeats for broadcast on the telly!

On “Dick ‘n’ Dom in da Bungalow” in 2005 dressed as a singing rabbit (left) with Matt (original singing rabbit), Pete (TiswasOnline) and Marc (right)

I could go on forever about how Tiswas has been a massive part of my life, but then I realized I’d already done something similar.

An old website called “Wiped News” (which is apparently no longer there) asked us to give them an interview in 2010 about Tiswas, TiswasOnline and the state of the Tiswas Archive. Many of the shows we all remember don’t officially exist anymore (in a similar manner to how many episodes of Doctor Who don’t exist). So here’s the interview I gave to them on 7th January 2010 (where something had changed since then, I’ve added some RED notes)

1. What is the enduring appeal of Tiswas, do you think and why is it worth hunting down missing material?

It was the first of its kind, it seems odd to say it but Tiswas really was groundbreaking in its day. It made the mould and then broke it! Matthew Butler (the Tiswas singing rabbit!!) and I appeared on Central News back in 2005 when we visited the old ATV studios in Birmingham as part of the original website launch, and we were both asked this question. For me, it’s very much a nostalgia thing. I think its appeal is that it was simply groundbreaking, it was simply fun and daft, and as a kid in the 70s and early 80s it was just what we wanted – the phrase “this is what they want” really was true.

2. What is the state of the Tiswas archives officially?

2-inch broadcast videotape

It’s probably important to say that ATV never had a full set of Tiswas recordings in the first place but that’s not such a surprise because its mainly because they weren’t recorded in the first place. So the master tapes that exist today are all that there has ever been.

Tiswas was quite simply a weekly ‘magazine’ and after it was broadcast it was considered that there was no need to keep any of it. How many times have we seen that story with other programmes, but it’s perfectly understandable. By the end of its run, the teams had all gone on to other successful things, new Saturday Morning programmes had taken the place of Tiswas and the nostalgia bug hadn’t reached Tiswas fans… until relatively recently!

The first ever Tiswas VHS video was released in 1992

The first indication that the archives weren’t in a good state was when 3 VHS releases from ITC Video appeared in 1992 and 1994. A large proportion of the clips were obviously sourced from non-broadcast standard tapes. The all too obvious VHS ‘fuzz’ was in evidence, some clips would even skip and stutter suggesting a poor quality source, but I guess we (the fans who bought the tapes) accepted that was just the way it was. A disclaimer at the start of the tapes went some way to explaining that viewers “might notice some difference in picture and sound quality”. Buy, hey, it was Tiswas and I for one watched that first tape again and again every day for 2 weeks (I’ve calmed down a little now!)

Granada Media is now known as the ITV Archive

When we were first getting going with TiswasOnline in early 2004, I was contacted by a lovely lady from Granada Media (as was) in the Perivale offices and they were keen to set things straight about the archives. At that point in time Granada and Carlton had just merged and so the new ITV plc was taking stock of what it actually held. As people may be aware, the ATV archive had been through a number of different hands following the 1981 ITV franchise re-arrangements, although the physical tapes themselves hadn’t actually traveled that far.

ITC Home Video released the original ATV programmes on Home Video in the early 1990s

When ATV became Central, ATV’s parent company ACC (later re-branded back to ITC Entertainment Group) retained the copyright in all ATV programmes and eventually sold off their stake in Central. In the mid ’90s PolyGram took over ITC, before being taken over themselves by Universal Pictures, although the ‘ITC Entertainment’ library was sold on to Carlton International in the late 90s, effectively bringing the entire ATV and Central library back together. In the Mid ’90s a friend of mine who worked in Central presentation confirmed to me that the tapes themselves remained in Central’s offices in Abingdon for many years in an agreement between ITC and Central.

Carlton International owned the ATV archive from 1998 until it was merged with the rest of ITV in 2004
Tiswas began in January 1974 – when I was 4 months old!

So, my contact at Granada Media confirmed that the ‘Carlton International’ library (later known as the ‘Granada International’ library, as opposed to the ‘ITN Archive’ library comprising the Granada/LWT/YTV/TTTV etc… collections – confusing isn’t it) held 99 Tiswas elements. These 99 elements ranged from full programmes to inserts to edited clips prepared from other programmes over the years. Unfortunately much of the paperwork for these shows had been lost and so it was difficult to tell what actually existed.

However, via many different sources, we have managed to gather together master tape references for confirmed existing programmes and these can be found on TiswasOnline’s episode guide. Kaleidoscope’s great Lost Shows website states that the only officially existing programmes are Show 60 (30/8/75), Show 151 (10/12/77 – only a partial recording), 4 1978 shows (plus a an additional short section from another), 2 1979 shows (plus another couple of clips), 2 1980 shows, 6 1981 shows and 9 1982 shows.

Original Tiswas logo 1974-1977
An edited version of the earliest surviving edition of Tiswas from 1975 is included in this DVD boxset

As you can see, the earliest show in existence is from 1975. (This was released on DVD in 2015 on Network’s excellent ITV60 – still available from Amazon). Ironically its one of the few shows that didn’t feature Chris Tarrant, but as a single surviving example of what the show (billed as “Today Is Saturday or the Tis-Was Show”) was like in its early years, its really quite interesting. It actually has more in common with the early days of Children’s BBC’s “Broom Cupboard” then the Tiswas that people remember these days. Indeed, that was how it developed from Peter Tomlinson’s original idea for the show.

So to actually answer your question, there’s not a lot officially there!

3. How much material has been recovered by Tiswas online, and from what sources? Is the material mostly off-air?

Home recording of TV programmes was mainly on Betamax (above) and VHS (below) video cassettes
Andrew Wooding with Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog

All of the material that has come to light through TiswasOnline is off-air. Before the website, I got hold of a couple of off-air recordings via an auction website. I later discovered that these shows officially exist, but I didn’t mind because it was fun to watch them. But when we started the website, the 5 of us decided to share the shows we had. Luckily, 2 of the team in particular had been quite prolific in their recording activities.

Firstly Andrew Wooding had recorded his own appearance in a Custard Pie fight during Tiswas’s 7th Birthday programme in January 1981, and then proceeded to record many of the final 81-82 season onto Betamax, mainly LWT transmissions.

Matthew Butler (Matt Lewis) the original singing rabbit

Next, we were also joined by Matthew Butler, the Tiswas rabbit (who had a hit single in 1981 with ‘Bright Eyes’… it reached 121 in the charts!). Matt Lewis, as he’s now known, had appeared on many shows between January 1980 and March 1981 and his family had managed to record almost all of the shows he was on. Once I had catalogued Matt’s shows and managed to date them (with help from Andrew, who had catalogues his own) we realised that most of them were officially non-existent. So within the space of 6 months of the website starting, we had effectively discovered around 2 dozen missing programmes. Again, these show details are gradually being added onto the website’s episode guide (I say gradually, because we want to do a good job, and this is all in our spare time).

We already knew that many of the clips used on the original VHS releases of the early 90s had come from domestic off-air recordings. Some of these original shows were part of our early ‘discoveries’ and in many cases our off-air versions were evidently of higher quality than the ones used in the VHS releases. The thing that we discovered was that the source of these earlier VHS clips were actually from tapes within the private collections of Chris Tarrant and Bob Carolgees themselves. Bob & Chris had agreed to lend their tapes to Mike Smith, the Executive Producer of the Tiswas VHS releases (and also Sally James’s record producer husband!) to be included in the compilations.

Another of our team, Marc, had been lucky enough to obtain copies of a couple of Bob Carolgees’s tapes direct from Bob himself.

4. Out of that recovered material, what to you have been the best discoveries?

On a personal level it’s always fun to see something that you remember from your youth and indeed in some cases I have been happy to disprove the old adage that “the memory cheats”! Also, one of the VHS tapes we turned up was actually a studio recording, so when the programme went to a break (“Telly Selly Time”) the cameras in the studio stayed on and you’d see some things like the studio being quickly tidied up after a particularly messy sketch, a brief word between the Producer (Chris Tarrant) and other members of the team as to how an upcoming item would pan out.

5. What about the future – is there more material out there waiting to be found? Is there anything in particular you’d like to see again.

I would imagine that we’re more likely to see short sections and bits and pieces come forward because people would tend to record clips of their favourite pop groups (as we’ve seen). As for full programmes, again I think we could see a few more from the final 2 series (1980-81 & 1981-82) because, obviously, home video recording was growing in popularity at that time. Shows from previous years are a little more unlikely, though not entirely out of the question.

Tiswas during its most popular period in 1980/81

Perhaps because everyone is more familiar with the later Chris Tarrant programmes, with the cartoon set, it would be good to see more shows come through from the earlier years. A couple of examples do exist from when Trevor East presented alongside Chris and Sally, but there’s absolutely nothing in existence from the first year of the programme bar Show 60 mentioned above which didn’t feature Chris Tarrant, so it would be great to see some Tiswas featuring Chris from that time, but we think that’s highly unlikely. Anything from 1979 and before, though, would be great.

6. Tell me a bit about Tiswas Online. Is there a strong community of Tiswas fans, and have you the backing of the Tiswas stars?

Pete Thomas (seen with Sally James) is webmaster of TiswasOnline

TiswasOnline itself grew out of Matthew Butler’s Tiswas Group on Yahoo and the original 5 of us on the website team were members of it – Peter Thomas from Wellingborough, myself from Tipton (2 minutes from Lenny Henry’s Dudley!), Andrew Wooding from Sheffield, Marc from the home counties, and of course Matthew Butler/Lewis from Penkridge near Stafford. Peter, TiswasOnline’s Webmaster, had wanted to begin a Tiswas website for many years, and mentioned that he was doing so on the Yahoo group. He and I corresponded for a while in a series of ever longer emails about our Tiswas memories and so on. Matthew then joined the team as did Andrew. Next Marc contacted us to say that he too had planned to start a Tiswas site, so we agreed to join forces and TiswasOnline took to the web during the Summer of 2004. Later we were joined by Amy Wake from London who is now our official Phantom Flan Flinger stand-in (and appeared with Pete on Meridian Tonight during the annual custard pie throwing championships to prove it!). (Fellow Midlander Toby Riding has also now joined our little gang!)

The Yahoo group was the first indication I had of the continuing popularity of Tiswas. The show had always had a small presence online, not least the excellent original TV Cream pages covering “The ‘Was” (which are still online, recently redesigned), and serve as a great straightforward guide to the show’s history. Most of the Yahoo group members transferred to the TiswasOnline forum which can sometimes become as anorakky as anywhere (hey, I’m a Doctor Who fan of 30+ years standing so I don’t use the word anorak lightly!) but it’s always fun on there, and our members certainly understand how to tuck their tongues in their cheeks!

TiswasOnline is officially unofficial, but that is only down to the fact that we are unlicensed. The wonderful thing is that virtually everyone connected with Tiswas and ITV that we have come into contact with have accepted us and effectively given us their seals of approval. An early project we began was to try and feature text interviews with as many members of the teams as possible.

From ATVLAND in Colour
From Headlines to ‘Tight-Lines’ – The Story of ATV Today

This has now progressed to include video interviews as part of another project that Pete and I are working on (a documentary about the old ATV studios – From ATV Land In Colour). Released in 2011 and still available on Amazon, and from along with its award-winning follow up ‘From Headlines to Tight-lines: The Story of ATV Today. In our time we’ve interviewed Sally James, Bob Carolgees, Peter Tomlinson, Gordon Astley, Glyn Edwards (2nd producer), Fogwell Flax, Peter Harris (1st producer) and more. Plus in 2009 we finally managed to sit down with Chris Tarrant himself and there’s more to come… (we interviewed Chris for a second time about his local news reported activities for The ATV Today Story – also still available!)

The forum really is the hub of things, and interest was rapidly growing and growing as the site got mentioned ever more frequently in books and magazine articles. Even when we were contacted by Granada Media just after the site began, they were more than happy for the site to exist. We’ve always striven to make the site as professional as it can be, which can be difficult (as many people will appreciate) when its a spare-time hobby, but we enjoy it – pure and simple. TiswasOnline today has more of a presence on Facebook and Twitter, just do a search and you’ll find it.

Mike Smith (Mr Sally James) – his words not mine!
The original Tiswas VHS tapes were re-issued on DVD in 2005

Things escalated in the early Autumn of 2006 when out of the blue we were contacted by Mike Smith (TV producer, record producer, and Sally’s husband!). Mike had Exec-Produced the original 1990s VHS releases, and supervised their recent Network DVD release. Mike was working with Chris Tarrant’s CTTV company to produce a bit of a Tiswas reunion show, and wanted to know whether we might be able to help them with finding ‘some of the kids who appeared on the show’. As you might expect we were more than happy to help – we knew that Mike had been a member of the forum almost since the beginning and so he was well aware of the fondness that still existed for the show, as well as all the people who were ever more frequently popping up on the forum to say “I was there!”. Indeed in the beginning the “I was there!” factor was going to be the main reason for the reunion programme. As it turned out the momentum was gathering for a proper reunion show and the project snowballed into the extravaganza that it became!

Tiswas Reunited in 2007

As production progressed we worked closely with the production team and were able to provide numerous clips for inclusion in the programme, which ITV wouldn’t otherwise have had. The full programmes aren’t yet officially ‘back in the archives’, however ITV are welcome to them whenever they like. Happily the members of the TiswasOnline team were offered the chance to attend the actual recording of Tiswas Reunited – needless to say we virtually snatched their hands off!

It Started with Swap Shop (apparently) – from December 2006

Oddly enough while the new Tiswas production was well under way, we got word that the BBC were also, co-incidentally, planning a reunion programme for Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. One of our team (perhaps I’ll save his blushes by not naming him we still like to maintain the old rivalry between the two programmes) was able to help in a small way with that production, and as a result 3 of the TiswasOnline team managed to get into the audience for the Swap Shop recording. Thus we found ourselves amongst a very small number who contributed and attended the recording of both the Swap Shop and Tiswas reunion shows!

The actual Tiswas cage… in Wolverhampton

Tiswas Reunited was recorded in April 2007 and broadcast 2 months later – on the day of transmission there was an explosion of interest in Tiswas, and the forum registered its highest ever number of readers. We never thought we would come this far in such a small space of time, but it never ceases to amaze us of the amount of interest the show generates.

As a Thank You for helping with Tiswas Reunited, we were given the sofas from the set as well as the piece-de-resistance: The Cage! The Cage continues to get good use every year in the annual Tiswas Night which takes place Pete Thomas’s local pub in Wellingborough! These nights feature many of the old Tiswas silly features and games, culminating in a free-for-all flan fight at the end (all flans are made to the correct original recipe too!). Tiswas is simple, silly, fun and we’re just happy that people still remember it.

“…and this was a custard pie…”
Living the dream – being flanned!


So that was how things were in 2010. As I said at the top of the page, I did also produce a series of repeats of Tiswas for Big Centre TV in 2015. These were broadcast via a special arrangement with ITV whereby we would source otherwise officially missing episodes of Tiswas and return them to ITV’s archive. As thanks for doing so, we could broadcast specially edited compilations of these individual shows. I’ll be writing more about this series, on my UpAndhappy! Productions page. Keep watching there…

And of course if YOU have any episodes of Tiswas which might be missing, do get in touch…