Big Centre Television Tiswas

Putting Tiswas back into your Telly

Chris Tarrant and Sally James at the Tiswas desk during 1980 in the classic cartoon set

Ever since Tiswas ended in 1982 I had hoped to somehow see it again but as time went on I came around to the idea that I probably wouldn’t. TV programmes have their time and then they pass into history, that’s just the way it works. And apart from a brief reunion skit during the ITV Telethon ’88 throughout the rest of the 1980s you had no choice but to remember old TV shows with fondness and enjoy the new stuff. But then something cool started happening, some old TV show began to be released on ‘sell-thru’ video – this is when video companies started selling their tapes through high street shops, where before they’d only been available to rent. You could buy some, but the prices were so high that it really wasn’t worth it (and only very occasionally would the video rental stores have a sale).

Lee and Nikki Bannister sitting in the iconic position at the Tiswas desk!

So you could pop into Woolies or Smiths and pick up a pre-recorded VHS tape of a film or TV show for around a tenner. Time went on, and more became available until in 1992 the unexpected happened – I was in the Virgin Megastore in the centre of Birmingham one day and I spotted a familiar orange and black zigzagged logo appear on one of their screens. It was Tiswas, and I was watching scenes from the show which was now apparently out on video. Until then I’d been faithfully buying each tape from my other beloved show Doctor Who and I knew there was enough of a following to justify these continuing… but Tiswas? I was the only one I knew (!) who really remembered and missed Tiswas so to see it on the screen and therefore on the shelf ready to buy was nothing short of astonishing.

So I bought it. This was ‘The Best of the Best Bits’, in a blue cover with photos of the old team proudly displayed. It turned out to be a 52 minute compilation of sketches pulled together from all manner of video sources. Some clips were evidently from the original master tapes, some were quite obviously from home recorded video cassettes. And that’s how I discovered that many of the shows didn’t exist. The notion of ‘missing episodes’ of TV shows wasn’t new to me – I am a Doctor Who fan, and over the years it’s become well known how many of those episodes are officially ‘lost’ and therefore its become a very big story when any are recovered.

I thought it was sad that a lot of Tiswas was missing, but then again it wasn’t such a surprise because it wasn’t exactly all that highly regarded after it finished… or was it? They’d put out a VHS release hadn’t they, so there must have been a market for it. During the week after I bought the tape, I watched it over and over again, every single day and I loved it. I hoped against hope that they’d be able to release some more – and they did! ‘More of the Best Bits’ with its yellow cover followed later in 1992.

I later discovered that the Tiswas VHS releases had sold very well, and had been high in the retail charts during their immediate release period. Some people were even likening Channel 4‘s new morning programme ‘The Big Breakfast’ to the same spirit of Tiswas, so much so that the 3rd and final VHS release ‘Tiswas Comedy Capers’ with its red white and blue cover (below) was released almost as a tie-in to The Big Breakfast, with a similar logo style and direct comparisons on the cover.

And then the VHS releases stopped.

The third original Tiswas VHS from 1993.

I had 3×50 minute tapes to watch over and over again and that was great… but I’d always thought that if there’d been enough interest to release these, surely there was scope for some repeats? As the 1990s moved on, more and more satellite and cable channels were appearing, and of course a number of these were now showing the old programmes too – such as UK Gold, which rapidly became my favourite (we received it through Cable Midlands/TeleWest), and its so sad that UK Gold has now, as ‘Gold’, become a back to back ‘Only Fools and Horses’ channel. Now don’t get me wrong, I adore OFAH but to sacrifice all of the other good stuff on the channel, really rankled, but I digress…

I guess I wouldn’t really have expected Tiswas to appear on UK Gold seeing as that channel only showed BBCtv and Thames Television material, but sadly, none of the Cable or Satellite channels ever seemed to consider showing Tiswas. Even the Carlton branded channels, which after 1998 would have owned the rights to show it, seemed to be ignoring it. Though I imagine it was mostly because of a number of factors:

1. The lack of available material – as it turns out, the 3 ‘Best Bits’ compilations really were the best of what was left ‘in the archives’ at that time. I once took part in an interview about ‘missing’ episodes of Tiswas – have a read here.

2. The programme’s structure – obviously Tiswas was designed as a 2-3 hour live kids show, so there was a lot of material that would have to have been removed (pop videos, film clips, cartoons etc…) in order to reduce it to the stuff the audience would want to see. This would have required extra budget which wasn’t available.

3. Picture quality – as we’d seen from a lot of the material on the 3 VHS releases, a lot of material had to be sourced from home-recorded tapes and though we the fans didn’t mind so much, it was really the ‘done’ thing in those days.

So Tiswas never appeared on Cable or Satellite.

First Tiswas DVD featuring all 3 of the original VHS releases.

Then in 2001 I spotted a small article in a newspaper claiming that Carlton were finally looking into re-running Tiswas compilations on Saturday nights and were ‘in negotiations’ with the original performers etc.. Sadly, again, nothing more came of this, but I remained convinced that this was such a good idea. The ‘lad’ culture of that time would have lapped this up, to say nothing of the fans who had obviously bought all of the old VHS releases.

Over the following couple of years I managed to get hold of a few original Tiswas episodes though online auctions, then in 2004 I became a founder member of TiswasOnline, and in 2006 the 3 VHS tapes were finally re-released onto DVD by Network Distributing. Although by now, even the master copy of the original second video release had been lost – and the DVD had to substitute it for a copy of the VHS!

The Tiswas Reunited special from 2007 – I’m in the audience for this and it was terrific!

By 2007, the Tiswas Reunited programme which TiswasOnline (including me) had helped with – see again my interview about Tiswas tapes here – , had sparked a new interest in Tiswas and the accompanying extended DVD release had been just as popular as the original video releases had been in the 1990s that it proved to me that there was still great interest in the old show.

I even made my own promotional radio programme to tie-in with the broadcast. You can read about that and listen to it HERE.

A couple of years after that came ‘The Tiswas Album’ on CD (find it HERE or HERE), which was a compilation of contemporary songs that had featured on Tiswas plus a couple of tracks from ‘The Four Bucketeers’ album (‘The Bucket of Water Song’ and Matthew Butler‘s rock classic ‘Bright Eyes’) – again this sold very well indeed.

And then it finally happened.

By 2015 I had secured my job with Big Centre Television and although I was not initially any part of the programming decision making, I reasoned that I might be able to see how feasible it was to look into repeating Tiswas. Obviously I realised the hurdles that would have to be overcome and so I didn’t hold out much hope… but then one day Chris Perry – the original station manager – came up to me, and matter-of-factly said that he did indeed want me to sort out a series of Tiswas repeats… and that was that.

I was gobsmacked.

This was exactly what I had wanted to happen for around 25 years – putting Tiswas back on proper TV – and I was being asked to do it! ME! The little kid from Tipton who adored all of the silliness back in the late 70s, and had never let go of it. This all happened in March 2015, soon after the station first went on air, and the air-date was planned to be ‘in the autumn’ which sounds like a nice long time, but the more I thought about it – it really wasn’t.

Obviously stuff like this needs organising, its not as if you can simply grab any old tape, press play and hope for the best! But to cut a very long story short, we came to an agreement with ITV (who through various acquisitions now owned the whole of the original ATV & Central companies, and therefore the broadcast rights for Tiswas) whereby if we could source otherwise previously missing editions of Tiswas, they would allow Big Centre to run a series of edited compilations, as long as we then ‘returned’ the complete original programmes to them for the ITV archive.

It almost seemed too simple, but it was explained to me that Kaleidoscope – the archive preservation group initially behind the original incarnation of Big Centre TV – had recovered and returned so much ITV material over the years, plus Big Centre TV had paid so much money to run a series of Crossroads repeats, that ITV were very amenable to this kind of arrangement. Amazingly it was a win-win situation.

Virtually straight away I came up with the title “Tiswas Pies Again” which just seemed to fit, and we set to work.

OK, so what material can we use?

“Matthew Butler: Used to be singing rabbit”

As I mentioned above, over the years both I and the rest of the TiswasOnline group had gathered together through tape-trading and the odd online purchase a fairly decent collection of Tiswas episodes, although in most cases these were multi-generation copies of tapes from a ‘friend-of-a-friend’. And although watchable, the quality really wasn’t brilliant for a lot of them and sadly not really of the quality that could be easily broadcast.

Luckily one of the team was Matthew Butler – the little boy who had sung a version of ‘Bright Eyes’ from ‘Watership Down’ had the perfect source of episodes – his own top quality off-air tapes of every single show he’d ever appeared on, plus a few others. And they were mostly complete shows!

At this point, lets have a chat with Matt in an interview I recorded with him for my Big Centre Magazine programme in October 2015…

So as you can see, we had Matt’s tapes and by this point I had elected to produce ‘Tiswas Pies Again’ as an external production as there was no way in the world I’d be able to do the required editing work alongside my day job.

The programme would be ‘An UpAndHappy! Production’ (my own TV production brand, following on from my ‘UpAndHappy!’ radio show) and I roped in my friends from ‘’ Stephen Thwaites and Peter Raven who have their own professional editing set-ups, working as ‘Studio 1744’. At a similar time, Steve and Pete were working with Network DVD in remastering the original ATVTingha and Tucker Club’ programmes for its first DVD release (still available here).

The plan was to digitize all of Matt’s original VHS tapes and do as much clean-up work as possible to improve the picture and sound quality. These would be ‘remastered’ in full, ready to return to ITV, and these properly remastered programmes would be used as the basis for these new repeat compilations. Both Pete and Steve had done extensive clean-up work on the original film inserts for our DVD releases of ‘From ATV Land in Colour’ and ‘From Headlines to Tight-Lines: The Story of ATV Today’ so they certainly knew what they were doing.

End credits showing who did each show – Steve put this one together, and the reference to ‘Studio 1744’ for Post Production, is Steve and Pete’s own production branding.

We worked out that we could put together a full series of 12 compilation episodes using the bulk of Matt’s material plus some other missing Tiswas sections from the collection of the late BBC WM presenter Ed Doolan. So Steve and Pete split the editing straight down the middle. I was overall Producer of the series, and Steve and Pete were the Directors of their individual episodes.

We chose to base each compilation predominantly on one original show and we kept it as simple as possible. We immediately stripped out anything we knew we couldn’t use such as the cartoons, film clips, music videos and anything else not directly ‘Tiswas’. Then the remaining material was simply tightened up to run for 48 minutes (a ‘television hour’) and maneuvered to fit within the set-timed segments between the ad breaks. In this way we could mostly retain the flow and feel of each original programme, complete with any running jokes and that week’s star guests and sketches etc…

Some artistic license had to be taken with some parts, such as if the end credits happened to run over a pop video. Although we could quite easily have broadcast the pop video, I took the decision that things like this should be expendable in order to include more actual ‘Tiswas’ stuff. Therefore we’d simply re-lay the original credits word-for-word in the exact original style over another usable section of the show. On the whole, each compilation programme was a faithful ‘telescoped’ version of an original edition of Tiswas.

Steve and Pete worked on the remastering and editing process over the spring and summer months and it was wonderful to see the programme coming together. For my part, I put together a generic title sequence to use on all the shows (based on the classic ‘Saturday Is Tiswas Day’ sequence, along with my own ‘stereo’ version of the theme tune that I’d mixed to play on my UpAndHappy! Radio Show years beforehand). Pete took on the task of brilliantly re-animating the iconic slamming-together of the two halves of the Tiswas logo, newly-embellished with a splatting ‘Pies Again’ legend. It was necessary to do this because the original title sequences used a lot of film clips (including many Disney sequences) which we couldn’t use and in any case we simply wanted something unique to this series.


So the Summer of 2015 was a flurry of Tiswas production, and nobody knew a thing about it! The next step was to promote the series…

But that’ll be another story… (soon…ish)

This article, along with various others in my website are part of the wider story of Big Centre Television as seen from the perspective of the programmes I was making at the time. Most of the articles contain a video gallery of the original shows that I made.

I was with Big Centre Television from the very first day of production in January 2015 until the last of the original team were made redundant in November 2017 when the bulk of production and operations were being moved up to Leeds, the HQ of Made TV with whom Big Centre had merged in October 2016. Big Centre had a wonderful team all the way through, I miss them all and I remain really proud of what we ultimately achieved.

Contents (click an entry to go to that page)

  1. The Beginning
  2. Spring 2015 - An (Early) Day In The Life
  3. July/August 2015: Postbag
  4. Summer 2015 - Reading The Television News
  5. Summer 2015: Crossroads Check-In
  6. Summer 2015: Tiswas Pies Again! (new 8th July 2022)
  7. August 2015: The Story of Children's Television
  8. Bloopers and Behind the Scenes
  9. Autumn 2015: The Big Centre Magazine
  10. Winter 2015: The Midland – Weekend Edition
  11. Continuity - The Bits Between TV Programmes
  12. Spring/Summer 2016: The Big Magazine
  13. Autumn 2016 - Spring 2017: Weekend Magazine (Walsall)
  14. Promotional Trailers
  15. Summer 2017: Weekend Magazine (Birmingham)
  16. Autumn 2017: Community Noticeboard... and The End...

As time goes on, I'll be filling in some of the gaps as well as adding more to these existing parts of the story too. If there's anything missing, or you'd like me to talk about something in particular, send me a message on social media (see the very top or very bottom of this page) or contact me through the website.