In the strictly class-divided UK of the 20th century, television (like cars, flying and abroad) was made by the middle classes for people with money. As became obvious when the BBC kids’ show Blue Peter taught you how to make a sun hat for your pony.
By the 70s, though, post-war Britain was creaking under the weight of suppressed frustration. When punk began to hit the airwaves, shouting about anarchy and challenging power, the Independent Television (ITV) network had already started doing some of that via TISWAS.
Its acronymic title explained its mission statement – Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile. It was for people like us. Helmed in main by Chris Tarrant and Sally James, the show was entirely unlike anything the BBC offered.
For example, they threw custard pies, water and fake rubble at the biggest rock stars of the day.
Some were more game than others – Roger Daltrey and Kenney Jones got soaked playing wallflowers in the Compost Corner feature, got gunged between that section and their “serious interview,” and then soaked again as they sang The Bucket Of Water Fan Club song.
Iron Maiden met “another Iron Maiden” in the form of a deliberately bad impersonator of then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Plant, who was introduced as “a former farmer who used to punch cows, but gave it up because the cows started punching back,” played and lost Pass The Pie with Cozy Powell and two children from the audience.
Gillan’s bassist, John McCoy, introduced future Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy as his son before being pied, and musician Toyah Willcox performed a spoof of her hit single It’s A Mystery in which she begged to be attacked by the Phantom Flan Flinger. She got her wish.
By the time TISWAS ended its eight-year run in 1982, everyone who was anyone (and, as Tarrant once said, went on to become no one) had been pied and soaked in that Birmingham studio.
But it wasn’t quite over: a 25th anniversary reunion show took place in 2007, complete with guest spots from Plant and Status Quo – who were already suspicious by the time Tarrant asked the audience to give them a “big TISWAS welcome.”
In the 21st century, with yes-men and entourages and people talking about art while they think about money, it must be asked: Phantom Flan Flinger, where are you now that we need you?