As an actress of some experience (including a part in The Railway Children amongst countless TV dramas), former ballet student, Sally James, became Britain’s best known female presenter of a Saturday morning TV show.
Before being plucked for flan-target duties on Tiswas, Sally had already experienced early rises on a Saturday morning to interview pop stars live on television.
She had cut her teeth on ‘Saturday Scene’ a Saturday morning kids TV show made by London Weekend Television, broadcast in the South East region.
Saturday Scene was the first Saturday morning kids TV program, even pre-dating the inaugral Tiswas by several weeks.
Sally left LWT for ATV in the middle of 1977, to be the first regular female presenter of Tiswas, anchoring the show with Chris Tarrant.
Chris was initially shell-shocked by ATV’s decision to include a woman as presenter, as Tiswas was quite a “boys’ club” at the time. However, due to Sally’s talent, and her good looks, she won over audiences, and importantly, Chris himself.
Aside from being a magnet for water, pies, beans and other mucky delights inflicted on her by the other presenters, Sally’s roles on the show had her interviewing many famous musical acts; Elvis Costello, Sting, The Clash, Motorhead, The Pretenders to name some of the headliners.
The fame of Tiswas propelled Sally to the forefront of the nation’s conciousness. Her tight clothing gave dads a reason to forego the usual lie-in on a Saturday morning. Whilst many a prepubescent male had their first crush on the big-haired denim-clad hostess!
It was bad news for any wild-eyed Sally fan once she tied the knot with record producer Mike Smith. They first met at a studio back in the ‘Saturday Scene’ days when she sang on an album connected with the show.
Mike himself did have a hand in the Tiswas success story as he was assigned to manage Chris, Sally, Bob and John when they formed the Four Bucketeers, helping to produce their album.
When Chris, Lenny, Bob and John departed the show at its peak in early 1981, Sally was left with another series to begin later on in the year with a brand new team.
As this series went along, Tiswas viewing veterans became annoyed at the lack of the familiar faces, with only Sally there from the ‘golden age.’ This affected ratings a little, although the show had now reached a bigger potential audience, with remaining, more far-flung, ITV regions such as Tyne Tees broadcasting ATV’s flan-flinging antics for the first time.
For Sally though, she had given in her notice in, and news had reached the national press in 1982, Tiswas’ final year, that she was quitting. The final show of this series was billed as Sally’s last ever Tiswas, and there was an air of uncertainty about Tiswas itself. Even the other presenters remarked on-air that they were unsure whether Tiswas would be returning, although it was known backstage that Central (who had taken over from ATV in running the midlands ITV operations) had decided to pull the plug. Whether this is due to the absence of Sally’s dad-attracting charms, we’ll never know, but it wasn’t quite the end of Tiswas…
During Tiswas’ final series, Chris Tarrant, John Gorman, Lenny Henry and Bob Carolgees had presided over ‘O.T.T.’, a “late night Tiswas” with an adult appeal in early 1982, with up and coming alternative comedienne Helen Atkinson-Wood performing in a Sally-esque role. This live experimental series took a lot of heavy flak from the critics, and Central bowed to pressure by ensuring that ‘Saturday Stayback’ – something of a follow-up to ‘O.T.T.’ – was prerecorded in advance and vetted by the powers-that-be before transmission.
Even fewer Tiswas faces were involved in ‘Stayback’, with just Chris and Bob on screen, and John Gorman contributing to writing duties. However, in the third show, in a brief magician sketch, Sally James was reunited with Chris Tarrant, with little fanfare. This was short-lived though, just a quick one-off performance, with a brief appearance at the end as part of the pub crowd cheering on the resident band.
Sally began Unismart.co.uk with a friend, making and selling school uniforms in her native Surrey – the business continues to go from strength to strength today.
Sally presented UltraQuiz and a nightly chat show for the BBC 6.55 Special. She co-hosted the first series with David Soul and the second with Paul Coia. Mike, still in the media industry, keeps in touch with Tiswas alumni, and was the executive producer of the three Tiswas compilation videos released in the 1990s.and was the Producer of the TISWAS REUNITED TV Show in 2007.