The first Saturday morning kids’ TV shows in the UK

It doesn’t matter what Noel Edmonds likes to claim, Swap Shop (first transmitted 2nd October 1976) certainly was not the first purpose-made Saturday morning children’s show on British television. Tiswas had preceded that by over two and a half years on the 5th January 1974.

While Tiswas is fondly remembered and cited as THE Saturday morning TV show to watch in the 1970s and early 1980s, it too cannot lay claim to this title.

Let’s take a look at the kids’ shows which came before Tiswas’s existence. Who knows, this information could very well win you a pub quiz one day?

A look at some of the first Saturday morning children's television shows in the UK

Saturday Scene

It’s remarkable to consider Sally James on a Saturday morning show other than Tiswas, but yes, this is her pre-flan-flinging stint as a TV presenter. London Weekend Television decided to put together a show centred around pop music in 1973.

These shows were typically pre-recorded, and like Tiswas and other Saturday morning efforts, Saturday Scene would break up the presentation with inserts such as imported cartoons and serials. The first edition, airing on 3rd November 1973, had lined up quite a few of these components: 

  • Joe 90 – reruns of Gerry Anderson’s sci-fi puppet series
  • Hanna-Barbera’s The Amazing Chan And The Chan Clan, which feels like a cross between Scooby Doo and Josie And The Pussycats
  • A London version of Junior Police Five, a children’s version of ATV-originated Police Five, fronted by the same presenter, Shaw Taylor
  • The Partridge Family, early 1970s American sitcom about a musically-talented family.
  • The 1960s Tarzan series, with Ron Ely playing the lead

Much of the above had been regularly shown as part of LWT’s Saturday morning schedules in the preceding months before Saturday Scene existed. Tiswas viewers would certainly be familiar with the Tarzan adventures. It seems that the serial had certainly made its airing around the ITV regions throughout the 1970s.

Saturday Scene
Sally James presenting a 1975 edition of Saturday Show

In these early days, Sally would be interviewing pop stars of the day in a rather small studio at LWT’s Kent House on South Bank. She’d establish quite a rapport with the personalities appearing in the singles chart. I could speculate that her husband, Mike Smith, a talent agent in the recording industry, might have helped improve a few connections there.

The show was initially restricted to Thames/LWT’s coverage area. On 6th September 1975, LWT launched another show about pop music, called Supersonic. This can be regarded as an attempt to rival the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, with live performances in the studio from chart acts.

Supersonic was aimed at appearing within the Saturday morning schedules for the station and was picked up by some other regions (Anglia, Border, Grampian, Tyne-Tees, Ulster and Yorkshire) for Thursday afternoons. A few more regions then came to transmit it, also outside of Saturday mornings. By 1976, LWT had shifted it to Saturday evenings in their schedule.

Why am I bringing up this show here? Well, it would have a small impact on Saturday Scene, ‘merging’ with it in late 1976 under the title of Supersonic Saturday Scene. The two segments pretty much continued in their own way from their own studios, although Sally would occasionally visit the Supersonic studio to interview guests. In practice though, Saturday Scene remained as the linking strand of LWT Saturday mornings and Supersonic would be one of the components of it.

It was all change on 3rd September 1977, as Sally James presented her last Saturday Scene in London. She would up sticks as she had won a contract with ATV to co-present the fourth series of their Saturday morning show on the 10th. Yeah, I think you know what I’m referring to. Also joining her on the roster was Jim Davidson, plus the show was now reaching outside of the ATV and HTV regions, thanks to interest from Anglia and Border.

Meanwhile LWT had decided to jettison Saturday Scene and immediately replace it with a child-fronted effort called Our Show. Among the presenters was a teenaged Nicholas Lyndhurst.


Orbit, HTV's Saturday morning show
Alan Taylor, the host of HTV Saturday morning show Orbit, with puppet alien, Chester.

While Saturday Scene had a headstart on Tiswas, HTV’s Orbit would precede both these shows. Only broadcast to the station’s coverage area, Wales and the west of England, this Saturday morning show had TV presenter/comedy performer Alan Taylor at the heart of action.

The premise was that Alan was up in an orbiting spaceship, accompanied by an alien called Chester. This was a green felt puppet that resembled a caterpillar, poking out of a conveniently placed hole in the spaceship set. In reality, a small studio at HTV West’s Bristol HQ.

Like Chris Tarrant was for ATV, Cardiff-born Alan Taylor could be seen as an ‘odd job man’ for HTV. He had been a continuity announcer for ITV station TWW (Television Wales & West) back in 1959. When that franchise lost out to Harlech (later styled as HTV) in 1968, he joined this new station and was seen in early editions of Paint Along With Nancy. He fronted the HTV version of Mr & Mrs, plus he had a presenting stint on quiz shows such as Three Little Words and Try For Ten.

Orbit was likely created due to Alan’s past experience in presenting a birthday slot aimed at child viewers in the HTV area, called Tinker And Taylor. Viewer interaction on Orbit was a focal point, although not through telephones but via the less sophisticated form of writing in letters.

While Orbit is not the first purpose-made Saturday morning show for kids on British television, it’s certainly the first to use the exotic idea of space travel as its premise. This would be echoed through the years on subsequent Saturday morning efforts such as Central’s Saturday Starship; Tyne Tees’s Get Fresh! and the BBC’s Parallel 9. It also felt familiar when the Children’s ITV strand began in 1983 with a presenter apparently sitting in the cockpit of a rocketship.

Each edition of Orbit filled a thirty minute slot, usually following on from a showing of Sesame Street. The Welsh author Justin Lewis reminisced on his memories of watching Orbit as a youngster on this edition of obscure nostalgia podcast Looks Unfamiliar. One thing that really sticks in viewers’ minds is the absolutely strange electronic noises that made up the theme tune. That’s if you can even consider it a theme tune, because it’s really quite random.

Orbit’s last edition was right at the end of 1975. HTV had decided to take on LWT’s Supersonic from the start of 1976. HTV  wouldn’t be involved again in Saturday morning output until the multi-region series Get Fresh gave opportunities to minor and medium sized ITV stations to broadcast live on the network.

HTV would embrace Tiswas, in a partial way, starting from 2nd April 1977. A twenty-five minute portion of each of the last eight editions of Tiswas’s third series would be shown within HTV’s compilation strand Ten On Saturday.

TV historian Aidan Lunn has pointed out Orbit debuted on 29th September 1973. This places it before Saturday Scene and after Ron And Friends. If you’re wondering what that is, well, read on.

Ron And Friends

It’s my belief that this programme is the first ever purpose-made Saturday morning children’s show on British television. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to come by any evidence of it even existing!

Okay, Ron And Friends definitely existed and began on 6th January 1973. That’s 364 days before Tiswas hit the airwaves in the midlands. Sadly, we haven’t been able to find any footage of it whatsoever. The only glimpse of what this show looked like, is a scanned black-and-white photograph scanned in from a 1974 copy of Look-In by Stuart Kenny of TV-Ark.

Understandably, the photo has raised eyebrows since we included it in an earlier blog. There were quite a few comments on social media about the sight of a rather ominous clown standing with a rather realistic Rupert The Bear, as a very young girl looks oblivious to these people. It could be said that it looks like something out of Inside No 9. I personally think the image would be a rather fitting cover for Aphex Twin’s Come To Daddy single.

Anyway, the clown – Kenny The Clown – is one of the show’s regular characters, alongside the chaotic Potty Professor and country bumpkin Simple Dimple. These would be the ‘Friends’ in the title. We’re not sure how it included a look at music, cooking and careers, but that’s what was promised by the producers.

The show was only broadcast in northern Scotland, produced in Grampian Television’s Aberdeen studios. County-Durham-born actor and lecturer Ronald Sawdon moved to this station in the 1970s after a stint at the BBC. The show was his brainchild and he was the ‘Ron’ in the title.

Ron And Friends
This black-and-white coulrophobia-inducing photo featured in Look-In magazine seems to be the only trace of Ron And Friends, which is considered to be the first purpose-made Saturday morning children's TV programme on British television

A more prolific offering of Ronald’s TV output for children would be the schools programme Mathman, which got a network showing. It was devised by Ronald using similarly wacky characters to Ron And Friends, with a quirky inventor, his robot Mathman and a witch or two acting as villains. This began in 1971, quite a while prior to Ron And Friends, and ran for four series, finishing in 1977.

Ron And Friends would air its last edition right at the end of June 1974. Grampian would once again delve into producing a regional-only Saturday morning programme from 30th October 1976, entitled Scene On Saturday. Tiswas would end up taking over the Saturday morning airwaves of northern Scotland from late 1979, just after the national ITV strike was resolved.

Misconceptions about BBC shows

In the introduction we laid out how The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop was certainly not the first purpose-made Saturday morning children’s TV show on British television. It could be said that it is the BBC’s first attempt.

However, some of Swap Shop’s predecessors on the BBC have been incorrectly labelled as Saturday morning shows. It’s time to eliminate the confusion!

First off, some low-hanging fruit. The direct predecessor to Swap Shop is Z-Shed. It’s arguably the show that first featured Noel Edmonds talking live to young viewers on television, but it wasn’t even screened on Saturdays.

Z-Shed began in June 1975 on Wednesday afternoons, airing ten editions across the UK on BBC1. It was aimed at a teenage audience, feeling a little more serious than Swap Shop’s antics with Posh Paws and Keith Chegwin.

Prior to that, Outa-Space! was a quirky offering on Saturdays for a child audience for seven editions beginning in February 1973. Radio Times said you could “climb aboard for a journey through time and space”. Oh, and there’d be no sign of Noel Edmonds, which I consider a bonus.

Outa Space! was written and produced by BBC producer Paul Ciani, who had earlier worked on Jackanory and would go onto produce Rentaghost in 1976. Writer and broadcaster Tim Worthington described it as “a show ‘presented’ by a pair of disembodied alien hands at the controls of a spaceship” on his blog post about BBC’s Saturday programmes for children in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was a compendium of quite a few items. The two main staples were Star Galaxy (a few minutes of a variety act, such as Ali Bongo or the Tanger Troupe) and Vidar And The Ice Monster. This latter item was very much in the vein of Jackanory, with the camera panning and zooming on illustrations as a team of voice-over artists (John Davis; Alex Forbes; Jennifer Hill; Nigel Pegram and James Warwick) narrated the ongoing saga each week. The ‘ice monster’ was a dinosaur-like puppet that was initially depicted as terrifying but as the story went on, human explorers eventually realised it was actually harmless and really friendly.

BBC Genome listing for Outa Space!
BBC Genome's information on Outa Space, a spiritual sequel to Zokko!

Again, we turn to the obscure nostalgia podcast Looks Unfamiliar, which sheds some light on Outa-Space!, where sci-fi TV writer Paul Cornell reminisced about viewing it as a child.

Other parts of Outa Space! were comedy and musical interludes. All of this was pre-recorded, with each of the shows airing for 25 minutes from 12:05 or 12:20 just before Grandstand. Those of you paying attention will have now spotted why it can’t be considered as a Saturday morning show. Yes, starting after the noon epoch literally makes it an afternoon show. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, so send your complaints into Father Time.

The logo for Zokko!
BBC1's Zokko! A bizarre show of random entertainment that began in 1968.
Made for children's television, this is BBC's Zokko!
The strange introduction of a series 2 edition of Zokko.

Outa Space! was actually a sequel of sorts to Paul Ciani’s earlier Saturday effort, Zokko!, which first aired in late 1968 for a series of 13 episodes. After a repeat showing of that series on Wednesday afternoons in 1969, another series would be commissioned for Saturdays from late 1969.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch some of the surviving recordings of the second series and it’s a truly surreal experience. The producer’s mission was to serve up an ‘electronic comic’. By Tim Worthington’s accounts, the first series started off in a bizarre manner, being fronted by a pinball machine.

Yes, Zokko! prided itself on not being fronted by a conventional human presenter. All of it was pre-recorded and a lot of it was very voice-driven. You can see how that led on to Outa Space!

From what I’ve seen, it’s a bit like Sesame Street with a little splash of Martin And Rowan’s Laugh-In and a bit of a Monty Python vibe. Overall though, it’s largely like Jackanory. Cheesy old jokes are delivered over very brief and barely-animated cartoons, like ‘knock knock’ efforts. Film clips are thrown in and one such recurring source was Disney’s Fantasia. Plus, there’d be specially-filmed acts from the world of variety and circuses (Ali Bongo got at least one paycheque out of this), just like the Star Galaxy feature of Outa Space! The Jackanory-esque story in series 1 is the sci-fi serial Skayn, which would return for some of series 2 before being replaced by Susan Starr of the Circus.

The show is quite disorientating and a lot of these quickfire items are punctuated with the show’s logo and the announcer shouting something like “It’s Zokko!”, followed by an over-the-top claim in the manner of an American infomercial. No item seems to go on for longer than five minutes. In essence, you could say this show is the unsung parent of Tiswas!

Alas, the same technicality that disqualified Outa-Space will also apply here. Not a single edition of Zokko! aired before 12 noon, therefore it can’t be considered as a Saturday morning show!

One more throw of the dice? Going back earlier that year, we have Whoosh! This aired for 11 episodes from 30th March. While this wasn’t produced by Paul Ciani, it very likely set the ‘miscellaneous items thrown together’ template for Zokko! And Outa-Space! Like those shows, this was proudly surreal, as hinted at by Radio Times’s description: “a place where anything can happen.”

A crucial difference though, Whoosh! did have conventional presenters on screen. The team consisted of Play School presenter Rick Jones, dancer Dawn Macdonald and former child actor Jonathan Collins. The whole thing was produced by Play School’s Cynthia Felgate and Peter Ridsdale-Scott. All episodes are believed to wiped, making it truly obscure.

Radio Times set the scene with the first episode: “This week a mysterious map takes the three off on a search which proves successful – even if the result isn’t quite what they imagined.” Intrigued? Presenter Rick Jones has a hazy recollection of the setting involving a lot of “pneumatic delivery tubes everywhere” when quoted by the Curious British Telly blog about this programme. It sounds like a cross between The Prisoner and Play School.

Now, is this really a purpose-made Saturday morning television show for children or does it fall afoul of our strict edict to begin before 12 noon? Let’s do a check. The first ten episodes start after midday, but the final edition has a start time of 11:35! It even finishes five minutes before that crucial noon epoch!

Could we consider this to be the first purpose-made Saturday morning show for kids on British television? Well, the pedants’ argument is that it’s only one show that qualifies and that makes it just a one-off, doesn’t it?

We’ll leave it up to you. And just to muddy the waters further, we return to HTV’s Alan Taylor…

Tinker And Taylor

Orbit was covered much earlier in this piece and I cited presenter Alan Taylor’s time at the Welsh/west ITV franchises of HTV and TWW, where he fronted a range of regional-only shows.

One of those was Tinker And Taylor on TWW, which seems to be an announcer-and-puppet slot for announcing younger viewers’ birthdays, like Westward’s Gus Honeybun; Anglia’s B.C. and Channel’s Puffin’s Pla(i)ce. The website TV Room states this show lasted for ten minutes. and WalesOnline mentions 4,000 viewer letters were submitted each week. Television archivists Transdiffusion have a recording of the theme tune.

Now, was this shown on Saturday mornings? Scouring Google, there are a few recollections within forum discussions stating that it did. That kind of source isn’t fully reliable. Normally, I like to check old regional and national newspapers for TV listings as a primary source for schedule information. Looking at TV Times is somewhat helpful but you have to keep in mind the magazines were printed six weeks in advance and not everything they stated would be true because of schedule changes.

With Tinker And Taylor airing on the TWW franchise, it’s certainly a pre-HTV programme, so very likely produced at some point before May 1968. Alas, 1960s newspapers are harder to track down than those of the 1970s, but we are looking into the TiswasOnline coffers to see if we can get a subscription to an online newspaper archive. It’s always been my aim to catalogue everything on the ITV network’s Saturday morning schedules during Tiswas’s era, after all.

Also, we’re not helped by some online musings which incorrectly confuse the show with ATV’s Tingha And Tucker, a weekday-and-Sunday show with a presenter and two koala bear puppets.

The UK Game Show website, on its page about Alan Taylor, states Tinker And Taylor aired in an afternoon slot. That would rule it out as being the first purpose-made Saturday morning children’s television show on British television.

A 1960s newspaper listing given to us by television historian Aidan Lunn shows Tinker And Taylor aired after 12noon. I think we can safely say it’s technically not a Saturday morning show, but of course, there could be that anomaly we saw with Whoosh! – where one edition did hit the airwaves before lunchtime. For now though, we consider it not truly part of Saturday morning television canon.


Ron And Friends could well be the first purpose-made Saturday morning children’s television series on British television, a sight that you’d need to be in northern Scotland to see, as it aired on Grampian from January 1973. The 11:35am showing of the final edition of Whoosh! on BBC1 back on 22nd June 1968 is certainly an earlier example of a purpose-made children’s television on a Saturday morning, even if it was likely intended to air past midday.

Tinker And Taylor can’t be fully ruled out either, so really, there’s no firm conclusion yet. TiswasOnline has made some informed guesses on television history right from the website’s launch in 2004, but there have been times we’ve got it wrong.

I’ll likely update this article when I know the exact time Tinker And Taylor aired. In the meantime, I’ll be hunting down the back of the sofa to find the sixty odd quid for a subscription to