1973 BT (Before Tiswas)

It’s a popular misconception – Tiswas is commonly and incorrectly regarded as the first purpose-made children’s Saturday morning show on British television. It’s rather more forgiveable than the myth claiming Swap Shop started it all, but in reality, two other ITV efforts began months earlier.

Denim-clad pop expert

Strangely enough, it was Sally James who was broadcasting to an audience of kids on Saturday morning quite a while before Chris Tarrant & co.

Saturday Scene began in November 1973, being firmly centred on pop music. Being from that era, it was largely a showcase for glam rock. The show was produced by London Weekend Television (LWT), and had Sally James presenting from a tiny studio, usually chatting with stars of the day, like David Cassidy and Alvin Stardust.

Like other Saturday morning TV shows, it was largely a linking device for smaller shows, such as Walt Disney cartoons, Gerry Anderson’s Joe 90, episodes of Tarzan and Junior Police 5.

One crucial ingredient was Granada’s 45 (aka Rock On With 45), hosted by Radio 1’s Emperor Rosko, and later, David ‘Kid’ Jensen. This show had aired in a few regions earlier in the year.

Like the ‘parent’ show Saturday Scene, 45 concentrated on pop music, albeit bands that, arguably, didn’t have a very strong profile. LWT created a similar show in 1975, called Supersonic, fronted by Mike Mansfield.

Supersonic was initially aimed at weekday afternoons, but then became part of the Saturday morning line-up by being the main feature on Saturday Scene.

In a foreshadowing of her career on Tiswas, Sally managed to record a tie-in album for Saturday Scene, in which she sang a song.

Superstonic Saturday Scene was the new name of the show from 1976, when LWT introduced Mike Mansfield’s element into it.

Confusingly, in 1977, Yorkshire Television’s first and only foray into children’s Saturday morning television was also called Saturday Scene, presented by Mark Curry, but the show was no relation to LWT’s effort.

Space invader

Saturday Scene began two months earlier than Tiswas, but it wasn’t the first purpose-made children’s Saturday morning show on British television. The honour goes to Orbit, which only aired in Wales and the west of England regions from ITV franchise HTV.

The conceit was host Alan Taylor fronting the show from his spaceship, orbiting around Earth. His co-host was an alien puppet called Chester, which resembled a green worm.

Alan was known to viewers of Wales and the west, having started a television career with former ITV station TWW in 1959, before moving to successor HTV.

Orbit was clearly made on a small budget. Alan’s presenting style was that of a ‘zany uncle’, wandering around the tiny spaceship set, carring out maintenance duties and reading out letters – mostly birthday greetings – from Earth-based viewers.