Thirty years ago this month, OTT, a sort of adult-oriented version of the popular anarchic kids show Tiswas, hit our screens. In those days we only had three television channels to choose from and the fourth was on its way. All the Tiswas regulars were involved: Chris Tarrant, Sally James, Lenny Henry, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog. Tiswas attracted a loyal following of young adult males who, hungover from a Friday night’s heavy drinking, liked nothing better than drooling at Sally James or laughing like drains at the antics of the Phantom Fan Flinger (who was he?) and the Four Bucketeers.
With Tiswas, Tarrant thought that it would be an easy transition from messy kid’s stuff to television adulthood. It was not to be. The programme was axed at the end of March after only 12 shows. OTT featured, among other things, a regular stand-up spot with Alexei Sayle. He was the only good thing in what was a truly forgettable show. What worked as an anarchic children’s show fared miserably as late night entertainment. There was some obvious objectification of women and some blatant sexism in the programme.
What is striking about this clip of Sayle is the quip he makes about the riots that happened the year before. “I’m Willie Whitelaw and I’m a tortoise” exclaims Sayle. He also mentions unemployment, which hit the magic three million in January 1982. This week the figure given for the total alleged number of unemployed was 2.68 million. I say “alleged” because I suspect that the figure is much higher. Sayle left the programme by show 9. Ironically, Bernard Manning would appear in the final show.
1982 was the year that alternative comedy got more political. We’re overdue a revival. Enjoy.