Tiswas was a phenomenon, and it was with that vehicle for his anarchic sense of humour that Chris became a household name, and a cult TV hero to children and adults alike. “It came out of nowhere, and for me it was like manna from heaven. It took off and just went through the roof, becoming this huge cult programme. I suppose it was like being one of the Goodies, or the Python team, or the Not the Nine o’ Clock News lot, or whatever. It was great; we just came to know each other so well. I mean, Sally James is godmother to my kids and I’m godfather to one of hers. I see Lenny Henry quite a lot. John Gorman still lives around. Bob Carolgees is on the phone quite often. He’s another fishing nut!
“So we just went through this weird experience together, it was a bit like being in a band, we kind of grew together and saw all this huge public recognition. Yes, it was like being in a band – we were all young and pretty, and girls were swooning all over us. Seriously, God, it was hell!
“We used to do the road shows. The tours were like rock concerts and we sold out everywhere. It was fantastic. As soon as we finished a series about April, we would go straight on the road for about 30 nights, and that was brilliant. They were great days, and when I actually left, well, I just smelt of custard, my whole body smelt of custard, my car smelt of custard!”
Why did Chris leave Tiswas? After all, it really was an astonishing success.
“I never got fed up with it, I just felt it was time to move on. I wanted to get away from that children’s presenter thing because once you get stuck with that it is hard to shift it. Ant and Dec have managed it, Philip Schofield’s done it now – but it took him a long time. A lot of people sink without a trace. So we wanted to move on while we still could. I’m still very fond of Tiswas, and I have great memories of it.”
The move from children’s television took Chris a bit further than he had anticipated. In fact, for a while it took him away from television altogether.
“What happens is that there are some phone calls that completely change your life. The one about Tiswas was obviously one. It was like ‘we’re doing this little show on Saturday mornings; would you be interested?’ That completely changed the direction of my life. Then in 1984 I had a phone call from a radio station I was only vaguely aware of. It was Capital Radio in London and I was still working in the Midlands, so I didn’t really know it. I’d never done radio. I’d never been on radio. I’d never been in a radio station. I knew Kenny Everett quite well and I knew Aspel, but I thought, ‘I just do telly, that’s what I do’.
“I went down to do a pilot and I thought it was great: get a pile of records, witter on a bit between the songs, in the pub at 2 o’clock – fantastic. So I did the Sunday show for Capital Radio for about three months, called Lunday Sunchtime, and I thought it was a doddle.
“After a year, Nigel Walmsley, the boss there at Capital, said to me ‘We’re thinking of renewing your contract’. Now this would have been 1988. Nigel said that the first year had been very good. He said that they’d like me to do the breakfast show and that they were prepared to increase my salary. I asked how long a contract they had in mind and Nigel said that they’d like to do it the way they do in America – which meant that he wanted me to sign up for ten years. I said, ‘Nigel Walmsley, if you think I will still be doing the Capital Breakfast Show in 1998 you must be mad’. Well in actual fact I left in 2004. They could have saved themselves a fortune!”
Chris is very proud of his time at Capital. “I did seventeen years of it. It was a tough market and we continued to dominate. I loved it… I just hated getting out of bed.”
September 1998 saw the launch of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the innovative quiz show, which has raised Chris’s profile to heights that most TV presenters can only dream of. The show was an instant smash hit and quickly became the biggest British game show of all time. Surely this extra level of fame must have changed Chris.
“I don’t think it has affected me at all. People always say to Ingrid ‘Has all this success changed your husband’, and she says, ‘The problem with Tarrant is he hasn’t changed for twenty years!’ I think she says it in a warm way, but I’m sure there are bits of me that she would like to change.”
We have all done that thing where we shout at the television screen when the Millionaire contestant is stumped by an incredibly easy question. How does Chris restrain himself when faced with someone who seems unable to answer very simple questions?
“It’s my job, isn’t it – but inside I’m going, ‘you must know that, for Christ’s sake… for three hundred quid you must know that’. But then, sometimes a £300 question will come up and I’m thinking, ‘you poor sod, I haven’t got a clue either’! With me it would be something like computer stuff. My kids would know the answer, but I wouldn’t have a clue.
“The night that Judith Keppel won the first million, the next guy on had a situation like that. I’ve never forgotten this: he was a nice bloke, a young teacher, and at £100 his question was, ‘what must you not throw out with the bath water? Is it baby, potato peelings, shaving foam or the cat?’ and he looked at me and said, ‘I have no idea. I’ve never heard of this in my life and I really, really don’t know’. Well I pointed out that he had three lifelines, but he just didn’t want to use one of them on a £100 question. I told him, ‘Well if you get it wrong, mate, you’re going home!’ He looked at it and went, ‘God, it must be baby, mustn’t it? Baby – final answer!’ He really didn’t know, and he actually went on to win something like £64,000. It was a sweet moment, an amazing night.”
Does Chris find interviews a chore? He must do a lot of them.
“No, not really. I think I’m immune to it. I have days when I work and days when I don’t work. So, if I’m Millionairing. I might do ten interviews that day as well as the show. I’ll get here for ten and just do stuff all day; you know, do everything I’ve got to do so that next day I can go off fishing or take the kids out. That way, my other days can just be taken out of the diary and they are free. That works quite well, otherwise there’s always something.
“I try and avoid going into London like the plague. I just don’t want to go in any more. What with all the traffic, the parking and the congestion charges, I just don’t go in. Fortunately, I can work from my house hidden out in the middle of Berkshire, or I can work here in the studios.”
So the Regtransfers.co.uk interview hasn’t been too much of a nuisance?
“Well, for me your service was very organised and very unpushy, which I quite like as I can’t stand people pestering me. We think you might like this, if you don’t, no hard feelings, tell us, and I think you have been organised and the back-up has been really good, so I was happy to do the interview. Although, now you come to ask, your photographer’s a bit strange…
“But seriously, it’s been really good. No b*llocks, it’s been great!”
Well, what can we say? It’s been great for us too. Thanks very much, Chris!
Interview by Len Stout
Photography by Stan Thompson
© 2006 Regtransfers.co.uk
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