ATV Icons returns with new curator Margaret Batey, the latest inducted into the Hall of Fame in this series is Tiswas to Millionaire host Chris Tarrant.
Today is Saturday, so what better day than to pay tribute to the man who made Saturday mornings for children in the 1970s. Chris Tarrant, OBE, is an English radio and television broadcaster and presenter.
Tarrant joined news show for the Midlands ATV Today in 1972 first as a reporter and then as one of the roster of presenters. As time went on Chris became more and more involved with the more quirky stories such as riding a tandem bike with king of the comedy news story John Swallow, meeting lady wrestlers, meeting a man who had collected over 200,000 jokes or finding out more on the school for belly dancers.
There were serious reports as well, ranging from dog dumping on motorways, and protests over a rubbish incinerator plan to interviewing sacked miners. Alongside Terry Thomas, Chris was part of a long-running series of fishing features. However his more whacky stories for the news output led him into one of his most famous roles as the host of ATV’s live from Birmingham Saturday morning chaos that was Tiswas – Today is Saturday, Watch and Smile.
The series was host to star names who were happy to join in the fun which included getting covered in ‘custard pies’ by the Phantom Flan Flinger, to being soaked with buckets of water. There were regulars alongside Tarrant too including Lenny Henry, Sally James, Frank Carson, Jim Davidson and Bob Carolgees with Spit the dog. Tiswas also gained a late-night ‘adult version’ in 1982 when Central Television launched O.T.T. It didn’t quite have the longevity as its early morning predecessor, although is still remembered by those who saw it. In 1987 it was repackaged as ‘The Worst of O.T.T’ in a compilation series.
His ability to connect with young viewers saw him narrate episodes of the children’s educational series Stop Look Listen. Initially aimed at 7-9-year-olds and presented by teacher Harvey Higgins, its focus had changed to 5-7-year-olds by the time Christ Tarrant began presenting in 1975. The programme became one of ITV’s longest-running schools programmes, which aired from 1971 until 2002 and repeats continuing until 2009.
His voice for 20 years would also be an early morning wake up for many in London. Tarrant hosted the Capital Radio breakfast show between 1984 and 2004, his show was immensely popular and grew the Capital audience share in London.
While still with Central, in Birmingham, he hosted their hour-long Central News Friday Show in 1983. In 1984, when relocating to London, Chris became a regular on London Weekend Television’s Friday local magazine series, The 6 O’Clock Show hosted by Michael Aspel. Across the ’80s there were starspots on several gameshows – such as Cross Wits, Child’s Play and Through The Keyhole and also as an occasional judge on the revived New Faces for ITV hosted by Marti Caine. At breakfast on television, he was one of the summer faces of Good Morning Britain when TV-am aired seaside specials, with Tarrant as the on location presenter.
Switching from guest star to host Tarrant oversaw proceedings on the pilot episodes of Granada Television’s Stars in their Eyes in 1989, however entirely revamped the series finally aired with Leslie Crowther as host. The disappointment was short-lived as in 1990 Chris hosted three successful series of Time Please, Yorkshire Television’s pub quiz. The ‘big show’ however was still proving elusive.
1990 was also the year Chris returned to tongue-in-cheek TV with Tarrant on TV, from LWT, this late evening offering saw Chris link saucy, funny, outrageous and cute clips from television around the world.
Attempts at more big-budget prime time shows came with Granada’s Cludo, fronting the first two series of this murder mystery game that saw famous faces acting out the deadly scenes while celebrities had to guess the culprit, Carlton’s Lose a Million, in 1993, that saw contestants aim to lose as much money as possible to win and BBC One’s The Main Event which saw two families competing against each other. Chris also took over from DJ Mike Reid as quizmaster on music game show Pop Quiz when it was revived in 1994.
Tarrant’s television career really took off, however, when he began hosting Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in 1998. In total Chris presented 592 episodes which saw five contestants walk away with the ultimate £1 million cash prize. Tarrant’s coined catchphrases became synonymous with the show and are instantly recognised by millions, notably ‘is that your final answer?’ and ‘but we don’t want to give you that!’.
Chris Tarrant has worked on several successful factual productions in recent years, such as Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railways for Channel 5, which saw Tarrant travel across the world to locations including the Congo Ocean Railway and the Konkan Railway, amongst other incredible destinations of interest.
Tarrant is passionate about his charity work; he is an ambassador for the homeless charity Centrepoint, is a trustee of the New School at West Heath for disadvantaged children and is a patron of Milly’s Fund, as well as working with several other organisations. He was publically recognised for his extensive charity work in 2004 when he was awarded an OBE.
Tarrant was born on 10 October 1946 in Reading, England, to Basil and Joan Tarrant. His father had joined a territorial unit of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1936 and was among those evacuated from Dunkirk in the retreat of May 1940. He was also active in the Normandy landings. Tarrant was educated as a boarder in Choir House at the King’s School, Worcester from 1960 to 1964. He represented the school in hockey and cricket and gained A, B and D grades at A-level in English, history and ancient history. He then studied English at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 1967.
Tarrant worked as a schoolteacher and also briefly as a film director for the Central Office of Information before joining ATV.
Chris had two children from his marriage to Sheila Roberton, Helen in 1977 and Jennifer in 1980. The couple married in Southend-on-Sea in 1976, but it wasn’t to be and the couple divorced in 1982. He met his second wife, Ingrid Dupre-Walsh when they both worked for TV-am. The couple had two children, Sammy and Toby, plus two children from Ingrid’s previous marriage, Dexter and Fia. Tarrant’s father died in 2005 and his mother died in 2012. Chris and Ingrid split in 2006 after he had an affair. Since 2008, Tarrant has been in a long-term relationship with legal assistant Jane Bird.
2014, newspapers revealed Chris had suffered a mini-stroke whilst on board a return flight from Bangkok to London Heathrow while returning from overseas shooting for his Channel 5 travelogue series. Upon landing, he was rushed to Charing Cross Hospital where doctors did emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his right leg.