A childhood experience of having a custard pie thrown in his face has inspired actor and director Paul Hunter to pen a new play.

Paul may have been just eight years old when he appeared on the Birmingham made TV show Tiswas but it certainly left an impression.

It is 40 years since Tiswas began, making stars of Chris Tarrant, Sally James, Lenny Henry and Bob Carolgees.

Now Paul and his theatre company Told By An Idiot have come up with the comedy Never Try This At Home, billed as “a darkly funny look at Saturday morning TV”.

It opens at Birmingham Rep on February 27 before embarking on a short national tour.

It is based around a 2014 TV special which reunites stars of the children’s programme Shushi. The atmosphere is tense, as last time the cast were together, the show was cancelled after a celebrity went missing and a stressed presenter tried to commit suicide live on air.

Tiswas stood for Today Is Saturday Watch And Smile, while the fictional show Shushi stands for ‘Say hello up, say hello...’ and then they couldn’t find a word for the i.

“I have hardly worked at all in Birmingham since I left at 18, but then I came back to the Rep last year to play Tartuffe,” says Paul, a former pupil of Woodhouse Primary and Lordswood Boys’ schools.

“The new artistic director Roxana Silbert asked me to come up with ideas for shows that had a Brummie location.

“I couldn’t think of anything, until I suddenly remembered going on Tiswas when I was eight, standing in the cage and having pies and water thrown at me.

“Roxana gave us a week to develop the idea using actors and a writer and here we are.

“It was 40 years ago when I went on, so I’m not sure how much is memory and how much invention.

Paul Hunter, actor and director of the play Never Try This At Home, at Birmingham Rep.
Paul Hunter, actor and director of the play Never Try This At Home, at Birmingham Rep.

“But I do remember the chaos and anarchy of it. I was in awe of it all and slightly apprehensive. I’d never seen adults behave like that before.

“During rehearsals, we brought an academic in from Birkbeck University to talk about the social context of Tiswas and how it changed the face of children’s TV.

“Before then, everyone was very well behaved on children’s shows, which were very controlled and often didn’t feature any kids at all.

“Tiswas changed all that. The BBC countered with Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, which seems very slow-paced in comparison. That was the middle-class programme – in fact it divided our cast, with some people saying they weren’t allowed to watch Tiswas because it was too outrageous.

“In our show we mention a fictional BBC rival show called Wake Up and Smell the Sunshine.

“It will get messy on stage. I don’t want to give too much away, but we might have to protect people on the front row from the custard pies and water thrown about.

“We wanted to reflect some of the spontaneity of Tiswas, so there is part of the show which is improvised every night, when we go into the audience and ask if they have questions for the reunited TV presenters.

“That keeps it fresh and different every night, as well as having a live band on stage. People forget that Tiswas had fantastic bands on like Genesis and The Pretenders. So wherever we go, we’ll get a couple of local bands to play.

“It’s not for children, the subject matter is quite dark though very funny. You don’t need to have a knowledge of 1970s TV shows to enjoy it, but there will be a nostalgic element for those old enough.

“You could never get away with doing Tiswas now. Imagine the health and safety concerns!

“I wasn’t planning on appearing. I prefer to stick to either acting or directing, not both. But who knows, I could always slip on stage in disguise as the Phantom Flan Flinger!”

* Never Try This At Home plays The Studio at Birmingham Rep from February 27 to March 15. For tickets, ring 0121 236 4455 or visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk