No 73, later re-titled 7T3, opened its door to the public for the first time on 2 January 1982 and ran until 1988. The show starred, amongst others, Sandi Toksvig, Neil Buchanan, Andrea Arnold, Kim Goody, Kate Copstick and Richard Waites. The show differed from the usual Tiswas and Saturday Superstore formula and featured actors in character as hosts. The show was broadcast live on a Saturday and most of it improvised.
Not only did No 73 turn the tables on the usual Saturday morning concept, it spoofed the conventions of sit-coms and soaps as well. Like most shows from the same time slot, ‘No 73’ featured cartoons (Roger Ramjet), competitions, musical guests (Elton John, Paul Weller, Queen,) and interviews. But since this was supposed to be broadcast from a ‘normal’ house in Maidstone, Kent, the cartoons were shown on an old fashioned projector, the band had to perform in the basement, the competitions were ‘made up on the spot’ and interviews ended when the doorbell rang.
Every guest, be they pop stars to Morris dancers, had to settle either in the kitchen, the lounge, the backyard, or the shed. Usually the plot revolved around one or more of the acts being wrongfully booked so they had to be kept secret from Ethel or someone else.
Landlady and owner of the house Ethel Davis was played by Sandi Toksvig. The other main characters were: gullible Harry (Nick Staverson), roller-skating Dawn (Andrea Arnold), artistic Neil (Neil Buchanan) and musical Kim (Kim Goody). Adding to the crazy situations were regulars like Fred the postman (Tony Aitken), local con-man Tony Deal (Nick Wilton) and of course the long suffering neighbours from # 75, Martin and Hazel Edwards (Richard Addison and Jeannie Crowther). In order to suspend disbelieve when promoting No 73 on other shows, all these actors usually appeared in character. In the early years, they even remained uncredited.
Each episode ended with Ethel hosting the (“daring, dazzling, death-defyingly dull, devastatingly dangerous, delectable,divinely decadent”) Sandwich Quiz, a madcap-general knowledge game pitting two of that week’s guests against each other. Other notable events in the show included Sandi and the resident inventor, Tony English, creating the Hover Cupboard (later testing it out at sea travelling from Southampton to Cowes on the Isle of Wight) and the memorable matchbox competition to see who could cram the most objects into one tiny matchbox.
As the show grew more and more popular, it became increasingly difficult for other Saturday morning shows to compete. With the failure of a show called “TX”, No 73 returned a month earlier than planned from its usual summer break. Soon the success of the show led to the gang introducing a line-up of children’s programmes on Sunday morning, which developed into “Sunday at 73” by January. This was a shorter, less elaborate version of the show, with fewer guests and more breaks for cartoon.
For some reason ITV producers then decide to mess with the format. More new characters seemed to join the household each week, one of whom, J.C. Birch finally saw fit to tear down the entire street and build a Wild West theme park in January, and from then on the show was called “7T3”. This development saw the entire cast move into a Western saloon, with the numbers 7 and 3 painted on each saloon door, and a brass fixtures forming the shape of a ‘T’ when closed, (hence the new title) and had them run around a mock Western town (in winter) with the same musical guests and dancers. The needless messing didn’t work and the show only lasted until March 1988. A pitiful end to a mad-cap classic a million miles away from the BBC’s tedious Saturday morning alternatives.