British Icon of the Week: Chris Tarrant, TV Legend Portrayed by Michael Sheen in 'Quiz'June 1, 2020
In AMC's new miniseries Quiz, Michael Sheen gives a genuinely uncanny performance as Chris Tarrant, the genial host of the original British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
Tarrant may not be well known in the U.S., but at home in the U.K. he's a household name who was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth in 2004 for services to charity. Here's a guide to some of the "greatest hits" of his 45-year broadcasting career, which has seen him voted one of the top 50 stars in U.K. TV history.
He co-hosted long-running British kids' show Tiswas
Tiswas aired on U.K. network ITV on Saturday mornings from 1974 to 1982, giving kids a deliberately silly and anarchic mix of comedy sketches, competitions, movie clips, interviews with pop stars, and spoofs of the more strait-laced children's programming on rival network the BBC.
Tarrant co-hosted the show for its first seven years, joined by recent Doctor Who guest star Sir Lenny Henry from 1978 to 1981, and also co-starred in a short-lived late-night spin-off, O.T.T.
Tarrant once said, self-deprecatingly, of his Tiswas years: “God, rolling about in custard with Annie Lennox and Sheena Easton and being paid. What a gig!”
He hosted his own clip show, Tarrant on TV
This late-night ITV show featured Tarrant introducing an array of amusing and unusual clips of TV series and commercials from all over the world. It's a simple format, but one that proved enduring: Tarrant hosted no fewer than 15 seasons between 1990 and 2005.
Oh, and Tarrant himself has starred in a few TV commercials over the years, including this Millionaire-themed ad for McDonald's UK.
He was a mainstay on London radio station Capital Radio
Tarrant hosted the prestigious Capital Breakfast show from London's world-famous Leicester Square from 1987 to 2004, winning several industry awards along the way. Soon after he left the station, the show's ratings dropped so notably that it caused an 8 percent drop in Capital Radio's share price.
He hosted a memorably kitsch '90s dating show
Before Love Island and Too Hot to Handle, there was... Man O Man, a dating show where a group of men would try to impress an all-female studio audience by answering questions, performing tasks and challenges, showing off their greatest skills, and taking part in a "hunks in trunks" swimwear round. Men who didn't make the cut would end up being pushed into a swimming pool in the middle of the studio.
Hey, it was the '90s, as the show's opening titles make very clear...
He hosted the original British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Tarrant actually hosted Millionaire from its inception in 1998 until its 30th season in 2014; his tenure on the show totals a massive 592 episodes.
Millionaire became such a cultural institution in the U.K. that Tarrant said in a 2018 interview that he'd had well-meaning strangers shout "phone a friend!" at him in the street "every day for 20 years now."
However, he ruled himself out of hosting the show when ITV revived it that year. "We had a fantastic time, but I don’t want to do anymore," he said on British daytime show This Morning earlier this year.
He now hosts his own railway documentary series
Tarrant is pretty selective about his TV work these days but since 2012, he's hosted Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railways for British network Channel 5. The show, which sees him traveling worldwide to visit railways that go through tough and treacherous terrain, returned for its sixth and most recent season last fall.
You can check out Michael Sheen's impeccable performance as Chris Tarrant by streaming episodes of Quiz now on amc.com and the AMC apps.