It’s fair to assume that not many people go into their A Levels wanting to end up throwing custard pies on live television for a living. I’m not even sure what subjects you would choose if that was your career aspiration! Helen Piddock-Jones was the much-loved ‘Phantom Flan Finger’ on the children’s TV programme ‘Tiswas’. However, when she was at school, she had always planned for a career in law.
So, how do you start out as a barrister but end up chucking buckets of water at famous pop singers on television? Here’s Helen’s story:
Helen studied law at university and soon progressed on the path to becoming a barrister. However, it wasn’t long into her career before she realised it was too restricted for her and decided to look for something else.
She had always been interested in drama but didn’t want to be an actress. She managed to talk her way into a job at the BBC. The job wasn’t one that she enjoyed. It was a starter job which involved researching news stories, but her bosses told her that this was her chance to get noticed and so she was determined to make the most of it.
When she started, she had barely any experience in the media so it was a sharp learning curve that she had to understand everything very quickly. By chance, she was given an interview to cover and after this it led to her covering several more. Soon she got a job as a DJ which helped her then produce shows on BBC Radio 4. Gradually, she built up a breadth of experience which helped her to see what she enjoyed and where she wanted to end up. Helen lived by the motto: the more experience you can get the better.
After her time on radio, she negotiated a move to television which resulted in her presenting the 6 o’clock news on Midlands Today. During this time, her friend was starting a children’s programme and asked her to write some scripts for it. She also appeared a few times to do some sketches. Her friend was Chris Tarrant and the children’s programme was ‘Tiswas’.
A new character was introduced on the show and Helen became the Phantom Flan Flinger. She would throw pies and chuck buckets of water at all the guests on the show. Helen then went on to write books about ‘Tiswas’ for children. Little did she know that she was portraying a character that would become an iconic part of growing up for a whole generation of children.
After a while, she realised that there was only a certain number of custard pies that you could put on the faces of famous people and decided it was time for someone else to take over the role of the Phantom Flan Flinger.
Looking for something out of the limelight, Helen started up a craft company with a few of her friends. She was writing poems and little messages for greeting cards and tea towels. As the business grew, she realised she wasn’t having the interaction with the customers or other people as much as before and this was something she missed. In order to meet this gap, Helen trained for and took up a volunteer role with the Samaritans.
Helen’s career and life has taken so many twists and turns which she definitely had not planned whilst she was a teenager. Each one of these changes were influential to the type of person Helen has become. She doesn’t look back on any of these experiences with even a hint of regret, rather she sees each one as a vital step in her growth and development.
Helen’s story can help us not only understand the importance of trying different and new things, but also asking advice from people for guidance throughout our careers.
And lastly, it can teach us to have a go even if we lack experience or qualifications.
So, for those of us currently studying for our GCSEs and A Levels, whilst we may not end up throwing custard pies in people’s faces on television, we still could end up doing something equally exhilarating and completely different to what we are currently expecting.
So that doesn’t mean we don’t work hard for the exams we are about to take, but it does mean we should throw a custard pie in the face of anyone who tries to convince us that our entire career will be dependent on the results of those exams!