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12:37 Saturday 25
February 2017

Q&A With T-Bag Star John Hasler

As kids, we all loved watching the adventures of T-Bag and her little sidekick T-Shirt. We spoke to John Hasler, who played the little scamp, to find out how he remembers the show...
Are you happy about the long-awaited release of the first series of T-Bag on DVD? After 25 years, did you ever think it would happen?
Extremely happy! Throughout that time I've constantly been asked if and when it would be released and there seemed to be such a genuine demand that I sincerely hoped it would happen. However, you never know the realities of such a situation. I think that it's largely thanks to the internet that there are focus points where people who are interested can vest that interest. That's helped enormously I think!
Are you aware of the huge T-Bag fan-base out there?
Obviously, at the time it was being shown and then repeated, it was extremely apparent! I was stopped in the street and people were mostly lovely. Over time that fades of course. But, as I said, with fan sites and petitions on the internet, it has been amazing to witness how loved the show was/is, and it has been a real eye-opener as to how popular the show was all over the world. Also, I've been lucky enough to attend some conventions like the Cult TV convention, and it's quite frankly humbling the warmth that a lot of people still regard the show with. It's great now because I think everyone who remembers the show was a fan and has nothing but affection for something that's obviously very dear to my heart. 
How old were you when you first got the role of T-Shirt?
I was 8 when I got the role. And I think 17 when we finished!!
Had you done any acting before T-Bag? Did you go to stage school?
I had done a fair amount of acting beforehand. Lots of TV commercials (both visual and voice-over), some TV shows and a couple of films including a small part in "Brazil" (Terry Gilliam film) and a film for the Childrens' Film Foundation called "Breakout".
How did you get the part?
Well, it was through this last job, the film "Breakout". It was seen by Marjorie Sigley who I believe was head of Children's TV at Thames. She saw the film and said that they should try to use me somehow. So I remember having a meeting with Charles (the producer) and Leon (the director) and then shortly after, them offering me the role of T-Shirt. However, the wheels of production were already rolling which was why there was no time to get me into the first episode of the first series. I suddenly entered in episode 2!
Do you still get recognised?
As previously mentioned, people who still remember the show tend to do so with an enormous amount of affection. So, yes, I do still get recognised and it's always a lovely, positive experience. I also get A LOT of people coming up to me and asking if they went to school with me. Which is very funny, as they are usually convinced I did!
As the only children on set, did you and Jennie get on?
Fortunately yes! As we spent a lot of time travelling in cars and sat together doing our schooling in a room next to the main rehearsal room. We were surrounded by great people though, including our amazing tutor, and I think that aspect of a happy team really helped. 
How was it working with established actors like Jim Norton and Elizabeth Estensen?
As a child you take a lot of things for granted. It's only when you're older and perhaps a bit wiser when you realise how good things are or were. Myself and Jennie were incredibly lucky to be working with Jim and Liz on this first series. They are such brilliant, talented professionals that they were inspiring to watch. However, they were also so generous and giving to us as children that it really was a pleasure! Not all actors are as fond of working with children, that's for sure!! Having met up with them recently for the DVD commentary, I can honestly say I still feel the same high level of regard for them. 
Did you have to have a tutor during filming? Did you attend school the rest of the year?
Yes we did have a fabulous tutor. She always ensured we were keeping up with what our classmates in our own schools were doing. She also struck a great balance between dragging us away whenever possible during rehearsals (if the director was about to launch into a well-rehearsed anecdote!) and letting us have time on a studio day when the hours were longer and the schedule more intense and demanding. The rest of the year I attended my local, normal school. I did think about the option of a stage school but, to be honest, it never really appealed to me. The only time school was a slight problem was when a new batch of first years would come along. They would then be incredibly excited about someone at their school being on the telly! But they soon got over it! ;-). 
How did your friends react to seeing you TV?
I am incredibly lucky in having close friends that were my friends while I was filming T-bag and are still great friends now. Also, my family were excellent at making sure I kept my feet firmly on the ground. We used to have a family paper-round delivering local free papers every Thursday evening, in all weathers! I wasn't always happy about it, but looking back I can absolutely see why my mum and dad agreed to do it! So, my friends weren't really bothered by my being on TV I think! The only time it affected them was if we were out and somebody would come up and start asking if I was "off the telly?" I was pretty much used to dealing with it but I think in truth it annoyed them a bit!!
Did you find it hard to learn all your lines?
Amazingly, despite having three hours of schooling a day and fairly intensive rehearsals, the lines were never an issue. I think children are generally sponges and so everything used to just go in! I was quite often reminding Liz what was supposed to be going on in various scenes!
How long did it take to record one episode?
An episode was about a five or six day period. This would start with a read-through then we would block out the moves. Then we had a few days to rehearse everything before a tech day, when all the technical crew (lighting, sound, camera etc.) would come and watch the final run through. This would all take place in a rehearsal hall with the sets marked out on the floor in electrical tape! The final day was a studio day when we would endeavour to record the whole episode. The T-room scenes just featuring Liz and myself were always left 'til last so that in the event of running late, these scenes could be filmed on pick-up days at the end of the series. This left the challenge of a couple of days of filming with scenes from all ten episodes with resulting costume, make-up and props!! Others thought them nightmare days, but I have to say they were always my favourites!
Do you have a favourite episode or line that sticks in your mind?
My mum is a big fan of the Bubble Boy Kid episode (I have no idea what series that is)! So if my mum likes it, that's good enough for me! With regards to a favourite line, I really couldn't choose!
How did you feel about the costume changes? Did you have a favourite?
I think all kids and most adults love dressing up. So the costume changes were always great fun. Even when I had to dress up as a girl! Favourites include a James Bond-esque white tuxedo or the hippy outfit of Ed Banger. 
Have you kept any of your costumes or pieces from the set as mementos?
Oh yes!! Ray Childe (the costume designer) kindly let me keep some of the outfits, although a lot were hired. They are all in my mum's wardrobe at her house! I should really get them all out and have a look at them! I've also got various things that were on the set all packed away in cupboards. I suppose I'll look through it all one day!
Do you still wear your cap sideways?! (from Senior Product Manager Maria)
No Maria! In fact I didn't wear hats for a long time afterwards! But now I'm very much re-embracing the hat. Although strictly in a forward facing fashion!!
How did you get on with Elizabeth Estensen - were you scared of her when she was being the evil T-Bag?
I love Liz! I think she is one of the most fabulous actors I've ever worked with. And as previously mentioned she was so kind and generous to work with as well. I really do think we made a great team. As for being the "evil" T-bag, I think I just found her even funnier then! 
How did you feel when Elizabeth Estensen decided to leave?
I was very upset when she decided to leave, but totally understood her decision. I was so pleased when she called me personally to let me know she wasn't coming back. It was a lovely thing for her to do and I've never forgotten it! Myself and Liz hadn't just filmed the series together, we had also presented CITV for a month (fronting all the links between the shows) and many other appearances, interviews and guest spots. So we really had been a team. It was difficult and slightly turbulent, and I don't think anyone honestly knew what would happen to the show. 
You appeared in all nine series, whilst the leading girl actresses changed. Did you have a favourite?
Now that's a difficult question!  A couple of the girls (Jennie and Kellie) did a few series each, so obviously I spent more time with them and got to know them better. However in terms of picking a favourite that would be impossible I'm afraid, not to mention extremely undiplomatic!!
As you got older, did you begin to resent not being able to just be a normal teenager?
As time went on and series passed by, the show was becoming more and more popular, and I guess I was becoming more and more well known. So my teenage years were very strange and I did have moments when I just wanted to enjoy my summer holidays from school like everybody else and not have to work incredibly hard!  I would also be lying if I didn't say that growing up on national television was sometimes pretty hard!  But as ever the positives far outweighed the negatives and the support I had was amazing. Things like the fact that I needed fixed braces on my top and bottom teeth! I think the producers were ahead of their time in allowing me to do this and it's things like that that I hope some people watching would have thought, well if he's got them they can't be that bad!
How does your character change throughout the series?
I was very lucky that Lee and Grant (the writers) understood that I couldn't stay young forever!  So consequently they wrote for me as I grew up.  The relationship definitely changed between T-Bag and T-Shirt, which made this strange fantasy world bizarrely real and I believe that the show was all the stronger for that.  I know I was extremely grateful for this fact as if they hadn't changed it then I guess I would have got replaced by a younger model!!
Where was it filmed? What were the sets like to work on?
The show was filmed at Thames Television studios in Teddington, London.  At first we shot it in studio 3 (the smallest studio) but after a while we were allowed in to studio 2 and consequently slightly bigger and more elaborate sets. The sets were fairly basic but generally reflected the idea of the series in terms of a board game or a pop-up book.  We always looked forward to seeing the models of the sets on the read-through days, and then obviously turning up on the filming day and seeing the real thing was also really exciting. I absolutely loved the studio days and would enjoy hanging out in the green room, getting to see and meet whoever else was filming in the studio that day, and sometimes the cameramen (as they were all men!) would let me have a go on the big studio cameras - which I adored!
What programmes did you like watching as a child? Did you watch T-Bag or was it strange watching yourself?
I did use to watch T-Bag and yes it was a very strange experience!  In fact I would say it was the least enjoyable part of the whole process!  I did really enjoy the show but watching myself was odd and usually most embarrassing!  I used to watch quite a lot of TV when I could.  I remember being a big fan of Willy Fog, Ulysses, Thundercats, The A-Team, Round the Twist and also Mike & Angelo and Spatz (as the last two were by the same team as T-Bag and would often feature a lot of the same actors!). I was also a big fan of "classic" shows such as Dad's Army, Only Fools and Horses, Dear John and Rising Damp to name just a few.  Finally my dad and I loved watching old movies that seemed to be on all the time. We especially loved the old Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. They are fabulous!!
Would you be happy if your child decided that they wanted to get into acting?
Hmmm! Wow! What a question!  I would never look unfavourably on the amazing experiences and opportunities that have been opened up to me and would never deny them to anyone who wanted to give it a try, but honestly if they wanted to be an architect or doctor (and if I can afford the university fees!) then I would be thrilled!
I see you have since done a lot of theatre and voice-over work. Do you have a preference?
I have been really lucky in that I've had an acting career after T-Bag.  I finished filming T-Bag and then finished my A-levels and at that stage I could have gone to drama school or university.  But I opted to give acting as a career a try.  I was very fortunate from that moment to have worked, in fact that first year I did some amazing theatre work and some TV and recorded the voice of Jim Hawkins in the ITV animated series "The Legends of Treasure Island".  So, as you say, I've been fortunate enough to work in all different arenas of acting.  My preference is probably whatever I'm not doing at that moment! I think you can't beat the experience of performing in front of an audience, I truly love acting in front of a camera but I also adore voice work and can play characters that I'd physically never be able to - once I was required to be Nelson Mandela! That and the fact that I don't have to worry about my hair or having a shave when doing a voice over, and it's really hard to beat!
You now work on kids show Get Squiggling - are today's parents surprised when they find out that they used to watch you as a child?
It's amazing the anonymity of a voiceover artist!  Apart from the very well known people that do it and have extremely recognisable voices (Stephen Fry, Rob Brydon) then you would hardly ever know a lot of the people that provide voices.  So yes, I guess it is a shock when it's revealed that I'm doing the voices on Get Squiggling.  But it's usually the other way around in that people are surprised I'm still working as an actor and doing a show as great as Get Squiggling on CBeebies (very biased opinion!).
Was filming T-Bag a happy experience for you?
It was an amazing, incredible and unforgettable experience.  I was approached at one stage about "defecting" over to Grange Hill (which was another show I loved), but why would I want to do a show with loads of kids when in T-Bag I was one of two?!  I've already mentioned that the team involved in the production and also in other areas such as the chaperone and tutor were fabulous.  Also, the things that happened as a result of being in the show, such as presenting CITV or going to award ceremonies and garden parties, were incredible opportunities.  There was a period towards the end of the life of the show when the atmosphere at Thames TV changed (after it had lost it's franchise) which felt like things were naturally winding down and maybe the conditions were not as fun as they had been.  And maybe for a short while afterwards I was quite keen to escape the shadow of the show.  But over time, as with most things, you take stock, reassess and realise the true value of the situation. The making of the show was such a once in a lifetime opportunity and I truly feel that I'm so unbelievably blessed to have been a part of it.