Its creation was thought by many to be the BBC's response to the growing success of ITV's Tiswas - although at the time the latter was only broadcast in the ATV region in the Midlands and had yet to be taken up by other ITV franchises around the country.
The anchor was Noel Edmonds and his associates from the beginning were Keith Chegwin, John Craven and later, in 1978, Maggie Philbin. The show's presenters formed a pop group called Brown Sauce in December 1981 before releasing a single called I Wanna Be A Winner. Soon after the group's formation, the song peaked at #15 in the UK Singles Chart and stayed in the Top 75 for a total of 3 months.
Also featured was Posh Paws, a stuffed toy dinosaur. Noel Edmonds once explained that his name was actually spelled "Pohs Paws" (sic), because that is "Swap Shop" backwards. Another character was Eric, the often-referred to but never seen lighting technician whose job was to lower a plastic globe containing postcards sent in by viewers as answers to competitions.
The content of the programme included music, visits from celebrities, competitions, and cartoons. There was also coverage of news and issues relevant to children presented by John Craven, building on his profile as a newsreader elsewhere on BBC Children's output.
The cornerstone, however, was the Swaporama element, hosted by Chegwin, who was very rarely in the studio. An outside broadcast unit would travel to different locations throughout the country where children could swap their belongings with others. This proved to be one of the most popular aspects of the show, often achieving gatherings of more than 2,000 children. Often, as an economy measure, the primary purpose of the BBC OB unit was to broadcast a sporting event at that Swaporama venue later that day.
The telephone number for the first series of the show was 01 288 8055. This number was also used for many other BBC phone-in events, with the result that on one occasion a young caller trying to reach Swap Shop instead got through to a phone-in with the then Prime Minister James Callaghan. From the second series onwards the programme had its own number - 01 811 8055.
Swap Shop was a success, attracting substantial ratings not only among its target audience of children, but also students and parents. It ended in 1982, to allow the presenters to move on to other projects - notably Edmonds, who became one of the highest-profile TV presenters in the UK. It was replaced by a series of similar programmes, most notably Saturday Superstore, Going Live! and Live & Kicking.
Unfortunately many editions of the show were junked by the BBC in the early 1990s, believed to be of no further use, and many of the clips used in the retrospective It Started With Swap Shop and as extras on some DVD releases of other BBC shows had to be taken from domestic video recordings that had survived in private hands. Amongst the editions wiped were those featuring appearances by Blondie, XTC, Trumpton creator Gordon Murray, and numerous cast and crew members of ''Doctor Who.
The 130 minute programme was recorded in front of a studio audience at BBC Television Centre on 15 December 2006 and was broadcast on BBC Two on Thursday 28 December 2006 at 9.00pm with a shortened repeat (110 minutes) on Sunday 31 December 2006 at 6.10pm, again on BBC Two. The shortened version of the programme was broadcast on BBC Four on 28 May 2007 at 7.00pm as part of the channel's Children's Television On Trial season.
Other than the original Swap Shop team of Noel Edmonds, John Craven, Keith Chegwin, Maggie Philbin, Eric, Lamb and Posh Paws, live appearances were made by Mike Read, Andi Peters, Emma Forbes, Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson. A recorded contribution was made by Phillip Schofield and Sarah Greene. Telephone calls (some prerecorded) were taken from Delia Smith, Dame Edna Everage and Sir Cliff Richard. Other guests included Johnny Ball, Nicki Chapman, Fearne Cotton, Lenny Henry, Arlene Phillips, Chris Moyles and Michael Crawford who appeared on a video link from Australia. A surprise appearance came from Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen as part of Trev and Simon's Draper Brothers sketch.
The publishing date for the books were as follows:
The annuals are full of quizzes, funny stories, pop group pictures, knitting patterns plus features on the shows stars.
Each book has presenter photos in which the hosts are seen separately as a comedy character. A memorable example of this is Book 4 which features Noel Edmonds, then in his 30s, as traditional English schoolboy Harry Copter. The character of Harry Copter is referenced throughout the annual, following a humorous split screen interview by Noel on the programme. The fictional character's name is a pun on the host's love of helicopters. This comedic picture of Noel has now made Book 4 extremely collectable.