In 1980s Liverpool, having a birthday surprise could mean a cake - or being splatted by a custard pie wielded by a French maid.
The city, always the first to absorb transatlantic trends, was the first place in Britain to have a kissogram service, claims the firm’s founder Fred Lawless.
The businessman - who would later go on to write for Coronation Street- says he got the idea after seeing Singing Telegrams in the United States.
He added a Scouse twist to his firm Champagne-a-gram, and soon no birthday boy was safe from an ambush by anyone from a superhero to strippers dressed as fake police.
There were even custard-pie-a-grams for "cads" that spurned lovers could send to land on the faces of the men that let them down.
By the end of the decade, so many kissograms were advertising their services that Champagne-a-gram released an ad warning that "An inferior telegram can be an embarassment (if it bothers to turn up)."
Speaking to the ECHO for the podcast about 1980s Liverpool, The Brink, Fred said: “It got a bit out of hand because we were dictated to by what people wanted.
“They would ring up and say can you do a police-a-gram. It got to the point we were doing full blown police raids on houses. It was a bit crazy.”
And sometimes the surprise could be more than anyone expected.
“Everyone was expecting a kissogram and they didn’t realise it was the real police”
On one memorable night in New Brighton, the pub was holding a lock-in after closing time to celebrate a barman’s birthday.
But unbeknownst to the barman, his colleagues secretly arranged for the kissogram service to stage a fake police raid.
Fred said: “They said ‘we’re having a party there so turn up and pretend it’s a police raid. You’re going to arrest people for after hours drinking. So we sent two policemen and three policewomen.’”
When the kissogram troupe drew up outside the pub, they asked the bouncer on the door to pay them before they launched their surprise.
But when the bouncer disappeared to get the cash, three real police cars pulled up.
Fred said: “It was the real police - they’d obviously seen the lights on in the pub.
“The bouncer appeared then opened the door and he had this money in his hand which was for us."
The bouncer handed over the money to the real inspector, who Fred claims "instinctively" pocketed it.
He said: “I just started giggling and I said ‘look I think that’s our money.’
“So he banged on the door again they did a proper police raid while we were waiting to go in.”
But the partygoers, who were expecting a kissogram, did not realise they were actually being busted.
Fred said: “Of course everyone was expecting a kissogram and they didn’t realise it was the real police so they were a bit naughty with them.
“There was a policewoman - someone grabbed hold of her skirt and said ‘Come on then, you going to take that off’. I was just in hysterics thinking it was hilarious.”
“Kenny Dalglish in particular was a huge customer of ours”
Fred is the first to admit that the racy slapstick of the 1980s might not go down so well with an audience today.
But not all the kissograms Fred organised were post-watershed - indeed, he would dispatch superheroes to many a child’s birthday party.
And they included some children whose parents he definitely wanted to impress.
Fred said: “Kenny Dalglish in particular was a huge customer of ours. I think every single birthday of his daughters he’d book us.
“His daughters were quite young at the time 13 or 14 so we’d do things like a Superman-o-gram where they’d come in dressed as Superman and it would all be done appropriately for that age.”
And while the city’s great football teams might be rivals on the pitch, they were both fans of kissograms.
Fred said: “Everton was in four cup finals on the run and Howard Kendall booked us every single year.” Indeed, a photo from 1984 captures Kendall clutching his briefcase while being ambushed by a kissogram in lingerie.
Everton was also supposed to be the setting for another kissogram - a prank on fiery left-wing politician Derek Hatton.
Fred said: “They wanted a kissogram girl to go there with a Margaret Thatcher mask on, which we had to go and buy. She was supposed to hit him with a custard pie. That would have been quite funny.”
Sadly though, Fred doesn’t think the kissogram ever got her target.
He said: “I don’t think it actually happened. I don’t think we got past the security at Goodison Park.”
Although the kissogram service was popular among many Merseyside celebrities - Fred counted Cynthia Lennon and Gerry Marsden among his clients - Fred eventually sold the business to concentrate on writing, and in time the craze, in Fred’s words, “fizzled out”.
But just as Liverpool was the birthplace of the British kissogram, it was also one of the last cities to see it go, with birthdays at risk of a sudden ambush until well into the 1990s.
Fred said: “It’s probably our sense of humour - we enjoyed comedy moments like that. Someone’s having a drink at the bar and then - surprise.”
The Brink podcast, a deep dive into Liverpool politics at the time of Militant is available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox and Entale.