Britain woke up to the 1970s in colour. The Government, impressed with the BBC2 experiment
which had started in the summer of 1967, decided to go ahead and give permission
to BBC1 and the ITV network to transmit a colour 625-line UHF service from November
1969. By late 1969 there were 200,000 colour sets in the UK, but as renting became
cheaper over the next few years families got as much use as they could from this
wonderful box and subsequently ratings took off, with many shows regularly getting
in excess of twenty million, which would be the norm throughout the decade.
The initial cost of new colour cameras had also to be matched by the need for new
colourful set designs and lighting, with pop music shows the perfect beneficiary.
Top Of The Pops had been given the new facelift for the colour launch and would continue
to have store re-fits until its demise. The lack of surviving colour shows from this
era makes it difficult to judge if all the re-designs had been successful, and the
use of colour was initially bound to be a bit garish, but on the little evidence
that remains it seems to have reflected current fashion and design trends.
The Beatles proved to the music industry that you could sell just as many profitable
pop albums as well as singles, but the concept of ‘the rock album’ still had to be
sold to the general public. The majority of rock music album sales from 1966 onwards
were to those in the know, they knew their Jimi Hendrix from Eric Clapton, but the
majority of album sales were still cast recordings, soundtracks and easy listening.
No-one that listened to Pete Murray on the radio would buy a Cream album out of choice,
but by 1967 they were selling more albums than Herb Alpert, Jimi Hendrix was out
selling Mantovani, so this change had to be represented, and eventually it was. BBC2’s
Colour Me Pop, launched in 1968, had given an important early platform to album artists.
This would continue in 1970 with Disco 2. Again little footage exists for us to judge
how this would have looked. Television also had to meet another challenge. It couldn’t
approach a new something as self-important as ‘the album’ with the usual ‘Pops’ presenters,
it needed a voice that would give it the reverence that this new art form would demand.
The Album would eventually find its voice in 1972 when Bob Harris took over as the
regular presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test. The series had already been running
for a year with journalists Richard Williams and Ian Whitcomb in the hot seat, but
Bob felt like he was one of us and he would see us through the Steely Dan years,
some (but not all) would say the best years of rock.
To the predominantly male dominated album buyers the singles chart was a no-go area
in the seventies, but singles sales in the seventies would easily exceed the sixties,
even outselling The Beatles. The single buyers still had Top Of The Pops every week
to reflect their buying power, but the new re-vamp would briefly include a move into
album territory by featuring bands that just wouldn't sell, or even release, singles.
But for the whole industry to survive it needed superstars, and since 1970 would
see the final new releases by The Beatles they'd better turn up on time. Although
the thought of solo releases by all three of them, plus Ringo would be enticing,
fans wouldn't have that expectation factor anymore, that "moment". We needed someone
new, someone else to wait in anticipation for, and as luck would have it his timing
was perfect. In autumn 1970 Ride A White Swan would glide up the chart and kick off
a whole new genre. Marc Bolan, his friend David Bowie and the numerous teenie knock-offs
would see the single chart vibrate the way it hadn't since the height of the Merseybeat
era. Glam rock suddenly became colour television's best mate. The battlefield for
glam between Top of the Pops and the ITV channels for the teen audience was fought
weekdays between tea-time and early evening. Tea-time pop shows like The Five O’clock
Club had been successful and, just like the sixties, it was to producer / presenter
Muriel Young that we owe so much in the seventies. Her move to Granada in the late
sixties would co-inside with the launch of colour on TV and her Lift Off / Lift Off
With Ayshea made the best of a small budget and attracted lots of sixties acts with
their last throw of the dice before cabaret and panto would take them around the
country, or in the case of David Essex, Mud and Sweet the lifeline of the glam era.
Her other Granada shows 45 and Marc would also hit the spot and attract the kind
of names usually associated with Top of the Pops. While her star-driven shows also
produced for Granada Shang-A-Lang and Arrows would give closer than normal fan access
to bands like The Bay City Rollers.
The kind of power the show producer could command would be abused by some in the
seventies with accusation of payola levelled by the tabloids, but most played it
straight and became legends in the process. People like Michael Appleton at The Old
Grey Whistle Test, Johnnie Stewart at Top of the Pops, Muriel Young at Granada and
now the ex-Southern staffer Mike Mansfield. His idea that a pop show could be a real
ratings winner was bought by London Weekend and Supersonic was (after a few weeks)
placed at a time that pop shows hadn't been in quite some time, Saturday tea-time.
The schedule placing of the show was odd (initially no other ITV channel would take
the series), but even more peculiar was the show's content. Historically, we now
know that the end of 1975 was the fag end of glam and the beginning of punk, but
we didn't know that then, this was just a pop show, not a great cultural showcase.
But it was an important show. Visually it looked like no other and caught the time
well, showing British pop in a state of flux and confusion, no-one daring to make
a step forward, looking at each other in case they had a better idea.
The same could be said for Granada's So It Goes, a weekly rock show hosted by producer
Tony Wilson hosting the kind of lower-level talent that The Old Grey Whistle Test
rejected, but got lucky when The Sex Pistols played Manchester in the summer of 1976,
persuading them to make an appearance at the end of the first series. But by the
second series the following year John Peel disease had set in. Wilson suddenly turning
his back on the music he was happy to present and never before complained about in
order to ingratiate himself with the new cool kids and looking foolish and out of
place, like a leather-patched university lecturer trying to get down with the kids.
The haircuts always gave it away.
In 1978 the perfect concoction of old and new wave appeared from the most unlikely
of places. ATV's Revolver produced by Mickie Most (familiar to viewers of the channel's
New Faces) set his show in a fictional night club with club owner, Peter Cook and
shop floor co-host DJ Chris Hill. Cook, along with Bob Harris, was probably the only
genuinely honest pop music host, and like Bob never hid his contempt the kind of
music he sometimes had to introduce.
1978 also saw the return of Britain's greatest DJ Kenny Everett to television. With
his unhappy experiences with London Weekend earlier in the seventies behind him and
with Thames' talent show 'Opportunity Knocks' out of the way, producer Royston Mayoh
was given the chance to turn Everett's Capital weekend radio show into a television
show. With the introduction of new video display techniques and promo video clips
created a visual style which would see us through to the more image conscious 1980s.