TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

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The 1970s

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.