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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

The Roxy was ITV Network’s attempt to steal some of the thunder from BBC’s Top Of The Pops which was enjoying a new lease of life with healthy viewing figures. The success of the Network Chart, a weekly top forty show, run on the ILR radio network since 1985 was the reason the ITV Network gave for the commission. However, off-screen problems led the project to be nearly abandoned.


First rumblings of the first credible alternative to Top Of The Pops came from a Music Week report in March 1986 claiming that Tyne Tees were producing the show, but of course, no offical statement could be made. Dave Jensen was linked to the project which was to be recorded in London. Producers likely to be invited to work on the show included Royston Mayo, Alastair Pirrie and ex-Top Of The Pops producer Phil Bishop. It was also rumoured that the show would be broadcast on Friday evenings, while The Tube was on its summer vacation and that the timing of the chart announcement would be changed to accommodate it, although it didn't say which chart it was more than likely to be the Independent Local Radio chart.


The contract to produce the show was hotly contested by many of the ITV’s franchises with Zenith Television (an off-shoot of Central Television) the joint leader with Tyne-Tees, who had made the successful, but recently de-commissioned The Tube. In addition the ITV Network were certain that they didn’t just want a Top Of The Pops clone, despite both shows being based on charts.


Tyne Tees won the contract and Alastair Pirrie was hired as the producer. They would be given the final go ahead from network controllers by April 14th 1987, just as The Tube and Whistle Test were about to finish. However, the originally intended debut in May was delayed by ITV network controllers, wishing to see the three companies that originally applied for the contract to re-present their plans for the show. Pirrie complained "We are very surprised at the way the goalposts appear to have been shifted again." Talking to Music Week he said "A set is being built as we speak and we are just about to sign agreements with the Musician's Union, BPI and Video Performance Ltd." In early May 1987 Music Week reported that ITV network controllers were to  meet to decide who to award the contract to. Tyne Tees and two independent production companies were in the running, much to the concern of Tyne Tees who had previously been given the go ahead.


Pirrie told Music Week "It's going to be more an entertainment based around the chart rather than a chart show. It will have an election night feel as we'll be announcing the chart live on the programme", which would be embarrassing for any act that appeared on the show only to see their song go down the chart on the same show. After finally being awarded to contract in May 1987 Pirrie insisted that the chart they use should be based on sales only, with radio airplay, which was included in the ILR chart, removed. However, the first edition was broadcast using not only record sales, but airplay from both radio and television, which meant that the show was contributing to its own chart. The chart would be compiled by MRIB and announced on Friday morning, giving the producers until Monday evening to put the show together. MRIB's predecessor the British Market Research Bureau had been compiling the chart for Top Of The Pops until 1983, but had lost the contract to Gallup. ITV awarded the show its own Oracle text number 196 so viewers could see the chart and who was going to be on the show as weekly listings magazine TV Times couldn’t predict who would be on that far in advance.


The host of the show was in no doubt, David Jensen, who was the host of the radio equivalent was immediately hired. He had also presented the final series of Razzamatazz in 1986, so already had a contact with Tyne Tees. The co-host was to be the real problem. The original female co-host had backed out three weeks before the first show, and was replaced by the relatively unknown Irish TV presenter Kevin Sharkey. Pirrie had originally promised "a legendary American DJ and a senior personality not from the pop world" to co-host the show, without saying who they were.


The studio was the one that had been used for The Tube, and the set design was based on a Victorian ballroom, with just one stage, restricting the ‘live’ aspect. In fact the show was never broadcast live, being recorded the night before.


A new broadcast date of 9th July was given the go ahead and Pirrie was raring to go, telling Music Week "If The Roxy is allowed to go ahead, it will knock spots off Top Of The Pops." He also later commented "If I was producing Top Of The Pops, I'd be worried." The Saturday morning repeat would include a chart update and a video vote which would decide which two full clips would be used on the following Tuesday's show. Each show would feature five acts in the studio, twelve video excerpts and two full video clips. New bands would be encouraged to send in demo tapes which would be available on the shows' own "Dial-A-Disc" type service. The musical policy would be flexible, according to Pirrie "Each week we'll probably have three big-name videos and then there may be two from lesser names."


The first show went on the air, but there were still problems since many of ITV's affiliates couldn’t agree when to show it. Tuesday evening had been agreed by the ITV network (with a repeat on the Saturday morning), but it was left to the individual stations to make a timeslot available. Fearing that it would mean moving the successful farming soap Emmerdale Farm, The Roxy was put head to head with BBC1’s EastEnders, Britain’s number one rated show at the time. The programme was jockeyed from slot to slot in the regions from 6:30 to 7:30, causing friction between ITV and the show’s sponsor Nescafe. Thames and Central would not show it at the recommended time. However the first show reached a respectable 7.3 million, plus another 1.7 million for the Saturday morning repeat. Top Of The Pops showed that scheduling meant everything. The show had a ten million plus rating, Channel Four's The Chart Show would only have a million. The show generated a small increase in record sales, with four of the seven acts featured having their singles go down the chart. Despite the poor reviews Pirrie told Music Week "It's a fine, bouncing baby and far, far better than I expected it to be with less than six weeks' preparation. The response from the music industry has been great since the first show went out, with some well-known people interested in appearing on it."


Music Week returned to the show after its first ten weeks and spoke to associate producer Ken Scorfield who proudly boasted "We say the hits happen first on The Roxy. We had on Marillion and Siouxsie because we knew they were both going to be high entries. By the time the Gallup chart was published, they had both been on The Roxy. We are better than TOTP because we are faster to react to new singles." He also talked about the set design "There is nothing less natural than playing in a TV studio. We give them a real stage, we hire a PA and they feel like performers instead of just going through their paces." Michael Hurll from TOTP was asked by Music Week to comment on The Roxy and he quoted "I thought they were going to do something different but but they have really just copied TOTP."


Although the thirty minute show featured a top thirty chart it often went outside the chart remit when the artists made themselves available. But despite attracting several major names including Paul McCartney most acts were reluctant to make the trek to Newcastle just for a single performance. At least with The Tube you could perform a short live set and have a chat with a host.


Benny Brown was brought in to look at the international music scene, but this section didn't last long, while the show would have a scrolling music news banner at the bottom of the screen. There would also be a chart update as a voice-over at the end.


It wasn't a happy Christmas for the show as Alastair Pirrie announced that he was leaving to go freelance. Gordon Elsbury, producer / director of Jonathan King's Entertainment USA would take over, while it was assumed that David Jensen would now have a bigger say in the show's music policy.


By the beginning of 1988 the show underwent a re-boot. Now re-Christened The Roxy / The Network Chart Show David Jensen was now only to be heard in voice-over while Paul Nolan and Pat Sharp had joined to co-host with Kevin Sharkey. The show is now produced by Gordon Elsbury with Associate Producer David Jensen, a job presumably given to him as a sweetener. It was Elsbury's intention to attract a younger audience, but there will still scheduling problems throughout the ITV network. The Simon May theme is now replaced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman featuring Bananarama. The set and scenery had also been given an overhaul, but it was too late. On Tuesday 23rd February 1988 ITV announced that the show was to be cancelled. By this time Thames TV had been showing it at 12.35 am and playing fifteen year old repeats of Bless This House in its intended early evening slot instead. Tyne Tees confirmed that the show would go off the air on 22nd March 1988, but it held on for another two weeks. Scheduling issues led to its demise, leaving the studio empty for the first time since late 1982.


The final show was broadcast live on Tuesday 5th April 1988. Co-host Kevin Sharkey refused to appear so it was down to Pat Sharp, David Jensen and Paul Nolan. The costly set was blown up at the end, while The Shangri Las' Leader of the Pack played. In their desire to take some of the shine off of Top Of The Pops they created something that couldn't really justify its own existence. The Roxy's demise was an embarrassment as ratings suggest that the public plainly liked the show, but ITV didn't. The music industry called for a replacement, but despite rumours of a show to be produced by cable channel Music Box and ex-BBC Michael Hurll, nothing appeared.


Malcolm Gerrie who had left the show at the end of 1987 was about to debut his own new show, Wired, for Channel 4.


Critical reaction was predictable enough, nicknamed “The Poxy” by more than one journalist. After the plug was pulled ITV fell back on Saturday morning’s The Chart Show video clip show to fill the pop gap.


Pop would become London-centric again as the only reasonable replacement would be CD:TV in the nineties.



THE ROXY / THE NETWORK CHART SHOW


Tyne Tees

9th June 1987 - 5th April 1988