TV Pop Diaries

Popular Music on British Television

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1st January 1964 - 30th July 2006


The BBC had been considering a response to Associated Rediffusion's successful and trend-setting Friday tea-time pop show Ready, Steady Go! which had debuted in August 1963. BBC Television Producer Johnnie Stewart had taken Radio Luxembourg's Teen and Top Twenty Disc Club as his inspiration, and gave its host Jimmy Savile eight weeks to predict what would be in the UK top ten by the first week of January 1964, and that prediction would be the basis of the first show. The Teen and Twenty Club had previously been given its own pilot show by the BBC in late 1961, hosted by Jimmy Savile and produced by Barney Colehan, but despite favourable reviews by the panel it was not commissioned.

Producer Stewart had previous experience in pop / light entertainment for BBC Television working on pop shows Juke Box Jury, Twist! and The Trad Fad, so was the most likely to get a show of this nature commissioned. The show format was devised by Savile and The Good Old Days producer Barney Colehan and a pilot was commissioned for late 1963, but it was Stewart who had come up with the title 'Top of the Pops'. The title Teen and Twenty Record Club had briefly been considered, but since it was associated with a Radio Luxembourg show a new name had to be produced.

The pilot was recorded at the location that would become the home of the show for the first two years, a converted church in Dickenson Road, Rusholme, Manchester, formerly the home of Mancunian Films. The format devised would concentrate on hit singles, rather than anyone that happened to be available, but it was the Head of Light Entertainment Bill Cotton Jnr who suggested that it should concentrate on the top twenty. This format would make the show more of a crowd-puller, but this also meant that at least eight of the top twenty acts would have to make themselves available at short notice. A series of six shows was commissioned, with a budget of £1300 per show to debut on New Years' Day 1964, with the show recorded on Tuesdays for transmission the following night.

Since the show is based on what the public is buying then a chart, from the many available, has to be chosen. They decided to use the Disc & Music Echo chart for the first few years, although this is never mentioned on screen.

Talking to The Stage in December 1963, a few weeks' ahead of the first Stan Parkinson, assistant to producer Johnnie Stewart stated that the records would be chosen from records going up the top twenty/thirty as well as the top three. Also the ban on miming would be relaxed "to let viewers hear the discs as recorded within the setting of a television production".

Several rules would be implemented over time - only to play records that are climbing the chart, the highest entry, the highest chart climber and never play the same record two weeks' running unless it's the number one. However, the maths of only playing records that are going up the chart wouldn't always work as a record at, say number ten one week could sell more copies the following week but still go down the chart as chart placing's are relative. Over the years an almost Spinal Tap equation would be quoted by many acts which was "ours was the only record to be on Top Of The Pops and go down the chart the following week." In reality, it's very likely they sold a lot more copies, but the records above them are obviously doing much better that week, so their record goes down the chart. Similarly a record could also climb the chart on lower sales than the previous week if it was a slow sales week overall.

Much has been made of Jimmy Savile and Johnnie Stewart having to guess the what the chart would look like a few weeks' ahead, but choices made in early December included Heinz and Brian Poole & The Tremloes, neither of which were in the top ten on the week of transmission.

The debut couldn't have come at a better time for the BBC. Pop music shows had started making their presence felt in the Television Audience Measurement top ten ratings. Thank Your Lucky Stars had been in the top ten twice in summer 1963, while It's The Beatles, their appearance on Juke Box Jury and the band's appearance on the Royal Command Performance also took pop music into millions of homes the month before the The Pops' first show. However, it has to be noted that Top Of The Pops itself never once reached the top ten ratings in the sixties.

Ready, Steady, Go! was the trend-setter, whereas The Pops could only responded weeks later with the nation's response to the same records.

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