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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999


The new decade brought no new immediate changes to the presentation of the show, but we wouldn't have to wait long until a new style kicked in, and one which would last most of the decade. However, in the meantime a spiral staircase leading up to a podium was added so the presenters could get away from gurning, self-aware audience members.

Radio 1 DJs were still expected to take it in turns to host, but by this time several of them ill-advisedly crammed their beer guts into ill-fitting leather or spandex jackets, pretty much a visual representation of how the show was perceived by many.

The Top Of The Pops orchestra was still present, but for once they made themselves useful backing The Ramones on Baby I Love You in January.

In May executive producer Robin Nash takes a chance of two new bands outside of the top forty, The Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD), something new was about to happen, but then all of a sudden didn't. A review of BBC finances would lead to the axing of five BBC orchestras, and The Pops orchestra was one of them. This in turn led to a Musicians Union strike which hit the show in the summer, but when it returned the pruned down show proved successful and was the first necessary step to reinvigorate the show.

On the 9th July 1980 a pilot for a proposed re-boot of the show was recorded. Michael Hurll took executive producer credit for the first time. Peter Powell co-hosted with singer B A Robertson, and while it featured no studio guests, they went through the motions of performing a full show using studio staff on stage for the purposes of camera blocking. There was minimum set design, but they did have the big video screen, which sometimes worked.

Upcoming clips (Yellow Magic Orchestra - Theme From The Invaders) NB Legs and Co spelt 'Lecs and Co' on the credits

Saxon - 747 (Strangers In The Night) (studio staff taking their places)

Odyssey - Use It Up (Legs and Co)

Paul McCartney - Waterfalls (promo clip)

Chart 30 - 21

Thin Lizzy - Chinatown (studio staff taking their places)

Leo Sayer - More Than I Can Say (studio staff taking his place)

Chart 20 - 11

Kate Bush - Babooshka (promo clip)

Darts - Let's Hang On (promo clip)

Chart 10 - 1 (with some promo clips used)

Olivia Newton-John & ELO - Xanadu (a single still of Olivia Newton-John)

Change - Lover's Holiday (playout record and end credits)

The show returns in August after ten weeks off the air due to to the Musician Union strike and various sporting events. It also brought a new executive producer when Robin Nash gives way to Michael Hurll, a BBC production staffer since the mid-sixties and whose influence impacted the show in the most profound way since the show's creation. It's no exaggeration to say that he influenced pop TV in the eighties in the same way Jack Good did the late fifties and Mike Mansfield did in the seventies. The show will be produced by Phil Bishop.

From Music Week 9th August 1980 "We will no longer have a rundown of the chart at the front of the show and instead we will feature a menu of who's appearing set against the old Top Of The Pops signature tune," explains Phil Bishop. "The show will generally be co-hosted by a guest DJ plus a guest presenter but for this first week we will have Peter Powell, Tommy Vance plus one other." The new-look programme, which will have a half seated, half dancing audience, will feature chart records in three sections — 30 to 21, 20 to 11 and 10 to two. The first two sections will have records backed by picture slides, while the top ten will be represented by 15 to 20 second snatches of the artists performing. "During the first two weeks we will probably concentrate on the top end of the chart to remind people of what they've been missing," predicts Bishop. "But after two or three weeks we will settle down to a similar spread of material from the chart plus new material."

However, it wasn't all good news. The production team had decided to bring in celebrity co-hosts which worked well when Elton John, a self-confessed pop fan turned up, but not when B A Robertson or Russ Abbot appeared, proving the Light Entertainment department was still in control. Thankfully the concept didn't last long and was replaced by celebrities popping up between the discs for a quick chat. The chart run down is now moved to the middle of the show, and clips from the top ten will be shown before the number one record is announced. About twenty people will be allowed to dance, while everybody else (about eighty) will be seated. Producer Phil Bishop explained to the Daily Mirror “As you travel down from the North of England to the south people seem to move less and less when they dance these days. Most of our studio audience come from London and we faced the problem of people almost standing still." The set design changed radically. The acts were now in the middle of the set with the audience around them waving balloons and chucking streamers like a children's party, but it least they were now moving, and there were now twice as many as before. The dance troupe was also more prominent on more songs. The producer sought fans of the bands to be in the audience in order to get a more responsive feel, something that had worked well with some punk and metal bands. A large (for the time) video screen was employed, while the newly introduced music news section slowed the show to a crawl and was quickly dropped. Each song now has a computer graphic caption with the name of the act and that chart position at the end.

1980 also introduced a now familiar trope. Disco diva Kelly Marie would be the first to bring her own dancers (Tony and Pinkie) to perform on stage, which would become the norm from 1984 until the end, although Carl Douglas had brought two of his kung fu sidekicks on stage several times in 1974. But dance music, particularly in London, was moving away from disco. A dance club in Covent Garden would prove to be the next big influence.


The stage design doesn't immediately change, they rarely did at the beginning of the year, but the set looks strangely empty, like a badly attended youth club. Sometimes audience reaction (whoops, clapping etc) is played live over the record, but most acts are still miming.

Radio 1 DJs and BBC TV personalities were still the hosts and thankfully any idea of guest hosts had been dropped, but it was obvious that Jimmy Savile was becoming more out of place and very soon he would be out, while John Peel was invited back to host, his first show since 1968.

There is no theme and the camera starts on the TOTP logo in the studio, replaced a few weeks later by a computer graphic of the logo before cutting to the host for the introduction. However, the Whole Lotta Love theme returns for the top thirty chart run-down which is now spread across three inserts throughout the show. The playout record graphics remain the same with camera trickery. The orchestra is still present, but the P45s were in the mail.

In February The Jam become the first band to be allowed to play two tracks in the number one spot since The Beatles in 1966.

The serious phase of the show's renovation begins with its 900th show in July. This sees the introduction of the new theme Yellow Pearl by Phil Lynott and Midge Ure and the show's most memorable opening credit sequence with coloured vinyl records falling from the sky.

Sadly, Legs and Co are sent packing with no word of goodbye in October, while their replacements Flick Colby's Zoo featured a pool of twenty male and female dancers chosen from clubs and some street dancers.

Also abandoned in October was the practice of having to re-record the track for broadcast to satisfy the Musicians Union. A motion put before the Union that commercial recordings could be used if financial recompense was made to the musicians involved was passed. However, live or re-recorded tracks would still appear for the next few years.

Medley records, beginning with Stars on 45 infest the chart and the show for the next eighteen months or so.

A dark corner of the studio is still set aside for bands, still looking a bit like the mid-seventies stage set up. The set design is subjected to more lighting and more audience participation with dancers placed among them, encouraging everyone to join. They would be referred to as ‘The Cheerleaders’, leading to a more carnival atmosphere. Suddenly everyone wanted to be seen encouraged by competition.

The 12th of November show sees a new extended set design, while Jonathan King presents a five minute piece on the American charts, which would eventually lead to his own Entertainment USA show on BBC2. The 26th November show introduces the top ten LP chart which wouldn't last long.

Despite this more appropriate and responsive era for the show there was a threat. By this time bands weren't as interested in appearing on the show as they were making expensive promotional video clips which made them look like movie stars and despite the potential threat to the shows' existence Top Of The Pops had no option but to show them. A show without Adam Ant was unthinkable at the time.

The Christmas Eve show certainly stands out as one of the finest examples of how good the show could be.


I don't want my MTV

The successful re-invention continues into 1982. Radio 1 DJs presenting the show this year include Powell, Travis, Bates and Jensen and on occasion guest co-presenters, sometimes from the world of football.

Bands who brought along keyboards with monitors displaying meaningless green output will dominate for the next couple of years.

Jonathan King's USA chart run down is still present, encouraging some of these singles to become UK hits a few weeks' later. Despite MTV's debut in August 1981 in the USA it would take several years to make it to Europe, but even then the UK pretty much ignored it.

Dance troupe Zoo would still be present and looking more like Hot Gossip than ever, while the large video screen is put to good use by Dexy's Midnight Runners in one unforgettable edition in September.

Dancers and members of the audience occasionally adopt the trend for dance class fashion with leotards and leggings. The oversized flags and whooping was still evident. For once, the show accurately represented the buoyant and confident state of British pop music at the time. Meanwhile, musical director Ronnie Hazelhurst seemed to have less and less to do each week, if anything.

The set designers got creative from time to time with wonderful and daft sets and props for the likes of Madness and Adam Ant with not just the permission, but encouragement from producer, Michael Hurll. This was necessary to counter the more severe look of the non-performance keyboard and singer duos who could only just stand there and mime. Sometimes gymnastic dancers were centre stage, alongside tumblers and other circus and carnival performers to liven up the place. Among the cheerleaders would be future gay disco star Sinitta and actor Craig Fairbrass, while Jeffrey Daniels' backsliding dance for Shalamar's A Night To Remember became one of the shows’ greatest ever performances.

The show briefly became BFF with the American TV series Fame whose hit singles would be played on the show which in turn would follow the Pops at eight o'clock.


Celebrate good times

The winning formula continues with, on average, eleven million viewers a week tuning in. In May the show celebrated its 1000th edition with a stereo FM 'simulcast' on Radio 1. The following week The Belle Stars fly in from France, while Men At Work fly from Japan to be on the show, suggesting that the industry were still happy to spend money getting acts to the show.

The chart up until now had been provided by British Market Research Bureau, but chart hyping was still prevalent, so this year they are replaced by another market research organisation Gallup in an attempt to fool chart-hypers, but since the same industry hiring the chart compilers were the same industry hyping the said chart it was just a cosmetic change.

Jimmy Savile still occasionally co-presents buts seems out of touch and has difficulty with the names in the chart run down. The show gets its first woman host when Janice Long is introduced at the end of 1982. Like Dave Jensen she would would be a compatriot of Peel, but found it hard to do "lively".

Dave Jensen and the 'multi-talented' John Peel continue their Rhythm Pals shtick with ever more bizarre costume choices. They even make a TV advert for a K-Tel compilation together.

New Order were given the chance to play live, so Blue Monday becomes the first totally live performance since the last one, probably The Climax Blues Band. They were terrible.

Trying to challenge the look and excitement of video clips some songs were given special treatment, like Wham's Club Tropicana, a re-creation of which was attempted in the studio.

The show manages to survive the onslaught of promo clips by rationing them to two or three a week, but in the near future the lure of a mostly promo clip show would eventually be too tempting. The 15th September show gets away with only three new studio clips. The top ten chart would be a way of using promo clips, so the Top Ten Video Show was introduced. European and other international charts were occasionally used alongside the American chart, but were quickly dropped.

Zoo continue to make almost subliminal appearances each week, only occasionally allowed their own routine, but they do get to perform for many of the shows' playout songs. Members of the troupe would dance in cages either side of the new stage set up, much to the distress to singer Tracie on one show. By November they were gone.

Morrissey's torso and gladioli swinging became an iconic vision, while streamers and balloons were still being used as projectiles, but we can now add glitter to the arsenal.


Choose life, anyone?

The year began with a minor spectacular, the twentieth anniversary show. No stereo simulcast, no gathering of the old hosts (apart from Fluff), just a regular show with a supporting cast of archive clips. Frankie Goes To Hollywood made their Pops debut on the show with Relax, but would then be subjected to a ban which has never been fully explained as the instigator, Radio 1 DJ Mike Read has changed the story behind his objection numerous times. The band would go own to own the show for the rest of the year by occupying the number one spot for fifteen weeks. Read himself would release a racially objectionable record in 2016 which would also be banned by the BBC.

The show now expands to include a top forty chart, but this decision would later burden the show.

Anyone watching the 26th January show would be quite sure that Cyndi Lauper would go on to be an international star with the longest career of any female pop star since Petula Clark, rather than the other American on the show that week, Madonna.

Despite the dropping of the dance troupe there are still professional dancers on podiums around the studio. The studio setting still has the main floor with dancers around it and the other stage off to one side, a very nightclub atmosphere. It's now up to dance acts like Madonna and Hazell Dean to continue a trend which had begun with Kelly Marie a few years before, bringing along your own dance troupe. Dancers would regularly back singers until the shows' demise. Gay disco breaks through in a big way this year with Hazell Dean, Eyelyn Thomas, Divine, Bronski Beat, Dead Or Alive and others all making live appearances.

We bade a fond farewell to the Rhythm Pals John Peel and Dave Jensen who are split up for no apparent reason as both continued to present the show, however Jensen would later go on a year long sabbatical.


Back to Basics

The show celebrated it's twenty-first anniversary with another of its occasional tweaks. Having asked the public (whoever they are) what they wanted to see in the show, the answer was of course more hits, the very thing the show had expertly done twenty-one years before, but had increasingly deviated from over the next few years. So the top ten was now presented every week with studio appearances and promo clips. Initially long clips of each were shown, then this was cut down to drastically edited clips, and then abandoned altogether the following year as too many clips were being shown twice, once in the programme proper and then again in the chart run down. Jonathan King's American chart run down was also given the chop as it was also taking up valuable time. The top forty chart continued, but when the show was cut to thirty minutes to accommodate BBC1's new twice-weekly soap opera EastEnders the run down now became cumbersome. Unfortunately, as well as having its time cut, its budget would be cut as well.

Dance music seemed to be the show's salvation in the eighties and by the mid-eighties the new sounds coming out of Chicago and Detroit became the new disco.

Paul Jordan joined the Radio 1 hosting elite, but not for long.

Producer Michael Hurl told BBC's programme controllers that they could, if requested, broadcast twice a week. It was expected that Channel 4's The Tube would be repeated on Sundays. Hurl told Music Week that the studio facilities were ready should they be required. Defending the show Hurl said "Our ratings at the moment stands at 9.7m which is higher than they have been for four years." Talking about the show's cut-back to thirty minutes Hurl said "The decision to cut back the the programme from 40 minutes to 30 was made by the schedulers. We would love it to go back to 40 because that would mean we could get another four records in." He also claimed that should the show go twice a week no more studio time would be required as the current show is recorded in half its allotted studio time.

What no-one knew at the time was that the show was now halfway through it's life span.


The mid-life crisis

The new year sees a couple of changes. The top ten chart run-down returns to just that, with no time-wasting repeat video clips, while the set design changes a little to allow a raised stage in the middle of the set. Overhead crane shots made floor managers herding audience members out of the path of battleship sized cameras a thing of the past allowing more people to congregate in front of the stage, giving some performances an almost concert feeling. However the faces introducing them remain the same. Radio 1 DJs are still the go-to hosts but fewer and fewer are now recognisable to the general public, while Janice Long and John Peel's trial by sarcasm is by now wearing thin and due for retirement.

In February 1986 bosses at Channel 4 allow for a repeat of The Tube, a twice weekly bite of the cherry that Michael Hurl, light entertainment chief at BBC1, had wanted for himself. Talking to Music Week he claimed "Top Of The Pops at Christmas had an audience of 14 1/2m which is the highest it has been for 10 years. Last week, an average Thursday show got 11.8m viewers. That's 2m up on the average. The Tube doesn't seem to get more than a million viewers."

In March a couple of needless changes were introduced. The top forty chart run down would now be placed over a promo clip, so you were now seeing two things at once, while a promo clip would also play over the closing credits and the audience dancing making it look like the picture-in-picture feature on some newer TV sets.

Channel Four debuts The Chart Show in April. It's a video clips package which gets an audience of 1.2 million for the first show, while the Pops gets 10.5 million. Another factor to take into account is record sales stimulus with TOTP responsible for a 45 percent sales increase the following day (Friday), while The Chart Show only provokes a 10 percent increase the following day (Saturday). Payment for promo clips, or lack thereof, led to The Chart Show disappearing from the screens and replaced with Channel Four music show repeats. A new payments system by the BBC, £150,000 for the next year, meant that TOTP could continue showing clips, clips which were becoming more important than ever as fewer acts were willing to appear live on TV.

Now there were now no dance troupes at all, not even the cheerleaders, the studio audience became just set decoration, with the viewers at home only seeing the back of them looking at the stage. Separated from the show the audience, once an integral part of the show, were now treated like fans at an outdoor concert.

Since the show was cut to thirty minutes and the inclusion of more promo video clips fewer and fewer acts appeared live in the studio, with ever emptying dressing rooms it was making the studio experience a sad spectacle. The cuts in the show's budget were becoming more evident on screen, while backstage, the UK record industry wanted the head of programming at BBC1, Michael Grade, to explain.


Go west

As far back as the late sixties some European broadcasters struck a deal with the BBC to use Top Of The Pops clips where the artist was unlikely to appear in their country. Shows like Hits a Gogo in Switzerland and Disco in Germany used clips from the late sixties to the mid seventies and thankfully kept them for re-broadcast, unlike the BBC itself. These shows unintentionally helped fuel the new pirate home video boom. Pop clip collectors would trade badly copied VHS tapes of Beatles and Rolling Stones television performances, usually mis-credited. International collectors would have been aware of Top Of The Pops through references in songs by The Kinks, The Rezillos and The Boomtown Rats, but unlike any one of their domestic shows Top Of The Pops was still being broadcast and complete copies of the show were now circulating around the world on VHS and Betamax and are still being shared online.

The show had an international reputation, partly spread by the many American artists that had appeared on the show over the years. So it was a just matter of time that someone had the idea to use the 'branding' locally. CBS in America had approached the BBC with the idea of broadcasting its own version of the show complete with the British theme, graphics and set design, using its own chart, but utilising British generated clips where applicable. It was surprising that MTV had never done it before as it relied on British music and clips to establish itself. The American version of Top Of The Pops debuted on CBS on Friday 25th September, hosted by Nia Peebles. It would run for 26 weeks, with a further option for another five years. The show would run for an hour, including adverts, and use British hosts Gary Davies and Mike Smith. The show would be repeated on Saturday evenings at 7. Michael Hurll, the show's executive producer, explained to Music Week that each Wednesday night taping of the show would be beamed to America and clips would be combined with clips shot in Hollywood on a fortnightly basis. He said "From September there will be an extra clause in TOTP contracts giving permission for clearance for screening in the States. There will be four or five bands performing in the studio each week from the autumn, and if any management objects to performances being screened there, we'll have to reconsider whether we book the artists concerned." He also explained that promo clips from the UK version could not be shown in the US version due to copyright clearance issues. Likewise the American version would also provide the UK show with clips, which would benefit the show in its war with The Roxy. The two shows were already using the same promo clips with only the personal appearances differentiating the two.

Clips from other European shows like Holland's TopPop would occasionally be used but the American version of The Pops would give the UK show access to big American artists who wouldn't cross the Atlantic just for one TV show. It also gave the UK show access to UK acts who wouldn't do the show either, like Mick Jagger and David Bowie, who were now only too happy to make an appearance knowing it was also shown in America.

Another side effect was that the American show was broadcast "in stereo where available", so the UK show had to do likewise. It was never officially announced that the show was now in stereo as the NICAM audio/video technology that UK TV was testing hadn’t been rolled out yet, but it was now being broadcast via Radio 1 on FM giving the producers a stereo soundtrack for use in the USA.

Exporting the show was a smart move, but they now had competition at home. ITV had finally got its act together and assembled opposition which they felt would undermine the established order. They were wrong. The Roxy just wasn't good enough, even with ex-TOTP's Dave Jensen at the helm. ITV's inability to find a regular network spot for the show was plain incompetent and the plug would be pulled within a year. There was also Channel Four's The Chart Show, a badly presented set of promo clips, shown weekly on Friday evenings.

A new problem that the show had to deal with was the sheer number of oldies that had not only got into the chart, but were regularly getting to number one. Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Ben E King, Jackie Wilson, and other soul greats found a new lease of life, but it made for confusing viewing.

The home grown show continued pretty much as 1986 did with Gary Davies, Mike Smith etc holding the fort, but now the show looked just a bit shabby now, like Christmas decorations left up for too long. The 8th January edition only contained one new studio clip, the rest of the show made up of repeats and promo clips. It was now looking more and more like the continental Pops rip-offs. A new move was needed, and fast.


Under the temporary stewardship of Paul Ciani the show gets a viewership of 13 million in May. It was his idea to use shorter promo clips in each show in an attempt to attract more acts into the studio. Ciani's CV since the early seventies was mostly children's TV, but was the right person to get the show through the Stock, Aitken and Waterman years. As respected and he was feared, he struck the same tone that Hurll had done in the previous eight years, but updated it to accommodate SAW, Aussie TV / pop crossovers, goth, and all the new woman-led bands.

Producers were now taking care by trying not to play the same songs that the twice-weekly soap opera EastEnders had just played in the half-hour slot before The Pops. Placing songs and concert posters in soaps would become more obvious as the years go on.

In April The Pops have the playing field to themselves again as ITV pulled the plug on The Roxy, their failed attempt at tempting away a well-established audience. But far from crowing about the failure the Pops' producers are keen on competition.

While a few months' later in August a live broadcast goes horribly wrong for goth-folkies All About Eve, when the audio to their ode to romantic slavery Martha's Harbour fails to appear in the studio, leaving the two members of the band that had turned up looking bemused and attempting to mime to something they can't hear. Thankfully, they were invited back the following week and it didn't seem to negatively affect sales of the record.

Radio One DJs were still the go-to hosts, but were looking cheesy and unwanted by this time, so Ciani brought in Anthea Turner and Blue Peter's Caron Keating, the shows' first women presenters.

In September Radio One simulcasts the show on FM and, according to figures, 54 percent of viewers now used FM radio as the playback, despite the fact that Radio One still isn't on FM nationally and wouldn't be for years.

The show eventually reflected the underground dance music scene made in England's warehouses and fields, only then to have records containing the word "acid" banned, caving in to the fake wrath of the media after a young girl had died taking what she believed to be ecstasy. This music was not made by bands, but by DJs who would have to bring dancers along to make it visual enough to warrant an invite onto the show. Despite being an underground scene, they would inevitably make a few stars who would hang around the chart until the next decade.

The show celebrates its 25th birthday at the end of the year with a compilation show featuring DJs and pop stars old and new.


Paul Ciani assumes control as the new producer in the new year bringing in yet another new logo and a new set. Talking to Music Week in December 1988 he suggests it would be "a very different image, less Stringfellows, more EPCOT Centre". He adheres to the usual Pops rules of playing the highest climber, the highest entry and never showing the same record two weeks' running, unless it was a breaker the previous week or is that weeks' number one. He expresses a preference for live acts in the studio to promo clips, which by that time were beginning to run their course. Due to time restraints each live appearance would be cut to three minutes and promo clip to two minutes, links were also cut down to ten seconds. The result being more live acts were brought into the studio.

Visually the show employed updated versions of the kind of video graphics that had been employed since Kenny Everett's days at Thames in the late seventies, but this kind of presentation was now on its way out. More Radio One DJs are also sent packing, replaced by the likes of Andi Crane, set free from BBC's broom cupboard, and Jenny Powell from BBC2's No Limits, faking interest and sounding like a holiday rep.

Satellite TV comes to the UK in the shape of Sky in February, but like the launch of MTV Europe and the cable channel Music Box before it satellite programmes would have no impact on the show.

On the 13th July show only two acts appeared in the studio, the rest being promo clips.

On 8th May 1980 Top Of The Pops saw the debut of two bands that would help change pop for the next few years, OMD and the Human League. On 23rd November 1989 they did it again with The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays.


The 1980s