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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

1990

A parade of Radio One DJs were still employed as hosts, but they were now expected to introduce an ever-increasing conga line of one hit wonder dance acts, all offering up a similar sounding groove, while the boy band bubble will still bouncing along with the likes of Bros, Halo James and the first American pop sensation since Madonna, New Kids On The Block. But even their time on Planet Pop was short lived.


The year gets off to a bad start with only two acts appearing in the studio for the first show, and so it continues with a mass of promo clips, some of which are repeated quickly, which suggests booking acts to appear was now an issue. An over-abundance of dance acts and reserve list rappers was turning the show into The Hitman and Her. But if the acts couldn't supply their own dancers on stage they would be provided by the show.


The 20th December 1990 show only contained one new in the studio clip. Plainly saving their money for the Christmas show.


The show remained as was, but another shake up was due.


1991

TOTP heads towards the Filofax and male ponytail era. The monthly album chart is still present, but the top 40 rundown would abandon records sliding downwards.


In April Nicky Campbell introduced Blur, seemingly yet another post-baggy combo, but whose intuition to evolve meant they would be there for years beyond their expected sell by date. However, the almost immeasurable number of anonymous dance hits by DJs continue to clog up the chart, while nearly a third of the year would see the same single resident at number one.


In October a move to the BBC's Elstree studios, home of Eastenders, sees a new opening sequence and also a new theme, Get Out Of That. The show will now include USA top ten tracks, but this idea would be dropped soon after. Artists are now more likely to sing live, against their better judgement in many cases, but some still opt out and lip synch'. The Breakers promo clip excerpts are still present, but album chart tracks are now introduced, but again, it's a feature that didn't last. Unfortunately the dry ice machine was packed away and also taken to Elstree. Despite the move most acts still have the usual set designs for most songs, but specially designed sets for some artists begin to appear, similar to the kind of thing that Thank Your Lucky Stars used to do. There is now a much larger stage with foldback monitors at the front, giving an almost concert like feel to some of the performances. Radio One DJs were dropped in favour of relatively unknown presenters, but most had been axed within a year. Also dropped is the top forty chart run down, leaving it to the more relevant top ten, but the full chart would be reinstated later. Promo clips which they had an 'Exclusive' on were trumpeted in order to belittle ITV's Chart Show.


Clips sent via satellite from around the world were now included, harking back to the early days of the show when they had clips sent from as far as Australia.


1992

Another year brings in further set of minor tweaks which any viewer could be forgiven for thinking was either a lack of confidence or the result of a seemingly limitless budget. The set design becomes more dramatic with stars on the black background, concert quality lighting and drapes, lots of drapes. The big stage comes in handy for some of the bands who would like to think they could fill arenas.


Occasional guest celebrity co-presenters make a nuisance of themselves, with Bob Geldof being the most sarcastic and creepy.


In June Take That finally have their first hit and make The Pops their hangout for the next few years.


The 1500th show in November has the host quoting various statistics about the show between the songs, one is that the show has had 57 presenters since the beginning. But what he doesn't mention is that the majority of those had been in the past five years.


The Christmas shows' set design become the norm from now on with all the acts playing in what looks like a west end department store window. The show now falls to about 7 million viewers.


1994

The Brit Pop years

A new executive producer was appointed in February. Former Radio One producer Rik Blaxill would see the show through the Britpop years and see not just the return of Radio One DJs, but comedians and actors guest hosting, with mixed, or just plain awful results. His results were also mixed, as the show's ratings continues to fall, at one point to 4.6 million. However they begin to pick up, with an audience of 7.6 million by the end of the year. Also in February Radio One DJs return to present again, with Simon Mayo claiming the show "is back in bed with Radio One again". The Breakers section survived for the first few months before being dropped again.


Many of the acts prefer to sing live and the much improved sound mix over the past few years accommodates this. While the travelogue nature of the show continues with specially recorded clips coming in from around the world.


This year also sees the launch of TOTP2 on BBC2 hosted by Johnnie Walker, and to promote it an archive clip would be shown at the end of each weeks' show.


The show tries to ramp up the excitement by claiming that some tracks are "exclusive". Since there was no other show like it on TV at the time, it seems a little ludicrous.


The Christmas Day show features a genuine exclusive however. For the first time a chart is announced on Christmas Day which gives whoever was on presenting duties the chance to say "And now for the first time, TOTP can announce that the Christmas number one is..." Producer Rix Blaxill has the presenter(s) record six or seven alternate versions announcing potential number ones. Blaxill tells Music Week "I should get the chart results through by around 11 am on Christmas morning and I'll phone Television Centre and tell them which version to use." If, however he's caught out by a surprise number one then "I'll fly like an eagle to the studio and have three hours to film something else."


1995

The 2nd February show sees yet another format launch, but this time the acts don't have to perform live, but many would continue to do so if only to prove a point. Vince Clark of Erasure provides the shows' new theme 'Red Hot Pop'. Radio One DJs and the odd celebrity continue to host the show. Acts continue to bring visual props, like dancers and circus performers, while satellite clips will continue. The show temporarily moves back to Television Centre while the new set is built at Elstree ready for the 2nd February re-boot. A new logo and graphics set is designed by BBC in-house designer Paula Williams.

Top Of The Pops launches a weekly magazine on 22nd February in competition to Smash Hits and is edited by Peter Lorraine who had previously worked on Just Seventeen magazine. In May the brand extends to records at a compilation tie in with Sony results in a double album. By this time the show is reaching more than 8 million viewers.


The Christmas Day show proves why the show was just about the best when it comes to presenting pop on TV. It shouldn't be difficult. The "build it and they will come" quote was not more applicable than The Pops. However, 1995 was probably the last truly great year for pop.


1996

14th June 1996 saw the show move to Fridays


1997

It was an example of the show's pulling power that in one edition in July they had Oasis in the sudio, and exclusive live clips of Michael Jackson and U2.


1998

A new remixed version of Whole Lotta Love was introduced as the new theme.


1999

In the late nineties the then USA-led music industry makes it's greatest single mistake and the one that would set the agenda for its own demise. Persuading customers to buy albums rather than singles had been a successful tactic in the seventies. Peter Frampton sold more albums than singles in the Comes Alive era, but single releases were the way that many previous non-Frampton fans got into the album, so singles were duly issued and many of the single buyers later went on to buy the album as well, keeping it top of the USA album charts for many weeks and accounting for the fourteen million sales at the time. The same would also happen for Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and others. The practice of releasing the first single a month ahead of the album meant that the single would be the only way you could access anything from the new album for the first month and when the album was finally released further singles would be released, mostly less successful, but a worthwhile venture as it kept those songs on the radio. This was fine for traditional rock acts, but it wouldn't work for pop. For many pop acts albums sales were some kind of bonus to more prominent single sales. However by the late nineties the industry had had enough of singles and wanted even devoted pop fans only to buy albums and expensive ones at that, hiking prices up to sometimes as much as $18 a time. With no singles sales alternative they had no option but to buy the album. That was until Napster filled the void.


Napster became the singles market in the USA for about eighteen months, and the major labels were analysing its statistics to see who was popular and who to dump. Britain didn't really find Napster as tempting as its singles market was still healthy due to chart hyping, in many cases targeting certain record stores with cheap CD singles in order to get a chart placing. The dance music market in Britain was something that America didn't have or understand and was almost exclusively singles based, so to wipe that away would be a mistake. Also the Pete Waterman produced Steps became Britain's biggest selling singles act for many years, and without singles there would be no pop and without pop there would be no Top Of The Pops. But an era without singles would be something that the show would have to contend with just before its demise.



TOP OF THE POPS


The 1990s