Updated: Apr 16
It entertained the nation and gave kids something to talk about the next day, but was Top of the Pops actually any good at any time in its oh so long history?
Top Of The Pops
THE HIGH CONCEPT:
Hits from the pop charts "performed" before members of the Great British Public herded in front of television cameras for the delight of the nation. None of your Old Grey Whistle Test esotericism here, thank you very much, we’re talking (potential) hit singles and the dreamy icons that record them.
Top of the Pops (or TOTP in its gawky abbreviated form) straddled decades, was successfully formatted and sold around the world, generated a magazine (called Top Of The Pops - which was just like Smash Hits) and grew a viewership cult, before withering on the television vine.
A thirty-minute popular music compendium with the charts as its starry centre.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
Top Of The Pops had distinct personas in different decades. In the 60s it was groovy, came originally from a church in Manchester, and then drifted south to be where the beautiful people were. Everyone who was anyone appeared on it; the show had dancing girls, flashing lights and was very popular with the masses.
In the 70s it was broadcast in colour, featured Radio 1 DJs (who treated it as their private TV estate) and showcased lots of very poor lip-syncing, as well as countless giggling teenagers.
Success continued into the 80s when the show took on more of a "party" atmosphere. Come the 90s, TOTP enjoyed a late credibility renaissance, of sorts, as guest presenters added a certain excitement to the format; the golden mic' was introduced, and Brit Pop briefly made it the place to be seen and heard.
Sadly, TOTP was then moved around the schedules (the shift from Thursday nights confused the audience and meant there were no bike sheds on Friday morning behind which the show could be ridiculed). Cue audience drift.
Come the noughties, an ill-advised re-launch at the hands of Andi Peters and Ferne Cotton finally killed off the show and the remaining loyalty of its once-reliable if increasingly cynical audience.
The diminishing importance of the pop charts may also have had something to do with TOTP’s fall from grace in its later years, as did the ability of the BBC to make a hash of its more popular and valuable brands (think Great British Bake Off, Doctor Who etc.).
HIT OR MISS?
Both a hit and a miss at different times and in the hands of different producers. During its heyday (i.e. the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s) TOTP had a large audience and generated equally energetic amounts of vitriol from those that saw it as mainstream, patronising and inauthentic.
In its sad, dwindling final years not even the critics could be bothered.
REMEMBERED MAINLY TODAY FOR WHAT?
The Top Of The Pops Christmas Special (which was longer, and filled with hits, as well as the presenters wearing Christmas cracker hats, even though it was obviously shot in mid-December, or earlier); the mistakes that somehow made it onto the programme; the occasional glimpse of genuine international superstars in front of its cameras (the Beatles singing I Feel Fine, The Jackson Five belting out Rockin’ Robin, Madonna in a wig) and the excitement Thursday night would bring because that was when TOTP was on.
For all its (many) faults, Top of the Pops was a clarion call to the masses that the weekend was coming, and the BBC’s slightly uncool, if strangely wonderful, gift to the nation.