Stop of the Pops

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I love Top of The Pops (BBC Four). I realised how very much I loved it when, a year after Jimmy Savile’s death, the nauseating truth began to unfold and any editions of the nation’s favourite chart show presented by the grim reaper were understandably taken out of circulation. (He hosted around 300 editions between 1964 and 2006, including the first and the last.) In 2012, the year Operation Yewtree began, BBC Four were in full nostalgic swing with real-time repeats of Top of The Pops on Thursday nights, by then most of the way into 1977, a chance for those of a certain age to relive their youth. Sinister, telltale gaps started to appear in what had previously been an unbroken weekly virtual reality experience. Gary Glitter, arrested that October and jailed in February 2013, was already persona non grata in archival terms, and had long since been wiped from pop history. But now, with good reason, we lost any editions the monstrous Savile hosted or co-hosted. The subsequent arrest of Dave Lee Travis in November 2013 removed another batch of Pops shows (he was eventually convicted of one count of indecent assault in 2014). The arrest and imprisonment of Rolf Harris made less of a mark on the archive as he’d stopped having hits by the late 70s (although the mid-90s edition where he performs Stairway To Heaven will most likely now not be shown – if we get that far).

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Even though Paul Gambaccini was acquitted of any wrongdoing, his arrest in 2013 temporarily cast doubt over editions he presented. Disaster averted there, thankfully. And now Tony Blackburn has been sacked by the BBC (not arrested, by the way, but fired from the BBC because his testimony to Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into Savile differed from the Corporation’s version of events over an allegation made in 1971 which Blackburn denies and which he claims the BBC never interviewed him about at the time, hence the disparity, hence the overreacton by Tony Hall). This, we have to assume, takes the many shows he presented off the table, which certainly includes a couple in the early 80s, otherwise packed with fabulous music from a peppy time when the studio seemed less like a mausoleum and more like a balloon factory. All of this makes you grateful for Peter Powell, John Peel, Paul Burnett, Simon Bates, Kid Jensen, Steve Wright and indeed any Top Of The Pops presenter never to have had a knock at the door from Inspector Knacker. (Incidentally, Blackburn has threatened legal action against his former employers and continues to broadcast on local commercial radio in Kent.)

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We’re into the 80s now, so at least we can put history’s most sexually suspect decade behind us. The very glimpse of a presenter with his arms around teenage girls now makes us shudder, however innocently, even if it speaks of no greater crime than being an adult male working in the entertainment industry between the years 1970-79. The tactile culture, an implicit patriarchy where young women were still called “girls” or “birds”, was not helped by the weekly cavort by Legs & Co, all-female dance troupe, often scantily clad (some weeks, even into the 80s, Legs & Co are essentially in bras and pants), and, one may assume, filmed by all-male camera crews; the creepy male gaze in full effect. It really was another time, another place. I was a child during the 70s and not expected to be sexually anything, never mind sexually enlightened; I gorged on TOTP, weekly, because it had all the pop acts and bands on that were in the charts. It was a simple contract.

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As an adult, I have been all over the BBC Four reruns. Top of the Pops has become again a must-see treat, every Thursday. With all the episodes that have been retired due to unforeseen sexual assault and predatory paedophilia, it’s an incomplete experience, but one that I still cherish; even if, let’s be brutally honest, there’s nothing to top the sheer plurality of a 1970s Pops, with its feverish mix of glam rock, rock’n’roll revivalism, punk, disco, soul, funk, novelty singles and end-of-the-pier holiday cabaret music sung by people who looked like your auntie and uncles. Apparently, there is still a chart, but it’s not on telly every week, and it’s bent out of shape by downloads and the X-Factor, and I haven’t heard of most of the people who top it (or if I have, I don’t much care about them, as they don’t seem to be able to make a record without one of the other people “featuring” on it).

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To an extent, yes, I live in the past, and TOTP enables that illusion for 30 blessed minutes. The past is a foreign country, and a half-hour cross-section of its popular music gives me a Proustian rush and a snapshot of a more innocent time. (I realise the very idea of “innocence” is now tainted by grim findings, but you know what I mean). To give you a clue as to how far out of synch we are now with real-time TOTP, the editions now showing are from August 1981 – we’re five months into the future in the past! BBC Four have been occasionally showing two a week, as if to sweep these valuable time capsules under the carpet (or maybe just to clear the decks for the Proms and the more-important festival season). The writing may well be on the wall. The Top Of The Pops balloon may be about to go up. History has been rewritten by the victims, and we must respect that. But I so wish the BBC could afford to sit an editor down in a suite for a year and carefully edit out any sexual miscreants from archived shows, so that we could at least watch the music without the links.

For the record, I wrote about Savile in my other blog in October 2012, before Yewtree’s findings.

Stop Press: see comments below for insight into why editing out miscreants might not work.

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11 thoughts on “Stop of the Pops

  1. “I so wish the BBC could afford to sit an editor down in a suite for a year and carefully edit out any sexual miscreants from archived shows, so that we could at least watch the music without the links.”

    They tried that. The BBC had to apologise to Jonathan King (of all people) for editing him out: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2050698/BBC-apologise-paedophile-Jonathan-King-deleting-Top-Pops.html

    I am enjoying it, though too. I’m only 42, so for me it’s the stuff that didn’t last that is most interesting. Like Rockabilly. Well, Shakin’ Stevens excepting.

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    • Interesting link to the Jonathan King article from 2011. I’d missed that particular storm in a teacup. Great to see then-Director General Mark Thompson sucking up to the convicted paedophile. I rather suspect the BBC would like this story editing out of history since Savile and Yewtree.

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  2. A recent BBC4 tweet indicated that they were trying to get through 2 years (81 and 82) during 2016. It’s a shame as I’ve enjoyed watching my childhood unfold in real time week after week in other years. 1981 was when I first really got into pop music, and my memory said TOTP81 was all about synthpop, new romantics, Vienna, Adam, Shaky, Ghost Town and Don’t You Want Me. The reality has been different but great to watch (Imagination, Kim Wilde, A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis, Bette Davis Eyes etc).
    The version I heard about why they couldn’t simply edit out presenters was that, the programme could still inadvertently contain footage of possible victims which may cause distress. It’s a shame, but I think that’s a fair enough view given the hideous nature of what Saville (and possibly others) perpetrated.

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  3. I’m normally half-jarred looking at them. I thought I was in some space-time-continuum-thingie.
    I knew the answer would be a lot more prosaic. Just old fashioned paedophelia, unfortunately.

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  4. I’ve been enjoying this trawl down memory lane, real-time archive too. Now that we are into the period when TOTP starts to fuel my childhood love of pop it has been really interesting to see all of those oddities that had long-since been forgotten. I particularly liked the recent episode that featured a Hazel O’Connor performance that looked as if it had been directed by Derek Jarman. It was also funny to see Phil Oakey clowning around on stage even if he wasn’t wanted. The Human League always seemed far more serious in their videos than on TOTP. It’s a welcome remedy to see the cool pose so roundly shot through with pure pop.

    One other thing, you mentioned above that the Seventies were sleazy for the likes of Saville and DLT presences and give John Peel more than the benefit if the doubt. However, by all acvounts there were shadows over his behaviour during the period also. I loved the man as a DJ. He introduced me to so much great music, from The Fall right through to Nina Nastasia (who recorded a great video round at the Peel’s), but these allegations seem all too familiar.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/9603959/John-Peel-got-15-year-old-pregnant-after-meeting-at-Black-Sabbath-concert-claims-woman.html

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  5. You’ll have been told this dozens of times, but just in case you haven’t, then the TOTP repeats are infinitely better when accompanied by the Twitter feed @TOTPfacts

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  6. Ironically (?) the reason BBC Four started the re-runs at around March 1976 was that it’s only from that point onwards that they’ve still got (nearly) all of the shows. The BBC had already erased from history most of the shows before that. Which now looks far-sighted I suppose. (I know one of the episodes they’ve shown came from the presenter’s own home recording of the show – I think it was David Hamilton.)

    The German channel Einsfestival showed most of the extant shows from 1970 to 1975 a year or so before the BBC Four repeats began. I’m glad I recorded them: it’s a small enough number to begin with but the number the BBC could show now is, well, sad. (Check the 1972 episode where Tony Blackburn introduces Rolf Harris, who then draws a cartoon while Chuck Berry sings My Ding-A-Ling.)

    Jonathan King may be a convicted sex offender (I’m not sure about paedophile) but he has served his sentence, which is why, I think, they agreed they shouldn’t have edited him out. And it was only a performance they cut; he wasn’t presenting the show. On the other hand, that performance has one of the worst vocals I’ve ever heard. And on what I believe is his own YouTube channel he’s rewritten history himself by replacing the TOTP soundtrack with the record.

    Just by the by, even in 1981 most of the shows are actually 35 minutes long (a lot of the repeats have been 40 minutes) – the 7:30 showings are all edited. So the BBC are evidently not short of editors to do the work. But I don’t think they’ll do it. I’ve discussed this elsewhere in greater detail but suffice it to ask: how would they bill the shows?

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  7. Liking the image blurring Duran Duran and Public Image Ltd; intriguing to imagine Simon Le Bon chanting along to Rise or J Lydon giving his menacing interpretation of Girls On Film or Rio.

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