Top of the Pops: The True Story
Top of the Pops was a national institution for more than forty years. A simple format, live acts miming (most of the time) to songs that were in the charts. Any act that had gone up in the charts was eligible to be on the show, anybody that went down was not; not even the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
Top of the Pops: The True Story tracks the story from its first programme in 1964, which was held in a church in Manchester. The first show included the Rolling Stones and within two episodes it was already a phenomenon. As pop music became enormous during the Sixties , so did Top of the Pops, eventually moving down to London and BBC Television Centre. A new theme tune, “Whole Lotta Love” performed by CCS, a new decade and new colour brought the seventies in and the classic period for the show.
With Britain in the throes of economic decline along came Glam Rock to make it all seem brighter. Each week the costumes on TOTP got more and more ridiculous with the friendly rivalry between Sweet and Slade bringing out the most outrageous outfits. The programme was must-see viewing for the whole family as these ‘modern’ bands were interspersed with whatever was in the charts at the time and that could have been Bing Crosby, who turned up once.
Apparently, for the dads, were the dancers. Starting with the Go Jos and followed by the classic dance group, Pans People, and eventually Legs and Co, they were there to sex up songs when acts could not appear. With a new routine every week, choreographer Flick Colby had a thankless task but delivered week-in week-out. The problems for her were caused by the rule that songs must not go down in the charts. As the charts came out at lunchtime on Tuesday and TOTP was recorded on Wednesday for broadcast on Thursday. This meant that a dance routine, that had been worked on for a week, could be scrapped and a new one required within a day. Literal dancing became the norm in these cases as the dancers acted out the lyrics.
Another source of controversy was the miming. The whole point of the show was the performance and having a perfect soundtrack was a good idea. However, some acts ridiculed it and the “Great Miming Disaster” of All About Eve made matters worse. Acts were forced to sing live and prove that they either could or could not sing, often the latter.
Changes of producer also meant changes of format, changes of theme tune and a loss of the original atmosphere.
Two latter-day producers, Ric Blaxhill and Chris Cowey, tried their best to redress the balance with Cowey reintroducing “Whole Lotta Love” as the theme tune. When he left there were further attempts to revive the show but rescheduling and dwindling audiences took its toll. The greatest pop show of all time was axed in 2006 much to the sadness of people that were brought up with it and the music industry that relied on the exposure to gave to its acts.
A legacy that Cowey left behind was giving TOTP to the world as he franchised it many different countries. One day it may come back to its homeland but for now it is no more.