After a little over 42 and a half years the BBC's flagship pop programme, "Top of the Pops", is to finish at the end of July. "Another One Bites the Dust", to quote Freddie Mercury. It's a brilliant lifespan for a television show, of course, but, having got this far, one might've been forgiven for thinking it would go on forever. I always believed "Doctor Who" was a permanent fixture too. It lasted 26 years before being abandoned to collect dust in archive storage. Now the flagship SF series has been resurrected, after 16 years in the wilderness, so there is no reason why the same thing shouldn't happen to "Top of the Pops", one day. After all, like "Doctor Who", it is a brand name and, after a suitable period, I'm sure the powers that Beeb will want to capitalise on it!
Also, again in a similar fashion to "Doctor Who", the producers started tinkering with the programme's format. "Top of the Pops" was originally intended to feature only singles going up the chart, the top twenty not the top forty, and, unless you were at number one, no record would be played on consecutive weeks. It didn't feature the album chart although there was a time when they started playing new releases, before they charted, if it was a dead cert the artist in question would be a new entry the following week.
Originally broadcast on Wednesday, January 1st, 1964, "Top of the Pops" became better established as part of early evening television on Thursday nights and there was a time, in the mid-Seventies, when I was torn between watching it and the competition of "Space:1999" on ITV, just as I had been forced to choose between "Doctor Who" and "UFO" earlier the same decade. Some say that when "Top of the Pops" was later moved to Friday nights it spelt the beginning of the end, just as the same thing had been said about "Doctor Who" when moved from Saturday to weeknights. The pop show's fate was sealed when moved to Sunday nights on BBC2.
The original presenter was Jimmy Savile and you can see, in the top of the picture, that he actually used to spin the records. Bottom right is a bare-footed Sandie Shaw who was at number 1 that particular week. Above her, you can see the bottom of the top twenty chart board and can just make out that "Crying in the Chapel" by Elvis Presley was at number 20. In the first ever edition, Sir Jimmy, as he is now, introduced The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield no less! Much archive footage has been erased, another thing in common with "Doctor Who", and the only clip of Sandie that still exists from the black and white days, for example, is a rehearsal sequence.
Many presenters followed Jimmy, from the sublime to the ridiculous depending on your point of view. Noel Edmonds was painful while John Peel's sarcasm was refreshing considering some of the awful "acts" he had to introduce. The vacuous nature of the programme's most recent host, Fearne Cotton, so falsely earnest, is a million miles from the fun of Jimmy Savile's approach to the given material. I still remember soul boy Tony Blackburn commenting, on a rare appearance by prog rock band Genesis, that "It takes all sorts", for which, despite not being a fan of them particularly, I've never really forgiven his narrow-mindedness. I've often thought that the "artists" should pay to appear on "Top of the Pops", rather than being paid, considering a slot on the show is no more than advertising the availability of a product!
The programme has produced many memorable moments and the choice of these probably depends, most likely, on one's age! My era was the Seventies and, in particular, the more musically adventurous side of Glam Rock followed by New Wave, the more musically adventurous side of Punk. So, I remember Roxy Music performing "Virginia Plain" in which you can barely see future U2 producer Brian Eno on synthesiser; Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel with their number one hit "Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)" in which Steve repeats a verse, by mistake, and acknowledges it during the performance by adding a word - "I know what faith is AGAIN and what it's worth" - and I fondly recall Hugh Cornwell snarling his way through The Stranglers' "No More Heroes". Any more? Loads! But I'll finish with my all-time favourite appearance, on "Top of the Pops", which was "Starman" by David Bowie, featuring the late Mick Ronson, of The Spiders from Mars, on guitar.