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Top Of The Pops

1 9 6 4 – 2 0 0 6  (UK)

On 30 July 2006, the BBC broadcast the final edition of Top Of The Pops. Thousands mourned but few were surprised. After the programme was shunned to Sunday nights on BBC2 barely a year earlier, its cancellation was clearly only a matter of time.

Still, it was a sad and undignified end to a show which, for successive generations, was the be-all and end-all of UK pop.

For the artists, it was the unequivocal definition of having “made it” into the exclusive pop pantheon. For the audience, it was a window into the country’s ever-changing musical tastes and trends, be it Rod Stewart or St Winifred’s School Choir . . .

Prior to MTV and multiple-telly households, TOTP was a Thursday night ritual in living rooms across Britain, effortlessly exposing the Generation Gap between gushing teenagers and their perplexed – often repulsed – elders.

The show debuted on 1 January 1964 with Jimmy Savile as its presenter. Dusty Springfield was the first artist to sing on the show, which was broadcast from a converted church in Manchester.

Originally screened on Wednesdays, the show soon switched to Thursday evenings with Savile – and his ever-present cigar – remaining at the helm as the main presenter. Jimmy alternated with Alan Freeman, David Jacobs and Pete Murray.

Originally, TOTP had a set resembling a coffee bar disco and the DJ’s sat at turntables.

Denise Sampey span the records for the first few programmes before being replaced by model Samantha Juste. In 1967, at the age of 22, Samantha left for California to be near her husband, Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees.

The format of Top of the Pops was simple, and changed little – A few coloured lights, some camera effects (not always state of the art), and an artist, usually lip-synching, not always successfully. In 1967 Jimi Hendrix was seen attempting to mime to Purple Haze while an Alan Price record was being inadvertently played . . .

The Kinks performing ‘Ape Man’ on TOTP. 1971

Over the years, most every band and artist has appeared on this show, even The Beatles.

Status Quo and Cliff Richard both appeared on the show over four decades – the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, while the record for the longest gap between performances of the same song on the show is held by Tom Jones, who sang It’s Not Unusual on the show in February 1965, and then again in June 1987.

Throughout the late 60s and the 70s, the set and format changed and the studio dance groups Pans People and Legs & Co were added. These were incredibly lust-inspiring women who danced to the record when the artist was not available to be on the show. The arrival of Pans People in 1967 outraged Mary Whitehouse, who objected to their scanty clothing.

During the 500th edition of Top Of The Pops in October 1973, Cliff Richard‘s performance was interrupted when the stage was showered by wigs. They were thrown on by The Who‘s roadies, who had become bored and raided the props department.

The show’s archives boast some of the most iconic moving images in British rock history, from Bowie and Ronson’s Starman embrace in 1972 to the flailing gladioli of Morrissey over a decade later. Indeed, The Smiths typified the attitude of leftfield who used TOTP as a means to infiltrate the mainstream and subvert the norm.

Ditto Dexys Midnight Runners and their notorious backdrop of darts player Jocky Wilson for Jackie Wilson SaidKurt Cobain‘s uncharacteristic baritone delivery of Smells Like Teen Spirit (actually his attempt to mimic Morrissey apparently) and Wedding Present singer David Gedge’s stony-faced refusal to lip-synch during their performance of Brassneck.

Even occasional presenter, the late John Peel, was wont to take the piss with memorably impudent asides, such as “This is Bon Jovi with We Give Music A Bad Name“.

The Clash, though, famously vetoed the show altogether – in doing so instigating a toe-curling routine by in-house dance troupe Legs & Co when Bankrobber charted in 1980.

The show’s theme music changed in the 1980s with Phil Lynott’s Yellow Pearl now opening the show, and hand-held cameras were introduced to add more dynamism to the production.

Further changes were prompted by the rise of the music video industry, and video clips ousted the in-house dance troupes as the main alternative to in-studio performances.

Yet the show which attracted 15 million viewers as it catalogued the evolution from Merseybeat to psychedelia, glampunk, new romantic and beyond was already in decline by the mid-90s.

The Beeb’s decision to reschedule it to Friday nights in 1996 failed to improve its long-term ratings (clashing with Coronation Street didn’t exactly help), exacerbated by the proliferation of satellite music channels and the loss of its telly pop crown to ITV’s Saturday morning CD:UK.

Jimmy Savile
1964 – 1984, 1988
Tony Blackburn
1967 – 1983
Dave Lee Travis
Emperor Rosko
1975 – 1976
Noel Edmonds
1972 – 1978, 1983
Ed Stewart
Andy Peebles
1979 – 1983
David ‘Kid’ Jensen
1977 – 1984
Peter Powell
1977 – 1988
Mike Read
1978 -1989
John Peel
1968, 1981 – 1987
Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman
1964 – 1970, 1981, 1988
Simon Bates
1979 – 1988
Paul Jordan
1985 – 1986
David Jacobs
1964 – 1970, 1988
Kenny Everett
1968 – 1973, 1988
Pete Murray
1964 – 1967
Mike Smith
1982 – 1988
Gary Davies
1982 – 1991
Simon Dee
1966 – 1969
Adrian Juste
1981 – 1982
Greg Edwards
Dixie Peach
1985 – 1986
Paul Burnett
1979 – 1982
Pat Sharp
1982 – 1983
Paul Gambaccini
1981 – 1989
Samantha Justie
1964 – 1966
Anthea Turner
1988 – 1991
Sybil Ruscoe
1988 – 1989
Jenny Powell
Anne Nightingale
Susie Mathis
1988 – 1989
Janice Long
1982 – 1988
Liz Kershaw
1988 – 1989
‘Diddy’ David Hamilton
1975 – 1977
Simon Mayo
1986 – 1991
1994 – 1995
Caron Keating
Bruno Brookes
1984 – 1991
1994 – 1995
Andy Crane
1988 – 1989
Nicky Campbell
1988 – 1991
1994 – 1997
Mark Goodier
1988 – 1991
1994 – 1995
Richard Skinner
1980 – 1989
Jo Whiley
1995 – 1998
Mark Franklin
1991 – 1994
Tony Dortie
1991 – 1994
Claudia Simon
1991 – 1992

Pans People
Flick Colby
Barbara “Babs” Lord
Dee Dee Wilde
Ruth Pearson
Louise Clarke
Andrea Rutherford
Cherry Gillespie
Sue Menhenick

Ruby Flipper
Cherry Gillespie
Sue Menhenick
Patti Hammond
Lulu Cartwright
+ some blokes

Legs & Co
Gill Clark
Lulu Cartwright
Patti Hammond
Pauline Peters
Rosemary Hetherington
Sue Menhenick