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Top of the Pops was created by BBC producer Johnnie Stewart, inspired by the popular Teen and Twenty Disc Club which aired on Radio Luxembourg. It was first aired in 1964 and was originally based on the Top 20. By 1970 the Top 30 was being used and the show was extended from 30 to 45 minutes duration. The show was also now shown in colour following the BBC1 upgrade in November 1969. A switch to the Top 40 was made in 1984. (Radio One also changed to the Top 30 in the early 70s and to the Top 40 in 1978).
The show saw many changes through the decades, in style, design, fashion and taste. It periodically had some aspect of its title sequence, logo and theme tune, format, or set design altered in some way, keeping the show looking modern despite its age. The programme had several executive producers during its run (although not all were billed as such), in charge of the overall production of the show, although specific content on individual shows was sometimes decided by other producers. When Stewart left the show in 1973, after nearly 10 years in charge, he was replaced by Robin Nash. Both Stewart and Nash made brief returns to the show as producer after they left, in 1976 and 1981 respectively.
Stewart devised the rules which governed how the show would operate: the programme would always end with the number one record, which was the only record that could appear in consecutive weeks. The show would include the highest new entry and (if not featured in the previous week) the highest climber on the charts, and omit any song going down in the chart. Tracks could be featured in consecutive weeks in different formats. For example, if a song was played over the chart countdown or the closing credits, then it was acceptable for the act to appear in the studio the following week.
These rules were sometimes interpreted flexibly and were more formally relaxed from 1997 when records descending the charts were featured more regularly, possibly as a response to the changing nature of the Top 40 (in the late 1990s and early 2000s climbers in the charts were a rarity, with almost all singles peaking at their debut position).
When the programme's format changed in November 2003, it concentrated increasingly on the top 10. Later, during the BBC Two era, the top 20 was regarded as the main cut-off point, with the exception made for up and coming bands below the top 20. Singles from below the top 40 (within the top 75) were shown if the band were up and coming or had a strong selling album. If a single being performed was below the top 40, just the words "New Entry" were shown and not the chart position.
The show was originally intended to run for only a few programmes but lasted over 42 years, reaching landmark episodes of 500, 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 in the years 1973, 1983, 1992 and 2002 respectively.
The first show
Top of the Pops was first broadcast on Wednesday, 1 January 1964 at 6:35 pm. It was produced in Studio A on Dickenson Road in Rusholme, Manchester.
DJ Jimmy Savile presented the first show live from the Manchester studio (with a brief link to Alan Freeman in London to preview the following week's programme), which featured (in order) Dusty Springfield with "I Only Want to Be with You", the Rolling Stones with "I Wanna Be Your Man", the Dave Clark Five with "Glad All Over", the Hollies with "Stay", the Swinging Blue Jeans with "Hippy Hippy Shake" and the Beatles with "I Want to Hold Your Hand", that week's number one – throughout its history, the programme proper always (with very few exceptions) finished with the best-selling single of the week, although there often was a separate play-out track.
1960s and 1970s
Later in 1964, the broadcast time was moved to one hour later, at 7:35 pm, and the show moved from Wednesdays to what became its regular Thursday slot. Additionally its length was extended by 5 minutes to 30 minutes.
For the first three years Alan Freeman, David Jacobs, Pete Murray and Jimmy Savile rotated presenting duties, with the following week's presenter also appearing at the end of each show, although this practice ceased from October 1964 onwards. Neville Wortman filled in as director/producer on Johnnie Stewart's holiday break.
In the first few editions, Denise Sampey was the "disc girl", who would be seen to put the record on a turntable before the next act played their track. However, a Mancunian model, Samantha Juste, became the regular disc girl after a few episodes, a role she performed until 1967.
With the birth of BBC Radio 1 in 1967, new Radio 1 DJs were added to the roster – Stuart Henry, Emperor Rosko, Simon Dee and Kenny Everett.
Local photographer Harry Goodwin was hired to provide shots of non-appearing artists, and also to provide backdrops for the chart run-down. He would continue in the role until 1973.
After two years at the Manchester Dickenson Road Studios, the show moved to London (considered to be better located for bands to appear), initially for six months at BBC TV Centre Studio 2 and then to the larger Studio G at BBC Lime Grove Studios in mid-1966 to provide space for the Top of the Pops Orchestra, which was introduced at this time to provide live instrumentation on some performances (previously, acts had generally mimed to the records). In November 1969, with the introduction of colour, the show returned to BBC TV Centre, where it stayed until 1991, when it moved to Elstree Studios Studio C.
For a while in the early 1970s, non-chart songs were played on a more regular basis, to reflect the perceived growing importance of album sales, as well as a New Release spot and a feature of a new act, dubbed Tip for the Top. These features were dropped after a while, although the programme continued to feature new releases on a regular basis for the rest of the decade.
During its heyday, it attracted 15 million viewers each week. The peak TV audience of 19 million was recorded in 1979, during the ITV strike, with only BBC1 and BBC2 on air.
Christmas Top of the Pops
A year-end Christmas show featuring a review of the year's biggest hits was inaugurated on 24 December 1964, and has continued every year since. From 1965 onward, the special edition was broadcast on Christmas Day (although not in 1966) and from the same year, a second edition was broadcast in the days after Christmas, varying depending on the schedule, but initially regularly on 26 December. The first was shown on 26 December 1965. In 1973, there was just one show, airing on Christmas Day. In place of the traditional second show, Jimmy Savile hosted a look back at the first 10 years of TOTP, broadcast on 27 December. In 1975, the first of the two shows was broadcast prior to Christmas Day, airing on 23 December, followed by the traditional Christmas Day show two days later.
The 1978 Christmas Day show was disrupted due to industrial action at the BBC, requiring a change in format to the broadcast. The first show, due to be screened on 21 December, was not shown at all because BBC1 was off the air. For Christmas Day, Noel Edmonds (presenting his last ever edition of TOTP) hosted the show from the 'TOTP Production Office' with clips taken from various editions of the show broadcast during the year and new studio footage performed without an audience. The format was slightly tweaked for the Christmas Day edition in 1981, with the Radio 1 DJs choosing their favourite tracks of the year and the following edition on 31 December featuring the year's number 1 hits.
The second programme was discontinued after 1984.
In 1980, Nash was replaced by Michael Hurll, who introduced more of a "party" atmosphere to the show, with performances often accompanied by balloons and cheerleaders, and more audible audience noise and cheering. Guest co-presenters and a music news feature were introduced for a short while, but had ceased by the end of 1980. The chart rundown was split into three sections in the middle of the programme, with the final Top 10 section initially featuring clips of the songs' videos, although this became rarer over the next few years. An occasional feature showing the American music scene with Jonathan King was introduced in November 1981, and ran every few weeks until February 1985. In January 1985, a Breakers section, featuring short video clips of new tracks in the lower end of the Top 40, was introduced, and this continued for most weeks until March 1994.
Although the programme had been broadcast live in its early editions, it had been recorded on the day before transmission for many years. However, from May 1981, the show was sometimes broadcast live for a few editions each year, and this practice continued on an occasional basis (often in the week of a bank holiday, when the release of the new chart was delayed, and for some special editions) for the rest of the decade.
The programme moved in September 1985 to a new regular half-hour timeslot of 7pm on Thursdays, where it would remain until June 1996.
The end of 1988 was marked by a special 70-minute edition of the show broadcast on 31 December 1988, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first show. The pre-recorded programme featured the return of the original four presenters (Savile, Freeman, Murray and Jacobs) as well as numerous presenters from the show's history, anchored by Paul Gambaccini and Mike Read. Numerous clips from the history of the show were included in between acts performing in the studio, which included Cliff Richard, Engelbert Humperdinck, Lulu, The Four Tops, David Essex, Mud, Status Quo, Shakin' Stevens, The Tremeloes and from the very first edition, The Swinging Blue Jeans. Sandie Shaw, The Pet Shop Boys and Wet Wet Wet were billed in the Radio Times to appear, but none featured in the show other than Shaw in compilation clips.
Paul Ciani took over as producer in 1988. The following year, in an attempt to fit more songs in the allocated half hour, he restricted the duration of studio performances to three minutes, and videos to two minutes, a practice which was largely continued until May 1997. In July 1990, he introduced a rundown of the Top 5 albums, which continued on a monthly basis until May 1991. Ciani had to step down due to illness in 1991, when Hurll returned as producer to cover for two months (and again for a brief time as holiday cover in 1992).
1991: 'Year Zero' revamp
From 1967, the show had become closely associated with the BBC radio station Radio 1, usually being presented by DJs from the station, and between 1988 and 1991 the programme was simulcast on the radio station in FM stereo. However, during the last few years of the 1980s the association became less close, and was severed completely (although not permanently) in a radical shake-up known as the 'Year Zero' revamp.
Following a fall in viewing figures and a general perception that the show had become 'uncool' (acts like The Clash had refused to appear in the show in previous years), a radical new format was introduced by incoming executive producer Stanley Appel (who had worked on the programme since 1966 as cameraman, production assistant, director and stand-in producer) in October 1991, in which the Radio 1 DJs were replaced by a team of relative unknowns, such as Claudia Simon and Tony Dortie who had previously worked for Children's BBC, 17-year-old local radio DJ Mark Franklin, Steve Anderson, Adrian Rose and Elayne Smith, who was replaced by Femi Oke in 1992. A brand new theme tune ('Now Get Out Of That'), title sequence and logo were introduced, and the entire programme moved from BBC Television Centre in London to BBC Elstree Centre in Borehamwood.
The new presenting team would take turns hosting (initially usually in pairs but sometimes solo), and would often introduce acts in an out-of-vision voiceover over the song's instrumental introduction. They would sometimes even conduct short informal interviews with the performers, and initially the Top 10 countdown was run without any voiceover. Rules relating to performance were also altered meaning acts had to sing live as opposed to the backing tracks for instruments and mimed vocals for which the show was known. To incorporate the shift of dominance towards American artists, more use was made of out-of-studio performances, with acts in America able to transmit their song to the Top of the Pops audience "via satellite". These changes were widely unpopular and much of the presenting team were axed within a year, leaving the show hosted solely by Dortie and Franklin (apart from the Christmas Day editions, when both presenters appeared) from October 1992, on a week-by-week rotation.
By 1994, much of the 'Year Zero' revamp was quickly undone and the arrival of Ric Blaxill as producer in February 1994 signalled a return to presentation from established Radio 1 DJs Simon Mayo, Mark Goodier, Nicky Campbell and Bruno Brookes. Blaxill expanded the use of "via satellite" performances, taking the acts out of studios and concert halls and setting them against landmark backdrops. As a consequence, Bon Jovi performed Always from Niagara Falls and Celine Dion beamed in Think Twice from Miami Beach.
The last remnants of the Year Zero revamp were replaced in 1995, when a new title sequence, logo and theme tune were introduced (the logo having first been introduced on the new programme Top of the Pops 2 some months previous), coinciding with the introduction of a new set. Blaxill also increasingly experimented with handing presenting duties to celebrities, commonly contemporary comedians and pop stars who were not in the charts at that time. In an attempt to keep the links between acts as fresh as the performances themselves, the so-called "golden mic" was used by, amongst others, Kylie Minogue, Meat Loaf, Des Lynam, Chris Eubank, Damon Albarn, Harry Hill, Jack Dee, Lulu and Jarvis Cocker. Radio 1 DJs still presented occasionally, notably Lisa I'Anson, Steve Lamacq, Jo Whiley and Chris Evans.
TOTP was traditionally shown on a Thursday night, but was moved to a Friday starting on 14 June 1996, originally at 7 pm, but then shifted to 7.30 pm, a change which placed the programme up against the soap opera Coronation Street on ITV. This began a major decline in audience figures as fans were forced to choose between Top of the Pops and an episode of the soap.
Top of the Pops logo used from 1998 to 2003.
In 1997, incoming producer Chris Cowey phased out the use of celebrities and established a rotating team (similar to the 1991 revamp, although much more warmly received) of former presenters of youth music magazine The O-Zone Jayne Middlemiss and Jamie Theakston as well as Radio 1 DJs Jo Whiley and Zoe Ball. The team was later augmented by Kate Thornton and Gail Porter.
Chris Cowey in particular instigated a set of 'back to basics' changes when he took over the show. In 1998, a remixed version of the classic 'Whole Lotta Love' theme tune previously used in the 1970s was introduced, accompanied by a new 1960s-inspired logo and title sequence. Cowey also began to export the brand overseas with localised versions of the show on air in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy by 2003. Finally, the programme returned to its previous home of BBC Television Centre in 2001, where it remained until its cancellation in 2006.
2003: All New Top of the Pops
On 28 November 2003 (three months after the appointment of Andi Peters as executive producer), the show saw one of its most radical overhauls since the ill-fated 1991 'Year Zero' revamp in what was widely reported as a make-or-break attempt to revitalise the long-running series. In a break with the previous format, the show played more up-and-coming tracks ahead of any chart success, and also featured interviews with artists and a music news feature called "24/7". Most editions of the show were now broadcast live, for the first time since 1991 (apart from a couple of editions in 1994). The launch show, which was an hour long, was notable for a performance of "Flip Reverse" by Blazin' Squad, featuring hordes of hooded teenagers choreographed to dance around the outside of BBC Television Centre.
Although the first edition premièred to improved ratings, the All New format, hosted by MTV presenter Tim Kash, quickly returned to low ratings and brought about scathing reviews. Kash continued to host the show, but Radio 1 DJs Reggie Yates and Fearne Cotton (who had each presented a few shows in 2003, before the revamp) were brought back to co-host alongside him, before Kash was completely dropped by the BBC, later taking up a new contract at MTV. The show continued to be hosted by Reggie Yates and Fearne Cotton (usually together, but occasionally solo) on Friday evenings until 8 July 2005.
On 30 July 2004, the show took place outside a studio environment for the first time by broadcasting outside in Gateshead. Girls Aloud, Busted, Will Young and Jamelia were among the performers that night.
2004–2005: Move to BBC Two
By November 2004, viewing figures had plummeted to below three million, prompting an announcement by the BBC that the show was going to move, again, to Sunday evenings on BBC Two, thus losing the prime-time slot on BBC One that it had maintained for more than forty years.
This move was widely reported as a final "sidelining" of the show, and perhaps signalled its likely cancellation. At the time, it was insisted that this was so that the show would air immediately after the official announcement of the new top 40 chart on Radio 1, as it was thought that by the following Friday, the chart seemed out-of-date. The final Top of the Pops to be shown on BBC One (barring Christmas and New Year specials) was broadcast on Monday 11 July 2005, which was edition number 2,166.
The first edition on BBC Two was broadcast on 17 July 2005 at 7.00pm with presenter Fearne Cotton. After the move to Sundays, Cotton continued to host with a different guest presenter each week, such as Rufus Hound or Richard Bacon. On a number of occasions, however, Reggie Yates would step in, joined by female guest presenters such as Lulu and Anastacia. Viewing figures during this period averaged around 1½ million. Shortly after the move to BBC Two, Peters resigned as executive producer. He was replaced by the BBC's Creative Head of Music Entertainment Mark Cooper, while producer Sally Wood remained to oversee the show on a weekly basis.
On 20 June 2006, the show was formally cancelled and it was announced that the last edition would be broadcast on 30 July 2006. Edith Bowman co-presented its hour-long swansong, along with Jimmy Savile (who was the main presenter on the first show), Reggie Yates, Mike Read, Pat Sharp, Sarah Cawood, Dave Lee Travis, Rufus Hound, Tony Blackburn and Janice Long.
The final day of recording was 26 July 2006 and featured archive footage and tributes, including the Rolling Stones – the very first band to appear on Top of the Pops – opening with "The Last Time", the Spice Girls, David Bowie, Wham!, Madonna, Beyoncé, Gnarls Barkley, the Jackson 5, Sonny and Cher and Robbie Williams. The show closed with a final countdown, topped by Shakira, as her track "Hips Don't Lie" (featuring Wyclef Jean) had climbed back up to number one on the UK Singles Chart earlier in the day. The show ended with Savile ultimately turning the lights off in the empty studio.
Fearne Cotton, who was the current presenter, was unavailable to co-host for the final edition due to her filming of ITV's Love Island in Fiji but opened the show with a quick introduction recorded on location, saying "It's still number one, it's Top of the Pops". BARB reported the final show's viewing figures as 3.98 million.
Since the last episode featured no live acts in the studio, the honour of being the last act to actually perform on a weekly episode of TOTP goes to Snow Patrol with "Chasing Cars" in the penultimate edition; the last act ever featured visually on a weekly Top of the Pops was Girls Aloud, as part of the closing sequence of bands performing on the show throughout the years. They were shown performing "Love Machine".
2006–present: After the end
The magazine and TOTP2 have both survived despite the show's axing, and the Christmas editions also continue after returning to BBC One. However, the TOTP website, which the BBC had originally promised would continue, is now no longer updated, although many of the old features of the site – interviews, music news, reviews – have remained, now in the form of the Radio 1-affiliated TOTP ChartBlog accessible via the remains of the old website.
Calls for its return
In October 2008, British Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and Manchester indie band the Ting Tings called for the show to return.
On 29 October 2008, Simon Cowell stated in an interview that he would be willing to buy the rights to Top of the Pops from the BBC. The corporation responded that they had not been formally approached by Cowell, and that in any case the format was not "up for sale". In November 2008, it was reported by The Times and other newspapers that the weekly programme was to be revived in 2009, but the BBC said there were no such plans.
In July 2009, Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant criticised the BBC for ending the programme, stating that new acts were missing out on "that great moment of being crowned that week's Kings of Pop".
In early 2015 there was increased speculation of a return of the show including rumours that Dermot O'Leary might present alongside Fearne Cotton. According to a report in the Daily Mirror, a BBC insider stated that ″some at the highest level are massive supporters of the plan [of a return] and have given the go-ahead." The move of the UK charts to a Friday due to take place in summer 2015 was also said to favour the possibility of a return, making it ″the perfect tie-in″ and a ″perfect start to the weekend″, but no weekly return has occurred.
BBC Four reruns
In April 2011, the BBC began to reshow Top of the Pops on Thursday nights on BBC Four beginning with the equivalent show from 35 years earlier in a 7:30pm–8:00pm slot approximating to the time the programme was traditionally shown. The first programme shown, 1 April 1976, was chosen because it was from approximately this episode onwards that most editions remain in the BBC archive. The repeat programmes come in two versions; the first is edited down to fit in the 30 minute 7:30 slot, the second is shown normally twice overnight in the following weekend, and is usually complete. However both the short and longer editions can be edited for a number of reasons. Potentially offensive content to modern audiences is cut (for example the Barron Knights' in-studio performance of "Food For Thought" on the edition of 13 December 1979 including a segment parodying Chinese takeaways using mannerisms that may now be viewed as offensive), and cinematic film footage can be truncated, replaced or removed entirely due to the costs to the BBC of reshowing such footage. The BBC also makes the repeats available on BBC iPlayer. The repeats are continuing as of July 2018 with episodes from 1986.
Following the Jimmy Savile allegations, from October 2012, episodes featuring Jimmy Savile ceased to be broadcast. Following the arrest of Dave Lee Travis by Operation Yewtree officers, and the subsequent prosecution, acquittal, retrial, further acquittal on all but one minor charge and failed appeal, episodes featuring Travis were also omitted. Episodes featuring Mike Smith are also not included in the run due to the presenter declining to sign licence extensions to permit rebroadcast. Smith died in August 2014 and the BBC continues to honour his wishes. Due to these broadcasting restrictions and the occasional missed weeks in the original run due to strikes and other reasons (an episode was not made for 1 June 1978 due to the BBC showing the 1978 FIFA World Cup), other programmes are shown on some Thursday nights to make up the shortfall in the number of programmes in a given year, in particular The Sky At Night and The BBC Proms.
"Story of" Specials
Prior to the 1976 BBC reruns shown in 2011, the BBC produced a special programme, "The Story Of 1976". This comprised excerpts from the 1976 programmes, interspersed with new interviews with people discussing the time period. They have produced similar programmes prior to subsequent annual reruns for 1977 in 2012, 1978 in 2013, 1979 in 2014, 1980 in 2015, 1981 on 8 January and 1982 in 17 June 2016 and 1983 and 1984 on 6 January 2017 and 4 June 2017 etc. Also 1985 & 1986 in 2018 and 1987 in 2019.
"Big Hits" compilation
A series of hit compilations with captions on the screen about artist, people and songs:
- 1964 to 1975 in 2011
- 1976 in 2011
- 1977 in 2011
- 1978 in 2013
- 1979 in 2014
- 1980 in 2015
- 1981 on 2016/01/08
- 1982 on 2016/06/17
- 1983 in 2017
- 1984 in 2017
- 1985 in 2018
- 1986 in 2018
- 1987 in 2019
Christmas and New Year specials
Although the weekly Top of the Pops has been cancelled, the Christmas Specials have continued, hosted by Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates. The Christmas specials are broadcast on Christmas Day afternoon on BBC One. Since 2008 (apart from 2010, 2011 and 2018), a New Year special has also been broadcast. The most recent festive edition of Top of the Pops was at the end of 2018, on Christmas Day. A new logo and title sequence were introduced from 2013, although earlier versions of the logo still appear on the studio set. The BBC's Head of Music Television, Mark Cooper, continues to oversee the programme as executive producer, while Stephanie McWhinnie replaced Wood as producer with effect from Christmas 2011. On 4 December 2017, Yates stepped down from hosting Top of the Pops due to comments he made regarding Jewish people and rappers. The BBC later announced Clara Amfo as Yates' replacement.
Comic Relief specials
The show was given a one-off revival (of sorts) for Comic Relief 2007 in the form of Top Gear of the Pops, presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. It was filmed at the Top Gear aerodrome studio in Surrey on Sunday, 11 March 2007, although it bore little resemblance to the usual Top of the Pops format.
On 13 March 2009, Top of The Pops was once again revived, this time in its usual format, for a special live Comic Relief edition, airing on BBC Two while the main telethon took a break for the BBC News at Ten on BBC One. As with the Christmas specials the show was presented by Radio 1 duo Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates with special guest presenter Noel Fielding and appearances from Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Claudia Winkleman, Jonathan Ross, Davina McCall (dancing in the audience and later as a Flo Rida dancer with Claudia Winkleman and French and Saunders) and David Tennant.
Live performances – interspersed with Comic Relief appeal films – included acts such as Franz Ferdinand, Oasis, Take That, U2, James Morrison and Flo Rida (that week's Number 1). Kicking off the show was a performance from Rob Brydon and Ruth Jones in their Gavin & Stacey guises, feat. Tom Jones and Robin Gibb with "(Barry) Islands in the Stream", the Comic Relief single.