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Top of the Pops (1964-2006)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Top of the Pops (1964-2006)
BBC, tx. 1/1/1964 - 30/7/2006, black and white (colour from 27/11/1969), over 2000 x 30-40 minute programmes
ProducersJohnnie Stewart, Robin Nash, Stanley Appel, Michael Hurll, Brian Whitehouse, Paul Ciani, Ric Blaxill, Sally Wood

Presenters include: Jimmy Savile, Tony Blackburn, Noel Edmonds, Dave Lee Travis, John Peel, Peter Powell, Simon Bates, Gary Davies, Steve Wright, Jayne Middlemiss

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Pop music programme revolving around a rundown of the current week's charts.

Show full synopsis

Top of the Pops is British TV's longest-running and arguably most important pop music show, if only because it was the sole regular spot for audiences to see chart acts, especially American ones, prior to the advent of dedicated music channels like MTV. Despite the increased competition, Top of the Pops' simple packaging of the singles chart remains surprisingly popular, while its unchallenged longevity has turned a show only intended to last six weeks into a national institution.

The first Top of the Pops (tx, 1/1/64) was presented by disc jockey Jimmy Savile and featured, among others, Dusty Springfield and the Rolling Stones. Its formula, developed by the show's first producer Johnnie Stewart, proved an immediate success - to appear on Top of the Pops an act needed to have a climbing top 20 single. Simple and effective and largely intact to this day.

For many years, all acts mimed, a convention that is still widespread in TV, but on early Top of the Pops the fact was made surprisingly explicit - singles were visibly placed on a turntable in front of the presenter and 'spun' by an assistant. But the novelty of seeing (rather than just hearing) performers, and the disclosure of this week's best selling single, quickly made Top of the Pops essential viewing for young singles-buyers.

The impact of the show was immediate. According to Bill Cotton, the BBC's Assistant Head of Light Entertainment, the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, rang up after the second broadcast and asked if the band's new single could be played on the show. Cotton, realising his luck, insisted that the Beatles appear in person, knowing that the resulting pandemonium would be the kind of publicity money couldn't buy.

Work commitments often meant that acts couldn't appear and specially filmed performances were sometimes substituted. When all else failed, there was always the in-house troupe of dancing girls: initially the Go-Jos, then Pan's People, Ruby Flipper, Legs and Co. and finally Zoo, whose choreographed routines and skimpy costumes proved particularly popular with older male viewers.

The growing use of specially shot videos finished off the dancers, but an over-reliance on pre-recorded material during the late 1980s started to dent the show's popularity. A return to studio performances restored the show's fortunes, breathing new life into its ageing slogan: "It's number one... it's Top of the Pops."

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1967: The Bee Gees - Massachussets (2:31)
1971: T-Rex - Get It On (4:16)
1976: Chart rundown (0:45)
1976: Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells (Ruby Flipper) (3:00)
1978: The Rezillos - Top of the Pops (3:08)
1981: Dexys Midnight Runners - Show Me (3:20)
1993: Titles / Take That feat. Lulu - Relight My Fire (4:21)
Production stills
Edmonds, Noel (1948-)
Pop Music TV