It doesn’t seem like fifteen years ago, but it was on this night in 2006 that BBC Television’s Top of the Pops was broadcast for the final time. The programme had been broadcast weekly for forty-two years.
Top of the Pops was unrivalled in its popularity, it drew fifteen million viewers at its peak. In schooldays, at seven o’clock on a Thursday evening, there could be nothing allowed to interrupt the viewing of the programme. Every boy rushed into the television room and there were howls of disapproval towards anyone who talked during the music. Top of the Pops was so popular that I suspect everybody watched because not to do so would single someone out, cause them to be thought “odd” by the other boys.
How many episodes of Top of the Pops did I watch? How many Thursday evenings did I spend half an hour sat in front of the television? Five hundred maybe? Could it seriously have been that many? Starting in 1972 and finishing in the mid-80s, even if one week in four had been missed, then the total would have well passed the five hundred mark.
Out of five hundred programmes, how many are remembered? How many performers’ acts still remain in the memory? Hardly any.
Blondie’s Heart of Glass remains fresh in the memory as does Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive, but what of all the others? There must have been ten acts on each programme, and even if one allows for the fact that some would have appeared repeatedly if they were at Number One, there must still have been some three to four thousand different appearances over the dozen or so years I watched the programme. There must have been memorable performances, but most seem to have disappeared.
Abba’s video of Knowing Me, Knowing You remains in glimpses, as do the novelty acts. It was a mark of the power of Top of the Pops that it held on to its viewers despite showing such acts as Lieutenant Pigeon singing Mouldy Old Dough, Benny Hill’s performance of Ernie and Clive Dunn’s rendition of Grandad. It is hard to imagine now that there would not have been millions of people reaching for remote controllers rather than listen again to Shaddap You Face (a song that kept Ultravox’s Vienna, suggested by some to be one of the best pop songs ever, from reaching Number One).
The fragmentation of broadcasting and musical tastes have eliminated the possibility of such a programme re-emerging. It is hard now to imagine the power it once possessed.