Blast from the past: Top of the Pops

It’s Thursday, it’s 7pm, it’s Top of the Pops...HELEN MCGURK looks back on the music show which provided the soundtrack to our lives and offered a glimpse into a glamorous pop-tastic world

Top of the Pops was axed in 2006
Top of the Pops was axed in 2006

For generations of pop-pickers Thursday nights were sacred, a time to tune into Top of the Pops and swoon over the pop idols whose posters plastered their bedroom walls.

Stars like Norse gods, A-Ha, decent spud, Paul Young, and Duran Duran, who seemed to spend most of the 80s hanging off yachts, wearing pastel suits, accessorised with a supermodel and a martini.

Next day, school friends would dissect the show, which gave a rundown of the charts to the big reveal, the current No 1. For those of the Bohemian Rhapsody era, you could leave school, go to tech, get a job in the civil service, have a family, and it would still be sitting at No.1 for the gazillionith week in a row.

Top of the Pops catered to all musical tastes. Punks and goths shared the stage with disco queens and new romantics. An episode could veer from a gladioli-twirling Morrissey to, say, Foster and Allen dressed as leprechauns or Keith Harris and Orville.

There were moments of controversy and boundary-pushing performances, all the more thrilling for their teatime timing.

For many teenagers, watching Top of the Pops wasn’t complete without their dad tutting that it wasn’t proper music and what the hell’s he wearing? When Boy George took to the stage in 1982 wearing make-up, androgynous clothing and long hair tied with ribbons, parents would ask, ‘Boy George or Girl George’. They genuinely didn’t know. And when Madonna sang Like a Virgin, mothers across the land required smelling salts and pen and paper to write to Mary Whitehouse.

It didn’t matter that the sets were naff, the audience never really learned to dance, singers lip-synced and the presenters were cheesy (only years later did we learn the truth about Jimmy Savile’s heinous crimes), at the time it was pure escapism.

But after 42 years, in 2006 the show was no longer “still number one, still Top of the Pops”, it had become something of an anachronism in the internet age and BBC bosses dropped the axe. The Christmas show still offers us a helping of pop magic and BBC4 plays old re-runs, but it just isn’t the same. Memories of Thursday nights linger on for those of a certain age and we all know teenage dreams are so hard to beat.

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Ben Lowry