Top 40

In this section we look over the history of the chart shows on BBC radio, from Pick of the Pops to The Official Chart with Scott Mills, taking in other associated chart-related programming as well. This page covers 1955-1987; we also have pages looking at 1987-2002 and 2002-date.


On 4th October 1955, the BBC Light Programme introduced a new fortnightly programme on Tuesdays evenings for followers of popular music. Although it would eventually become best known for being a chart show, Pick of the Pops did not actually contain any charts at all when it started - instead it was simply 'a selection from the top shelf of current popular gramophone records'.

Presented for the first seven shows by Franklin Engelmann (nicknamed 'Jingle'), Alan Dell took over at the start of 1956. The show moved to a weekly slot on Wednesdays from April. From October 1956 it moved to Saturday teatimes with David Jacobs, missing one week per month, and then to a weekly late night slot on Sundays from the end of March 1957. Though there was still no sales chart on the show, it did include a feature where top three records from the previous week's programme that listeners had voted as most likely to climb the hit parade.

Alan Dell returned to present at the end of September 1957. The show now focused on the charts published in a number of weekly music papers, concluding with a Top 3 based on an average of each of them. There was no such thing as an 'official' chart at this time.

When David Jacobs returned to the show on 30th March 1958, the BBC-compiled chart was increased to a Top 20, taken from an average of the charts published in New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Record Mirror and Disc. The show continued to also include a selection of new releases. It switched to a Saturday late slot in May 1958.

On 23rd September 1961, the Light Programme launched a new Saturday night show, Trad Tavern, a show for fans of trad jazz, broadcast live with an invited audience. Pick of the Pops was incorporated into Trad Tavern with three 20 minute segments, the first two of which covered the latest releases, and the last running down the new Top 20.

The show had a new presenter - Alan 'Fluff' Freeman, an Australian-born DJ who brought in a much more dynamic presentation to the show. He brought with him a new theme tune - 'At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal' by Brian Fahey and His Orchestra, which he had previously used on the Light Programme's 'Records Around Five'. It would go on to become probably the most famous chart countdown music in the world!

At the start of January 1962, Pick of the Pops was evicted from the Trad Tavern and moved into a brand new timeslot - 4pm on Sunday afternoons, starting a tradition that would last for over half a century. The new-format hour-long show continued to be presented by Alan Freeman, and was now comprised of four 'units'. The first part of the show, Unit 1, was given over to the newcomers, discs that had just come into the Top 20. Unit 2 was made up new releases that Alan and his producer believed could be future hits. Unit 3 was the LP slot, and the show concluded with Unit 4, a countdown of the Top 10.

Pick of the Pops still didn't have a fixed presenter, with David Jacobs taking over from Fluff for the last quarter of 1962, and Don Moss doing the same for the last quarter of 1963. They used their own theme tunes when presenting the show - David Jacobs used Ray Anthony's 'Swingin' at the Tower', as he had done during his earlier stint on the programme, while Don Moss used 'Christopher Columbus' by Francis Bay.

Alan Freeman at last became the sole presenter from January 1964. In the same month, the BBC-compiled chart received its first outlet on television with the launch of Top of the Pops.

In April 1966, the original version of 'At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal' was dropped as Fluff's theme tune, replaced by the less well-known 'Quite Beside the Point' by the Harry Roberts Sound. On 27th August 1967, the show was extended from an hour to 90 minutes to run to 5.30. Unit 1 now featured new entries and climbers from between numbers 30-11 rather than just 20-11.

With the demise of the Light Programme a few weeks later, Pick of the Pops continued to be broadcast on the new Radio 1, with a simulcast on Radio 2 where it could be heard in higher quality on VHF. The show gained another half hour from 1st October, in a new 5-7pm timeslot. The extra time was used to play whole of the Top 20.

In 1969 the BBC joined forces with the Record Retailer paper in order to produce an 'official' chart for the first time. The British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) were tasked with compiling the weekly singles and album charts, which would be broadcast on both Top and Pick of the Pops, and published in Record Retailer and other papers.

In April 1970, 'At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal' returned as the Pick of the Pops theme, with a more upbeat, faster-paced version recorded by Brass Incorporated.

In 1972 Radio 1 producer Johnny Beerling was looking for a new sound for the chart show. Rather then appoint one of Radio 1's existing DJs, Johnny instead chose broadcaster and actor Tom Browne.

Alan Freeman presented the final ever edition (honest guv!) of Pick of the Pops on 24th September 1972, and the following week the replacement show with Tom Browne began, called, slightly confusingly, Solid Gold Sixty. Yes, it sounds like an oldies show, but it wasn't, and nor was it a Top 60 (indeed, the BMRB chart only ran to a Top 50 at this time). The first two hours of the show, from 4-6pm, featured new releases and chart climbers. This part of the show only went out on Radio 1 on medium wave.

Then from 6pm, it was the new Top 20, which continued to be simulcast on Radio 2, with the benefit of VHF reception. All twenty tracks were played, with some being cut short in order to fit them all into one hour. On 24th March 1974, the 4-6pm portion of the show was dropped, along with the Solid Gold Sixty title, leaving Tom presenting just the one-hour Top 20 on Radios 1 and 2 from 6pm.

The show's opening theme was 'Brother' by CCS, while a variety of instrumental tracks were used over the years for the rundown at the end of the show. Examples include 'Soul Mate' by Good Bread Alley and 'Oh My My' by David Hentschel. Sometimes a track that was charting at the time was used, such as Space's 'Magic Fly', Giorgio Moroder's 'From Here to Eternity' and Gordon Giltrap's 'Heartsong'.

Tom Browne is often regarded as one of the best-ever presenters of the chart show, with a friendly, clear, no-nonsense style of broadcasting. He didn't present any other programmes on Radio 1 apart from a few music specials interviewing the likes of Queen, Abba and Neil Sedaka.

Although the Sunday afternoon chart show had become a tradition on Radio 1, it was counting down a chart that was already five days old. The first reveal of the new chart was during the Tuesday lunchtime show, presented by Johnnie Walker until 1976, and Paul Burnett thereafter, with Gary Davies taking over the role in later years.

Tom Browne presented his last Top 20 on 26th March 1978. He was replaced the following week by Simon Bates, who had also recently taken on the station's weekday mid-morning show. The CCS opening theme was retained. On 12th November 1978, the Top 20 chart show doubled in length and became the Top 40, running each Sunday from 5-7pm.

The Top 20 part of the show from 6pm initially remained unchanged, with all twenty tracks receiving a play. It continued to be simulcast on Radio 2 until the end of January 1979, when the station replaced it with an extended Charlie Chester show. However the whole of the Top 40 show would still be available in stereo, as Radio 2 would hand over its VHF network to Radio 1 at 5pm on Sundays for the rest of the evening. Additionally, some BBC Local Radio stations would also rebroadcast the show.

The end of the Radio 2 simulcast meant it was no longer necessary to start the Top 20 at exactly 6pm, and it would not now necessarily be counted down in full. As it was not possible in two hours to play all forty tracks in full, the show prioritised new entries and climbers between 40-11, with songs that were skipped simply being mentioned in passing. The Top 10 was always played in its entirety (except on 19th February when the number 10 sound was skipped).

Bates was succeeded on 2nd September 1979 by Blackburn. Tony had recently moved off his weekday shows on Radio 1, and in addition to presenting the Top 40, would also soon be hosting Junior Choice, to his delight.

Tony told 25 Years of the Chart Show in 1992 that he modelled his countdown style on the person who he believed had done the chart the best, Alan Freeman. The CCS theme was dropped, with Tony instead choosing to use the theme from 'Firepower' by Gato Barbieri as the backing music for the chart rundown. The show switched to using a different version of the same track by Hot Forties at the start of 1980, and then in early 1981 the theme changed to 'Don't Jive Me' by PJO.

It was whilst presenting the Top 40 that Tony made his famous faux pas, mispronouncing the name of the band 'Duran Duran'.

Tommy Vance took over the show on 10th January 1982. He is best remembered for dropping in slipping in bite-sized snippets of information about each artist as he announced their record - but in contrast his countdown technique was straightforward and fuss-free. There was once again no standard music bed for the chart rundowns - for example, for a while he used an instrumental loop from Men at Work's 'Down Under', which would go to number 1 in the charts.

In January 1983, compilation of the chart passed from the BMRB to market research company Gallup, who introduced a new computerised process, with a promise to improve the accuracy of the charts

Tommy stepped down from presenting the show at the start of 1984, but he would return at various times to stand in for holidaying presenters, until his final appearance on the show in March 1992. His replacement was Simon Bates, who returned to present the Top 40 for a short spell from 8th January 1984. During this second stint, Simon chose to intersperse the Top 10 recap at the end of the show with rather irritating sung numbers.

In September 1984, the Top 40 encountered direct competition for the first time in the form of the Network Chart Show. Broadcast on nearly all independent local radio stations, the show counted down the Network Chart, a rival to the Gallup-compiled chart, with one key difference. Compiled by MRIB, it would combine record sales with airplay on commercial radio - an element which invalidates the chart in the eyes of most chart purists. The show was presented by David 'Kid' Jensen, who had recently defected from Radio 1 to Capital Radio.

To combat the threat, on 30th September 1984, Radio 1 appointed a new presenter to take over their chart show - Richard Skinner, who had joined Radio 1 in 1973 as a presenter of Newsbeat, and more recently had been presenting some evening programmes on the station, as well as the record review show Roundtable.

When he took over, the show briefly attempted to play all forty tracks in the chart, achieving this by cutting many of the songs short. It soon reverted to the previous format of playing at least 30 tracks per show, with priority given to new entries and climbers between 40 and 11, but always playing the whole of the Top 10.

A new music bed was introduced during Richard's time on the chart - 'Rockall' by Mezzoforte, better known for their chart hit 'Garden Party'.

From 19th January 1986, the Top 40 was preceded for an hour by Chartbusters, in which Richard played new releases that were expected to chart in future weeks.

Bruno Brookes had joined Radio 1 in 1984, and in autumn of that year he took over the weekday teatime show. On 9th March 1986 he stood in for Richard Skinner on Chartbusters and the Top 40, but shortly afterwards, upon Richard's sudden departure for Capital Radio, he was given the show permanently. There has been some debate over the exact week Bruno took over - Radio Times first lists him as presenter on 13th April 1986, but evidence has shown that he actually took over two weeks earlier, on 30th March 1986.

The Mezzoforte track continued in use as the show's theme during the early part of Bruno's tenure, although stand-in presenters might sometimes use different music to read the countdowns over - for example, Tommy Vance used a loop of the instrumental part of Prince's '1999'.

At this time, the new chart was still being revealed on Tuesday lunchtimes, during Gary Davies's Bit in the Middle, with a further chance to hear it on the teatime show that evening. With the chart then being broadcast on television on Thursday by Top of the Pops, by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, the Top 40 could perhaps be seen as being 'old news'. However, that was all about to change...


Next page: 1987-2002


Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation