Top of the Pops

This is the third part of our look back over the history of Top of the Pops, looking at 1985-1991.

On the first show of 1985, viewers were informed that some research had been carried out, the result of which was the staggering revelation that the thing viewers most wanted from TOTP was 'more top hits'.

And so a couple of new features were brought in - well one of them wasn't that new, it was just a return of the Top 10 video countdown (numbers 40-11 were now counted down in one go). This sequence used a different graphical layout, including arrows to indicate chart movement. From 30th May, the video clip was shrunk down to a box while the graphics were on screen.

The other new feature was the 'Breakers' - video clips of (usually) three songs that were new or climbing up the charts. A similar graphic to the Top 10 was used, with a blue, rather than orange, box.

The chart countdown graphics were updated again on 11th April 1985, which, for the first time, was preceded by a short animated sequence.

On 13th June, the main set was revamped with an array of new flashing multi-coloured neon signs. The artist name on the intro graphics was changed to upper case one week earlier, while the closing graphics became ever more sophisticated in their animation.

In September 1985, BBC1's Thursday evening schedule was reorganised, with EastEnders moving from its original 7pm slot to 7.30. This meant TOTP found itself permanently shoved into the 7-7.30 slot. For years, the show had varied in duration from week to week between 30 and 40 minutes - but from now on, it would be a standard 30 minutes in length (though in practice, most shows since May had already been half an hour long). With the Breakers and Top 10 videos taking up time, it felt increasingly as though the show wasn't able to get through anything like as many songs as it used to.

This was partly rectified at the start of 1986, when the Top 10 video countdown was finally ditched for good, and the show reverted to a standard rundown of numbers 10-1. This allowed time for one more song to be featured on the show.

Further changes took place on 6th March 1986 - for a short while, TOTP experimented with counting down numbers 40-11 over a video, with the graphics scrolling up the screen as the presenter announced the new entries and climbers. Also at this point, it was goodbye to the shots of audience members dancing to the playout song - from now on, the closing credits would be accompanied by a video, though for a few weeks the audience could still be seen at the bottom of the screen while the credits played.

There were more changes to come just a few weeks later, on 3rd April 1986. After 13 years, the show's famous round logo was replaced by a more contemporary design - though one that, perhaps, hasn't aged as well. As before, it could be seen rendered in neon on the main set.

'Yellow Pearl' was also dropped, to be replaced as the show's theme tune by 'The Wizard', composed by Paul Hardcastle who, the previous year, had topped the charts himself with the innovative '19'. The version used at this point, however, to introduce the show, and over the chart rundown, was a different recording to the single version most people are familiar with. The new theme was accompanied by a new opening title sequence, the first to be computer generated.

A similar computer-animated sequence was used during the Top 40 countdown. After that new-look first show, however, TOTP returned to its experiment of running the charts over a video for a few weeks, this time shrinking the video down to reveal a background that looked roughly drawn with crayons, before the proper countdown was reinstated for good (well, for a few years, anyway). A new opening animation for the Breakers was also introduced.

Graphics continued to use the Clarendon font, and the opening song captions now included an indication of chart movement. This design remained until 12th February 1987, when a new style of introduction graphic was introduced which featured an arrow moving up the screen. On 26th March, the layout was amended slightly, with the arrow now remaining static.

On 30th July 1987, the Clarendon font was dropped after three years of use, and replaced by two new serif and sans serif fonts. The change applied to all the show's graphics. On 3rd September, the opening theme switched to the more familiar single version of 'The Wizard', followed by the countdown two weeks later.

1987 was the first time that TOTP encountered direct competition in the form of The Roxy on ITV, which utilised the Network Chart, as broadcast on numerous commercial radio stations. Former TOTP presenter David Jensen was the host. The Roxy was not a great success, and was dropped within a year.

September 1987 also saw a US version of TOTP launched. It aired in a late night slot on the CBS network, and used the same theme tune and graphics as the UK version. The show included link-ups with Gary Davies introducing performances from the studio back in London, while TOTP US returned the favour with inserts into the home version introduced by stateside presenter Nia Peeples, giving TOTP access to performances from artists not in a position to perform in London. This would prove to be shortlived, however, as the American version of the show was axed in March 1988, after 26 editions.

At the start of October 1987, the chart announcement date was brought forward two days, with the new Top 40 now being revealed on Radio 1 on Sundays rather than Tuesdays. This meant that TOTP would now be counting down a chart that was four days old, rather than two. However there was to be no move for TOTP from its traditional broadcast day of Thursday.

The main set had a new look on 19th November, with a slight reduction in size and the neon shapes replaced by pink and blue neon bars.

From early 1988, the Breakers used a different type of horizontal scrolling caption. On 25th February 1988, the Top 40 was split up again, with 40-31 and 30-11 being counted down in separate segments. Further amendments to the rundown graphics on 21st April saw the arrows switch to yellow and the numerals change to pink. Meanwhile, the layout of the opening song captions was altered in March.

From July, the presenting line-up which, up to now had consisted solely of Radio 1 DJs, was augmented by presenters from children's and youth television, such as Andy Crane, Jenny Powell and Anthea Turner.

On 1st September 1988, a stereo simulcast of TOTP began on Radio 1, at a time that FM coverage of the nation's favourite station was rapidly spreading across the UK.

1988 was also the year of one of the show's most notorious blunders - that of the All About Eve miming incident. On a live transmission, the group were unable to hear their track playing, whereas the viewers at home could, and so singer Julianne Regan sat there with her mouth closed as the song played. They were invited back onto the following week's show - and this time chose to perform live.

TOTP marked its 25th anniversary with a special show on New Year's Eve 1988. Then, on the first show of 1989, there were some changes to TOTP's presentation. 'The Wizard' remained as the show's theme, but it was accompanied by a brand new title sequence and logo.

The chart countdown also had a new look which, for the first time in 20 years, displayed the song title as well as artist name.

The song intro graphics were also revamped, but outro graphics had gone altogether.

In the studio, it was farewell to the main stage after more than five-and-a-half years, which was rebuilt with a new design, which included a gantry for the presenters and audience members to stand in. And in an attempt to create a faster-moving show and squeeze more songs in, executive producer Paul Ciani decided to restrict videos to a maximum of two minutes, while even studio performances could be no longer than three minutes.

In January 1990, it was the end, for now, to dual presentation, as the show reverted to solo presenters every week. The graphics were updated once again on 26th January - but these were not just any old graphics, these were cleverly animated 'Cypher graphics' ('Cypher' being the name of a Quantel caption generator). From 8th February the numerals on song intro captions were backed by the circular TOTP symbol of the time.

Unfortunately, due to a union dispute, on 26th April the Cypher graphics were replaced by less sophisticated, and notably uglier, captions.

In July, TOTP introduced a regular look at the album Top 5 - this would continue on a monthly basis until May 1991.

The end of 1990 brought a special Christmas present for TOTP viewers - the return of the Cypher graphics!

During 1991, there were more attempts to get more music into the show's half hour running time by reducing the time it took to do the Top 40 rundown. First of all, on 7th February, songs dropping down the charts were removed from the countdown from 40-11. The arrows were removed from the graphics during this part of the rundown, in favour of a caption stating the number of positions that the song had moved. Only the Top 10 remained untouched and continued to be featured in full.

Then from 13th June, the traditional countdown sequence was ditched altogether, and instead the full charts from 40-2 were run over a video, near to the start of the show. Unlike the last time this had been attempted, in 1986, there was no presenter voiceover.

The Radio 1 stereo simulcast of TOTP ended on 29th August 1991, with the official start of NICAM stereo broadcasts on BBC1 a few days later.

By this time, the style of TOTP's presentation had remained largely familiar for several years, though the 'party atmosphere' of the 80s had largely dissipated. But faced with falling ratings, the BBC decided it was time for a change...

Next page: 1991-2006
Previous page: 1980-1984