Top of the Pops
This is the fourth and final part of our look back over the history of Top of the Pops, looking at 1991-2006 and beyond.
3rd October 1991 saw the most radical revamp in TOTP's history. After decades being presented from relatively small studios at Television Centre, the show moved home to a dedicated studio at the BBC's Elstree base in Hertfordshire. The much larger studio gave the show a very different, more expansive feel to what viewers had been used to.
The Radio 1 DJs were replaced by a line-up of largely unknown presenters. The first few weeks' shows were presented jointly by former UP2U host Tony Dortie and BBC Wiltshire Sound DJ Mark Franklin, before various other presenters were added to the line-up.
The opening titles, countdown and, now, closing credits all used a new theme tune, 'Now Get Out of That', composed by Tony Gibber. Note that the numerals on the performance caption aren't terribly clear - this was a common issue with the graphics during this period.
To the annoyance of chartwatchers, the countdown from 40-11 disappeared altogether, with only the Top 10 counted down. This was initially done after the first song had been performed, and, rather than still images of the artists, now used video clips superimposed at various angles onto a 'weather vane' device which made up the programme's new logo.
New executive producer Stanley Appel decreed that, from now on, there was to be no more miming, and vocals must be performed live. Unfortunately this coincided with a period where dance music was on the rise, tracks that had never been 'performed' in the first place, where the vocals were made up of samples, and as such trying to replicate them in a live environment often sounded ridiculous.
Perhaps surprisingly, for a show that seemed intent on ditching everything that had gone before, the Breakers segment, featuring songs new to the Top 40, survived the revamp. But the overall impression for viewers watching that first new-look show on 3rd October 1991, was of watching an entirely brand new programme that just happened to have a familiar title.
This period of the show is often decried by TOTP fans as one of the show's lowest points in its history. It wasn't long before the tinkering began - in 1992, the Top 10 rundown returned to the end of the show to precede the number one, and the countdown from 40-11 was reinstated over a video. By the end of 1992, most of the presenting team had departed, leaving Tony Dortie and Mark Franklin presenting on alternate weeks.
In September 1993, UK Gold began a long run of classic editions of TOTP, showing a selection of episodes from the 70s. The repeat run switched to 80s editions in September 1994. From 1996, episodes from both decades were shown until UK Gold ended their showings of TOTP in April 1997.
At the start of 1994, TOTP celebrated its 30th anniversary with a special show of archive clips introduced by Radio Fab FM DJs, Smashie and Nicey (Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield).
The same year, former Radio 1 producer Ric Blaxill took over as executive producer of TOTP, and immediately started undoing some of the changes made in 1991. Tony Dortie and Mark Franklin left the show, and from 3rd February 1994 TOTP returned to using a rotating line-up of Radio 1 DJs. The opening title sequence was halved in length, miming was once again permitted, and the Top 10 countdown was revamped, now using full screen video clips in a sequence using a 'film strip' effect. A playout song was reintroduced, which would usually be a new release not yet in the charts, with the credits accompanied by a montage of clips from the show. A few weeks later, the Breakers segment was dropped, after nine years.
By now, videos were being featured on the show less frequently; artists who were not available to be in the TOTP studio could now contribute to the show by performing via satellite from anywhere in the world.
On 17th September 1994 TOTP gained a sister show on Saturdays on BBC2. Aimed at a more mature audience, TOTP2 would plunder the archives for performances from the past, alongside clips from that week's TOTP. The show was presented, in voiceover only, by veteran DJ Johnnie Walker. TOTP2 didn't take off in popularity until a few years later, however, when the format changed to feature predominantly archive material, with just the odd contemporary track thrown in, with Steve Wright hosting. Eventually TOTP2 would command higher audiences than TOTP itself.
From this point, the playout song on TOTP would be an archive clip to promote the following weekend's TOTP2.
Blaxill's changes were complete when a stylish new logo and title sequence were introduced on 2nd February 1995, along with a new theme tune, 'Red Hot Pop' by Erasure's Vince Clarke. There was also a new-look Top 10 countdown, based on the title sequence, and new graphics to introduce the songs. TOTP was seeing an uplift thanks to the growth of Britpop, and it seemed like the show's fortunes were on the rise again.
By this time, the Radio 1 presenting line-up was being augmented by one-off celebrity presenters, such as Chris Eubank seen here, and before long the show was being hosted by guest celebrities on a regular basis, with the Radio 1 DJs making only occasional appearances.
In June 1996 TOTP moved to Friday evenings - ostensibly just for the summer so that it was kept safely out of the way of sporting events disrupting the schedule. However TOTP would never return to Thursdays - instead in September it stayed on Fridays and just shifted half an hour later so that it was broadcast opposite Coronation Street (a traditional 'death slot' that had previously been used to kill off Doctor Who) - though for the first few weeks it actually aired at 7.25, with the extra five minutes being used to feature a clip from the archives.
The same month saw TOTP gain a late night repeat on Saturdays - usually a straight repeat showing, occasionally this would differ from the 7.30 airing by featuring songs that contained content not suitable for a pre-watershed timeslot. An alternative opening title sequence was occasionally seen around this time, which showed the TOTP logo atop a skyscraper in a cityscape setting.
Another new executive producer arrived in 1997 and, as ever, it wasn't long before he began to make his mark on the programme. Chris Cowey was intent on putting the focus back on the music, so celebrity hosts were out, and in came a new team of rotating presenters including Zoe Ball, Jayne Middlemiss, Jamie Theakston and Jo Whiley. Cowey disliked using videos on the show, so these almost entirely disappeared, only used when unavoidable.
After June 1997, the charts from 40-21 would never again be counted down on the show. Numbers 20-1 were now counted down in one go using brief video clips of each song, with one of the tracks from the charts playing in the background. Clips of a TOTP performance were used in preference to using an excerpt from the music video. The show's presenter no longer voiced the countdown; instead Radio 1 chart show presenter Mark Goodier, or whoever was presenting that show in his absence, would read out the chart positions.
Also in June, the song caption was moved from the beginning to the end of the song, while the playout song disappeared in favour of playing out the closing credits with the number one song. Then from August, the opening theme tune was ditched for most weeks, with the opening bars of the first song now playing over the opening titles.
Some of TOTP's long-standing rules had disappeared by this time. Traditionally, no song dropping down the charts could be featured, and no song, other than the number one, would be played two weeks running. However, by the mid-90s, most songs were entering the chart at their peak position, and then dropping down. And so TOTP's rules were relaxed, so fallers could now be shown, though it always seemed odd when a song that was at number one would feature again on the show the following week when it had dropped down the chart.
Chris Cowey's vision for the show was complete on 1st May 1998, when a new-look TOTP launched. A colourful new logo, title sequence and countdown graphics were introduced, along with a return of TOTP's most famous theme tune, 'Whole Lotta Love', given a drum 'n' bass makeover by Ben Chapman (under the name 'Bad Man Bad'). Captions were used at both the beginning of each song and, from the second week of the new look, at the end as well.
The theme tune was also now used over the Top 20 rundown.
As a nod to the opening voiceover of the very early days of TOTP, the presenter would start the show in a short pre-titles sequence with the words 'It's still number one, it's Top of the Pops'.
This branding would be seen further afield than just in the UK - Cowey's masterplan involved editions of TOTP launching in various countries around the world, all using the same presentation style. Performances from one country's version of the show could then be seamlessly inserted into another. The downside to this kind of approach was that TOTP could increasingly resemble a clip show.
From August to October 1999, TOTP went on tour, and each week's programme was broadcast from a different venue around the UK.
In the last years of the century, with the launch of digital television, new spin-offs of TOTP started popping up all over the place. BBC Choice launched the short-lived TOTP - The New Chart, which unveiled the new charts live on a Sunday evening, while the channel also showed compilations of performances of one artist taken from the show. UK Play, meanwhile, had TOTP Plus, and the daily magazine TOTP@Play. Another version of TOTP Plus appeared on Sunday mornings on BBC2, while on Saturday mornings TOTP Saturday (later TOTP Reloaded), aimed at younger viewers, began in September 2002 to combat ITV's popular music show CD:UK.
TOTP celebrated its big 37th anniversary on 1st January 2001 with a new hour-long documentary looking over the programme's history, Top of the Pops: The True Story.
Soon afterwards, some sixteen years after the scheduling of EastEnders had forced TOTP into a 30 minute timeslot, the soap would once again affect the way TOTP was produced. Due to the soap adding an extra episode a week, which required additional studio space, in May 2001 TOTP was forced out of its base at Elstree. After camping out at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith for a while, on 19th October the programme returned to BBC Television Centre after a decade away, with a special hour-long show.
Redesigned sets were introduced, and a green room area just outside the studio was named the 'Star Bar', where artists could be seen hanging out before and after their performances, and inane interviews conducted with them. Executives had considered moving the show away from its Friday evening graveyard slot opposite Coronation Street, but in the event it stayed where it was.
With TOTP at last moving to widescreen transmission, one of the last BBC programmes to do so, an updated title sequence was required, and this debuted on the 2001 Christmas show. It was in a similar style to before, but now used 3D-style graphics.
On 28th November 2003, TOTP was relaunched for one last time. New executive producer, former CBBC presenter Andi Peters, presided over a revamp which as far as most people are concerned, was the death knell for the programme. Titled, initially at least, All-New Top of the Pops, for the first time in its history the show would now have one fixed presenter every week - the largely unknown Tim Kash, who had previously presented on MTV. 'Whole Lotta Love' was ditched once again as the show theme, and Andi Peters instead chose to resurrect what is probably the show's least memorable theme tune, 'Now Get Out of That', originally used from 1991-95.
The programme would now be broadcast live every week. Much of the show's running time was given over to pointless interviews, competitions and a video vote - fine if you've got an hour-long show, as the first new-look show was, but time-wasting in subsequent weeks when there's only half an hour for the show.
Chart-wise, the show now concentrated on music in the Top 20, the Top 10 in particular, but there was also an increased number of new releases featured. The chart rundown featured the Top 10 only, playing a short burst of each song.
For the first four weeks, a follow-up show, Top of the Pops on Three, presented by Marguerita Taylor and Richard Bacon, aired on BBC3.
At the end of January 2004, the 'All-New' prefix was dropped. From April, Tim Kash was joined by a co-host, alternating between Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates. Tim then left the show in August, and from now on Fearne and Reggie would mostly present as a duo.
In July 2005, a regular weekly TOTP appeared on BBC1 for the final time. Falling ratings led to the programme being moved to BBC2, where it would now air live on Sunday evenings at 7pm, straight after the announcement of the new Top 40 on Radio 1. Most weeks it would now enjoy an extra five minutes in length, and, with TOTP2 having been rested the previous year, each edition would include one or two performances from the archive.
The celebrity co-hosts idea was resurrected, and each week Fearne Cotton, or occasionally Reggie Yates, was joined by the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Phill Jupitus and Richard Bacon, amongst many others.
The changes still weren't enough to give TOTP a lift, and in 2006 came the announcement that many had seen coming for years - that, after 42 years, TOTP was to be axed as regular weekly programme. Blaming the rise of music channels and the internet, in reality it was just a programme the BBC had lost interest in having on its channels.
The last regular edition aired on 23rd July 2006, before a celebratory one hour Final Countdown featuring past and present presenters, made up of archive clips, aired one week later.
To soften the blow, it was confirmed that the traditional TOTP Christmas Day afternoon show would continue, and additionally TOTP2 would be brought out of retirement and return as a regular weekly show each Saturday from September 2006. The new TOTP2 contained mostly archive material, as before, but threw in one or two newly recorded performances each week. Unfortunately, once it reached the end of its series in March 2007, it was rested once again, and since then TOTP2 has returned only for occasional specials, save for a short series in 2012.
However, much better was on the horizon for fans of classic TOTP. In January 2008, BBC4 aired some archive Christmas editions of TOTP from 1967, 1978, 1982 and 1994, along with the one surviving weekly edition from 1968, as part of its Pop on Trial season. But that was only the start - three years later, an ongoing run of repeats began with the 1st April 1976 edition broadcast on its 35th anniversary. Initially, the shows longer than 30 minutes were edited to fit into a half hour timeslot, but complaints led to the programmes being shown (mostly) uncut in late night slots.
The repeats proved popular enough to keep going, continuing into 1977 in 2012. Despite issues with some presenters which have led to a considerable number of episodes being skipped over, the repeat run has continued into the 1980s, with two years' worth of classic episodes being transmitted per year, with the result that in 2018 the repeat run reached its tenth anniversary year, 1986, after seven years of broadcasts. BBC4 also produce a new Story of... documentary to mark the start of each classic year's broadcasts, along with a Big Hits compilation.
Meanwhile, more than a decade after the demise of the regular weekly show, the Christmas Day TOTP specials continue to be produced, along with New Year specials as well. The presentation of these shows changes little from year to year - the set design usually features the 1966 and 1973 TOTP logos rendered in neon.
The opening titles continued to use the 2003 logo and theme music until 2012. The following year, a new logo and title sequence was introduced, with the theme tune comprising a slightly awkward-sounding combination of the CCS and Bad Man Bad versions of 'Whole Lotta Love'. The titles were refreshed again in 2019, and feature the return of TOTP's most famous logo.
Fearne Cotton, now an occasional Radio 2 DJ, has presented each of these festival specials, continuing to be joined by Reggie Yates until 2016, and then by Radio 1's Clara Amfo for the 2017 shows onwards.
Repeated calls for TOTP to return as a weekly fixture, as well as various tabloid rumours over the years that a comeback was being planned, have come to nothing. It took until 2017 for BBC1 to launch a new primetime pop show, Sounds Like Friday Night, broadcast live from Television Centre in the same Friday evening slot that TOTP occupied twenty years earlier. The show is presented by Radio 1's Greg James and 1Xtra's Dotty.
Despite the obvious comparisons with TOTP, Sounds Like Friday Night was emphatically not a chart show, and rather than consisting of an ongoing run of programmes like TOTP, it has only broadcast two short series. With the most recent of those finishing in May 2018, it can perhaps now be concluded that Sounds Like Friday Night will be not be returning for any further series.
However, the BBC still continues to produce a weekly programme with the title Top of the Pops - on the BBC World Service...