Top of the Pops

This is the second part of our look back over the history of Top of the Pops, looking at 1980-1984. The other pages in this section cover 1964-1980, 1985-1993 and 1994-2006.


The new-look TOTP took to the air on 8th August 1980, and straight away it was clear things had changed.

The chart countdown had disappeared from the start of the show, to be replaced by stills and clips of songs to be featured in the show, accompanied by 'Whole Lotta Love'. The first programme was presented by Peter Powell, who was joined by Elton John, the first in a series of celebrity co-hosts over the next two months. Others included Cliff Richard, Russ Abbot, Kevin Keegan and Olivia Newton-John.

New, more contemporary set designs were introduced, the main one incorporating a large screen, and the audience was now under strict instructions to look like they were enjoying themselves. And each song would now conclude with the artist name appearing on screen using simple animated graphics.

The chart rundown was split into three and spread throughout the latter part of the show. Numbers 30-21 and 20-11 returned to using 'Whole Lotta Love' as the backing music, and from the second of the new-look shows this was the 'original' CCS version rather than the re-recorded version. The countdown was now much more informative - for the first time, the presenter would announce the artist and song title, and the graphics included arrows to indicate whether the song was climbing or falling down the charts, as helpfully explained by Tommy Vance in one early show. New entries were indicated by a star symbol. Despite these changes, the graphics retained the 1973 style, and so looked somewhat dated in appearance by 1980 standards.

The Top 10, which now immediately preceded the number one, was counted down using short video clips, or a still image if no clip was available. There was little consistency in the style of graphics used from week to week, though they sometimes involved rotating numerals. And each TOTP would now conclude with a return to scenes of the audience dancing to the playout song (however the kaleidoscope effect returned for a few shows in early 1981 when Robin Nash was briefly back in charge).

TOTP's eligibility rules were tightened up, and new releases and songs outside the Top 40 would eventually be phased out of the show.

The anachronism of Top of the Pops having its own orchestra finally disappeared at this time, along with the Maggie Stredder Singers (formerly the Ladybirds). Eventually, the ludicrous practice of bands having to re-record their own songs to comply with Musicians' Union rules would also fade away.

The shows from late 1980 and early 1981 have a somewhat 'work in progress' feel to them. Some ideas that were tried out didn't stick - such as guests regularly popping into the studio for a chat, and a weekly 'music news' segment. This was all ditched at the end of 1980, as was the opening preview of upcoming songs, leaving the show without any opening sequence at all.

In February 1981 a very simple title screen was introduced - it doesn't even deserve to be called a title 'sequence'. It would usually be accompanied by the opening bars of the first song. From May, the show began to be transmitted live some weeks, a practice which continued for the remainder of the decade.

Throughout 1981 the party atmosphere was gradually ramped up. Around April, a new main set was introduced, with vertical lines of flashing lights. Then on 9th July 1981 - TOTP's 900th edition - the show finally received a brand new theme tune and, for the first time in seven years, an opening title sequence!

The new title sequence is one of the best remembered in TOTP's history, featuring coloured discs flying out of dry ice. The 1973 logo remained, however, subtly amended with rounded corners. The new theme tune was 'Yellow Pearl', a collaboration between Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott and Ultravox's Midge Ure, and a shortened version could be heard during the opening titles. This synth-led theme sat perfectly in tune with the dominant musical styles of the time.

The full version of 'Yellow Pearl' accompanied the chart rundown, which was revamped with more modern graphics more in keeping with current styles. The Top 10 video countdown was ditched from the second new-look show onwards, with numbers 10-1 now counted down in the same way as 30-21 and 20-11.

The countdown graphics initially featured static vertical bars either side of the picture, but on 12th August 1982 these were replaced by flashing lights and images, which would change from week to week. Around the same time, the countdown began to distinguish between 'new entries', which were entirely new to the chart, and 'chart entries' which had climbed into the Top 30 for the first time (though to confuse matters, the definitions were initially the other way round).

In October 1981 it was time to say goodbye to another part of 1970s TOTP. Legs and Co's five year tenure had spanned wholesale changes in music and fashion, and by 1981, the idea of an all-girl dance troupe seemed old-fashioned. Increasingly they were appearing merely as an adjunct to artists performing in the studio; their final stand-alone dance was to the Tweets' 'Birdie Song'.

On 5th November 1981, the party atmosphere-ometer was turned up to 11. Flags and balloons festooned the studio. The audience was now augmented by cheerleaders - young people paid to hang around the studio, dance with the audience, and generally look trendy. Some of TOTP's cheerleaders would go on to have television and music careers, such as singer Sinitta, Blue Peter's Michael Sundin, musical star Frances Ruffelle, and Craig Fairbrass, who later appeared in EastEnders.

Legs and Co's replacements also arrived - a new mixed-gender dance collective named 'Zoo'. Like their predecessors, they were choreographed by Flick Colby, but this is where the similarities end. Zoo was a much larger team of dancers than the dance troupes of old, with members coming and going all the time, many making just one appearance. The number of dancers would vary according to how many were required for that routine. They would also more frequently appear dancing alongside the artists rather than in stand-alone routines.

Opening captions still weren't used at all, but the captions at the end of the songs became increasingly animated.

At the start of 1982 a brand new main set was introduced, featuring flashing lights cascading down the set. The famous flashing neon logo also made its debut at this time. After 'Yellow Pearl' opened the first show of the year, the first song to be featured was - 'Yellow Pearl'! Phil Lynott's track had been released as a single, and was danced to by Zoo on the programme. From around this time the show's theme tune would also usually be heard in the background during the presenter links.

The Top 10 video countdown made occasional returns over the next few years. Other regular features in the early 80s included a monthly look at the American charts, a less frequent look at the European charts, and, on one occasion, even the Far East charts.

On 30th September 1982 a special show aired marking 15 years of Radio 1, which featured the station's entire line-up of DJs, with a memorable sequence of all of them dancing to Adam Ant, featuring amusing freeze frames on each DJ. This was also the show of the famous Dexys Midnight Runners incident, where a performance of their song 'Jackie Wilson Says' was accompanied in the background by a large picture of darts player Jocky Wilson, a jolly jape suggested by members of the band. Naturally, however, most viewers and critics assumed that this was a genuine mistake, to the fury of producer Michael Hurll.

At the start of 1983, TOTP introduced dual presentation - from now on, each show would be hosted by a pair of DJs. The most memorable pairing was that of John Peel and David 'Kid' Jensen, aka the Rhythm Pals, who delighted in dressing up in funny outfits, and making sardonic remarks.

Another special show came on 5th May 1983, as TOTP celebrated its 1000th edition (though those who are paying attention will have noticed that the so-called 1000th edition actually follows 97 editions after the 900th!) Many of the show's former presenters returned for the special occasion. There were also several changes in presentation.

The opening titles were altered, so that the flying discs sequence was now seen on a screen moving around a vortex.

A new main set was introduced, probably the best remembered of all, which incorporated the existing neon logo, and added flashing neon signs right around the set. The backwards 'Q' shaped signs were amended on 14th July 1983 to complete the diamond with a circle inside.

And a re-recorded version of 'Yellow Pearl' was used over the Top 30 countdown - noticeably inferior to the original, yet so similar you have to wonder why they bothered!

Around this time, the show began using graphics, including chart position, to introduce each song, although it took a while for a regular style to be settled on.

On 29th September 1983, without any mention or farewell, the dance group Zoo made their last appearance on the show. Few viewers would have noticed or cared though - for months, Zoo had been a barely noticeable presence on the show, with sometimes several weeks passing between performances, and most appearances consisting of Zoo members dancing in the audience or with the acts on stage. With most chart songs now having videos produced for them, the idea of the show having an in-house dance troupe was now seen as outdated and superfluous. Only the cheerleaders would remain - they themselves would occasionally be seen dancing alongside the artists.

TOTP marked its twentieth anniversary on the first show of 1984. This was a relatively low key affair, no doubt due to it coming less than a year after the 1000th edition. The chart countdown was expanded to a Top 40 from this edition, with 40-26, 25-11 and 10-1 counted down in separate segments.

The show was opened by Frankie Goes to Hollywood performing 'Relax', however it was the last time they would get to perform it on the show for a while. The publicity surrounding the BBC-wide ban on the song sent it straight to number one, where it stayed for six weeks, leaving TOTP in the awkward position of announcing the number one, and then not being able to show it - instead the presenters would say goodbye and go straight to the playout song. The ban was eventually relaxed, and 'Relax' appeared again on the Christmas Day show.

TOTP's graphics changed frequently during 1984. On the second show of the year, a new font was introduced to the opening and closing song graphics, and closing credits. During the early part of the year, several different styles of caption to introduce songs were experimented with, before a regular style was settled on.

TOTP had been blacked out a number of times in its history due to industrial action. For several weeks in the early spring of 1984, TOTP was forced into a smaller studio (the BBC canteen, as Mike Read would have it), with room for only two stages, which used parts of the usual set. On 5th April, no TOTP was produced at all, as a scene-shifters' strike took BBC1 off air entirely for one day. To fill the gap, the seven year-old me recorded a tape of myself doing the chart rundown - seek it out on YouTube if you dare!

Brand new chart rundown graphics were introduced on 5th July 1984, featuring a new serif font - though they would be repeatedly tinkered with from week to week. The screen layout was reversed after the first two weeks; the number of arrow heads was gradually reduced until there were three; and there were various changes in background colour.

A special show was broadcast on 30th August 1984, in which an InterCity125 express was named 'Top of the Pops', and then attempted to beat the record from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads station - which it did, the coverage of which caused a Bucks Fizz performance back in the studio to be cut short. A rather odd example of something entirely non-music related taking priority over music - on a music show.

The same show also saw an entirely new version of 'Yellow Pearl' introduced to accompany the Top 40 countdown. At the request of producer Michael Hurll, Midge Ure recorded a new guitar-based 'soft rock' version of the theme, vastly inferior to most ears! More tinkering with the rundown graphics also took place, with the Clarendon font now being used for the artist name and chart position.

The rest of the show's graphics, including song intro, outro graphics, and closing credits, switched to Clarendon from 1st November 1984.


Next page: 1985-1993
Previous page: 1964-1980


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