Top of the Pops

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


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 then 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).

Revised opening song graphics were introduced, which now included an indication of chart movement. The Clarendon font, in use since 1984, remained. A new opening animation for the Breakers was also introduced.

On 30th July 1987, the Clarendon font was dropped after three years of use, and replaced by a new sans serif font. The change applied to all the show's graphics. On 17th September, the show's theme, 'The Wizard', switched to the more familiar single version.

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 was axed in March 1988.

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, although the recording day changed from Wednesday to Tuesday.

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

From 25th February 1988, the Top 40 was split up again, with 40-31 and 30-11 being counted down in separate segments. Later in the year, 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 the famous All About Eve miming incident, where the group were unable to hear their track playing, whereas the viewers at home could, and so the singer sat there with her mouth closed as the song played. They were invited back onto the following week's show. This incident is probably the only thing anyone now remembers All About Eve for, who would probably have disappeared into obscurity otherwise - is it better to be remembered for something going wrong, than not be remembered at all?

TOTP marked its 25th anniversary with a special show on New Year's Eve 1988. Then, at the start 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. Song intro graphics also had a new look, 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. And in an attempt to squeeze more songs into the show, executive producer Paul Ciani decided to restrict videos to no more than 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. At the end of that month, the graphics were updated once again - there would be further alterations over the next couple of years.

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, in February, songs dropping down the charts were removed from the countdown - only the Top 10 was featured in full. Then from 13th June, the traditional countdown sequence was ditched altogether, and instead the 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.

And so 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.

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. The opening titles, countdown and, now, closing credits all used a new theme tune, 'Now Get Out of That', composed by Tony Gibber.

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.


Next page: 1994-2006
Previous page: 1980-1984


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