BBC asks staff to step in after 'Top of the Pops' audience crisis

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The Independent Online

If the studio audience greeting this week's Top of the Pops acts sound somewhat muted and suspiciously mature, the BBC admits it is entirely to blame.

The corporation has had to abandon its usual audience of enthusiastic teenagers in favour of its own staff after falling foul of new licensing laws.

The director general, Mark Thompson, e-mailed a last-minute plea to employees asking them to go along to watch the chart show being filmed, after a change in legal advice that means the BBC now needs to obtain a live music licence for some of its programmes, following licensing laws that came into effect at the end of last year.

Members of the public who turned up to watch the live recording of Top of the Pops last night were turned away. Instead, the audience for the show to be broadcast on BBC 2 on Sunday was made up of volunteers from the BBC's drama, entertainment and children's division.

Strictly Dance Fever, the Saturday night show hosted by Graham Norton, will also be affected. For the next two weeks, until the BBC can obtain temporary licences from Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council, the families of the contestants in the BBC 1 dance contest will be asked to join staff to make up audience numbers.

Music slots on shows including Friday Night With Jonathan Ross and the National Lottery Jet Set will be pre-recorded until the relevant paperwork is in place. It takes 28 days to apply for a full public entertainment licence.

In his e-mail plea to staff, Mr Thompson said: "We are asking for your help, and also hoping that we can offer you some fun at the same time.

"A new law came into force recently which requires some public entertainment to be licensed.

"The BBC always seeks to operate fully within the law. Contrary to advice originally received, it now appears that the BBC needs a licence for certain audience shows. We are in the process of obtaining this.

"But while we do so, we need to introduce some restrictions on recording studio shows in front of members of the public.

"We can, however, use audiences drawn from members of staff only, and we're therefore inviting you to attend the programmes affected - from Strictly Dance Fever to Top of the Pops - which need recording during the time that it will take us to resolve the situation."

Those BBC employees who dutifully clicked on the link on Mr Thompson's e-mail to confirm their attendance at the Top of the Pops recording were treated to performances by the Ordinary Boys, Katie Melua and the Beautiful South.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "It's unfortunate, but in terms of people at home watching, there won't be any difference. But it's a real shame for those members of the public who were going to be in the audience."

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