'Naff' pop show celebrates three decades at No 1: Mary Braid discovers that despite its longevity 'Top of the Pops' still cannot shake off its detractors

WHEN Jimmy Savile launched Top of the Pops on New Year's Day 1964, from a church in Manchester, The Beatles were at number one with 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and the programme was on a six-week trial.

On Tuesday, Top of the Pops celebrates its 30th birthday with a lengthy blast from the past featuring a host of pop stars, including Michael Jackson, still snub-nosed and black, a pink-wigged Madonna desperately seeking an image before super-stardom, and Sonny and Cher, before the world discovered they were not really in love.

The programme is proof that almost anyone and anything, no matter how ridiculous, can be thought cool in its particular time. In the Glam Rock years, Gary Glitter's silver platforms did not look quite so ludicrous nor David Bowie quite so weird and emaciated. The evidence extends to the audience, with weedy lads in lurid tanktops and heavy-thighed girls in short white PVC dresses. The bits between the old footage will be filled by Smashy and Nicey, comedians Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, who parody Top of the Pops' essential naffness, and old-timers Alan Freeman and Tony Blackburn.

But despite the celebrations and congratulations, Top of the Pops cannot shake off its detractors and their insistence that despite its longevity and 8 million viewers it must change or eventually die. Critics claim that by concentrating on the charts, the programme no longer reflects the interests of a CD-buying public with more diverse, fragmented music tastes.

The debate was fuelled this week by David Liddiment, new head of the BBC's entertainment group. Despite persistent rumours to the contrary, he insisted that the show, whose audience has halved since the 1960s, had a secure future. But he suggested that it might have to become less chart-based.

Tony Blackburn, a former compere, agrees that it has lost power and direction. 'In the 1960s almost everyone watched Top of the Pops. People don't realise there has been a revolution since then. There is more pop music on TV and a whole satellite channel devoted to it . . .'

Mr Blackburn is scathing about the decision two years ago to dump Radio 1 DJs and employ 'unknowns' . . . 'In my time Top of the Pops made you a national name. At least the DJs had something to do with music. No one knows who these guys are.'

But even in its heyday, Mr Blackburn found it difficult to take the chart business seriously. 'When you have to get excited about some single moving 'five sensational places' you have to see the funny side . . .'

Mr Liddiment's comments have clearly irritated Stanley Appel, Top of the Pops' producer, who will retire next month after a 20-year association with the show. 'Mr Liddiment . . . might find it is not so easy to change when he realises the limitations. We get knocked all the time because we have been around so long and are an institution. But it is unfair to compare viewing figures with those from the 1960s. Then the programme had no competition. The controller would be happy if all his programmes got an audience of 8 million.'

On Tuesday's show Pan's People, Ruby Flipper and the other dance troupes are conspicuously absent. Video killed off the dance troupes; some argue it will eventually kill off Top of the Pops.

But Steve Redmond, editor of Music Week, believes the power of Top of the Pops is undiminished. 'It is still absolutely vital to the music industry. It . . . has higher viewing figures than the Chart Show or The Word. Everyone wants to be on it.'

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice