David Lister: The Week in Arts

We haven't seen the last of 'Top of the Pops'
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The Independent Online

I watched the final edition of Top of the Pops in the certain knowledge of two things: Dave Lee Travis has aged worse than Jimmy Savile, even though he can give him a decade or two, and the final edition of Top of the Pops won't be the final edition of Top of the Pops.

The BBC will bring it back, just as it brought back Doctor Who, costume dramas, and all those other programmes that TV executives decide have run their course before realising later that there is still a market for them.

The show proved a rather sweet hour of nostalgia, prompting reflections that The Spice Girls were a neat little pop band, that David Bowie performing "Starman" in 1972 was mesmerising, that Mick Jagger in 1965 had not mastered pouting and miming at the same time, that Sixties studio audiences were self-conscious about dancing, and that the BBC still can't bring itself to acknowledge that punk played any part in pop history.

It also, of course, made you wonder not for the first time what possessed BBC executives around 1968 to destroy not only the inaugural edition of the programme but also much of the first four years of shows. The standard response is that everyone then believed pop and television to be ephemeral and not an important part of our cultural history.

Why do we swallow such guff? Who by 1968 really believed that The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and even Top of the Pops were ephemera whose stories were not sociologically important? Crucially, Top of the Pops had an importance beyond its value as a weekly document of musical fashions. It had one factor that no other music television show has. It is, or rather was, family viewing.

The joy of the show was that it brought the generations together around the TV. The very fact that the charts are so amorphous meant that the 10-year-old, the teenage sibling and the parents could all find something in the show to love and hate, could learn a bit about each other's tastes and have a really good laugh at them. MTV simply does not serve that need. It is a parent-free zone.

Dissenters argue that the charts these days are different. They change so quickly, and are full of rap and club music. But so what? They are still singles that people are buying. Take this week's singles chart - which actually has a rather eclectic spread.

Would there not have been some vigorous cross-generation discussion about the relative merits of Madonna, Christina Aguilera and Lily Allen? Their musical styles, lyrics, attitudes and dress sense present plenty of scope for family debate.

Equally, the sophisticated guitar band lovers who had bought Razorlight's new record would have delighted in seeing them on the show, but might have been mildly amused to have a peek at boy band McFly. It's the sort of music they would never knowingly play, but natural curiosity demands that we know a little about what falls outside our own taste and Top of the Pops served that need too.

The BBC may have panicked too early, not so much now when the ratings really are dreadful, but previously when it messed around with the format and moved the show away from a regular weekday slot on BBC1 to a Sunday on BBC2. This show needed stability of time and format to serve its most useful function of bringing the family together for musical education, ogling, banter and healthy antagonism.

Top of the Pops was, in a rather weird way, public service broadcasting. And that's why it will return one day.

Very material girl

I saw the Madonna extravaganza at Wembley Arena this week. It was a remarkable event, with more sophisticated choreography, stage design, back projections and hydraulics than I have ever seen at a pop show - even if a little too clinical at times.

My caveat about the remarkable Madonna is the equally remarkable ticket price. It's not that I begrudge one of the wealthiest women in the world charging £160 a ticket. It's more that the very concept of £160 for a pop concert feels wrong. Unlike those other high chargers, The Rolling Stones, Madonna still has a sizeable fan base among 20-somethings, with even some teenage devotees. How many of them can afford £160, or even the cheapest price of £80? Many fans must be disenfranchised from these concerts.

Madonna should think back to her own youth, lived out in fairly modest circumstances. Could her old self ever have afforded to go to see her new self in concert?

* My indignation last week at theatre producers for taking critics' quotes out of context to mislead theatregoers is clearly shared by readers, judging from your e-mails. I hope that now someone will be bold enough to take a theatre producer to court for persuading people to part with their money under false pretences. Any such litigation will be followed closely on this page.

I do agree, though, with those of you who point out that we should be less harsh on performers who take liberties with what the critics say. I particularly like the example of the comedian Jason Wood. At one Edinburgh Fringe Festival his stand-up routine was given a measly one-star review in The Scotsman. Wood certainly made the best of the insult. He produced posters for his show, on which he put the quote: "A Star."

Now that is a stylish enough distortion to be forgiven.

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