December 4, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

How punk rescued Top of the Pops in 1976

2 min read
How punk rescued Top of the Pops in 1976

BBC Four (or BBC Fortysomething as I call it) ran an excellent series of programmes back to back on Friday night about Top of the Pops in 1976 – the year, which I’m sure you’ll recall, it really sank to all time lows.

Sexist and the songs were cover versions!

TOTP in the 60s focused on music and giving youth a voice. It bounced in to the early 1970s with the amazingness of glam – particularly Marc Bolan. And there were the great opening credits to the grinding rock of Led Zeppelin. But then it all ran out of steam. Every Thursday, aged 12 and 13, me and my sister tuned in listlessly to TOTP hoping something would be played to excite our jaded senses.

What I thought the BBC Four programme evidenced brilliantly – and Paul Morley is a god for saying it – was how crap the crop of DJs on Radio 1/TOTP looked by the mid-70s. These smug arbiters of pop taste were annoying the hell out of all of us. Ex-Radio Luxembourg presenters still convinced today they were right not to play punk records – citing the level of record sales.

But as we all know, record sales were contingent on DJs giving songs airtime. I mean, Dave Lee Travis happily plugged his Convoy GB record, which I certainly didn’t want to hear at the time.  And that was the problem – these guys loved their novelty hits while ignoring a musical revolution right in front of their noses.

Tony Blackburn rocked up on the BBC4 prog to say that he still detested punk. I recall Generation X appearing on one edition of TOTP hosted by Blackburn and when the camera went back to him, he looked as if somebody had just taken a dump on his face.

The BBC carried on turning TOTP in to a variety show for all the family until the knocking of punk at the front door became so loud they had to be let in.  I mean, to give you an idea how awful 1976 was on TOTP – just think about Disco Duck, Brotherhood of Man and Showaddywaddy and consider that while that was being played at TV Centre to people still in flares, the Sex Pistols were gigging but a few miles away in central London.

As Toyah said on the programme, and I never thought I’d quote her, punk injected new life in to TOTP.  Far from overthrowing it, they gave the format a whole new lease of life.  Seeing Siouxsie Sioux playing Hong Kong Garden on the show is as electric now as it was when she appeared.  And yet, there was David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton on the BBC4 programme still saying that punk was horrible.

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