Sunday, July 30, 2006

Top of the Pops 1964 - 2006

Well, there we have it. A cultural deity is dead. The final episode of Top of the Pops has just aired, and it somehow feels appropriate to pen a sort of obituary. A word of warning – this won’t be typical Sloppy Dog fodder. No hiding behind a collective self-reference, no intentional distancing from the subject matter, no ‘Ump style pictures of Andi Peters with “CUNT” in huge red letters across his face. I’m genuinely rather depressed.

When the Beeb made the decision to axe Top of the Pops, reactions seemed to flit between “isn’t that a shame?” and “so, they finally put it out of its misery”. I personally fall somewhere between the two, holding the notion that it should never have been allowed to sink to the depths it reached. What on Earth happened to what was once a fucking awesome show?

Anyone who accepts music’s ‘rapidly changing landscape’ as a valid reason is a complete moron. The industry is at an incredibly exciting stage, where more people than ever are being introduced to brand new music in brand new outlets (Sandi fucking Thom notwithstanding). If anything, the call for live music television is at its most fervent, as a tool to showcase this. Why TOTP couldn’t move with the times is baffling.

The final episode runs like a timeline, highlighting the supposed “best bits” throughout the years. And most of them are 1999 or earlier. But that’s not to say that the latter decades haven’t provided the MTV generation with our own iconic moments. Lest we forget the Spice Girls’ legendary debut appearance, “live” via “satellite” from Japan (the Spice Girls being another institution that went mysteriously down the shitter, incidentally).

It’s sad to think that we’ll probably be the last generation to submit ourselves to the weekly revelry, taking it with us to school or work the next day, and beyond. But personally, Top of the Pops was a great deal more than entertainment. It was a career goal.

I was lucky enough to begin my TV career at Top of the Pops, being granted a brief internship at the age of 21 after years of incessant pestering. However, on setting foot inside my childhood aspiration, I wasn’t whisked into a daydream world of platinum discs, day-glo show propaganda and creative young musos. Instead, a rude awakening came in the form of a bog standard office populated by bored thirtysomethings simply earning a crust.

A kick up the arse much needed for a kid who was expecting floor-to-ceiling razzle-dazzle, certainly. But the disappointment was overwhelming. How could people be so complacent with such exceptional jobs? In hindsight, they were hardly M├ędecins Sans Frontiers, but at the time, it was both frustrating and gutting. That said, the one thing I took away from my internship was an even bigger thirst to make great television (hear that, Viacom bigwigs? Surely that promotion is long overdue with an attitude that positive?).

On hearing that Andi Peters was to captain the good ship TOTP, there was little doubt that the show’s golden age was getting its second wind. By this stage, I was working at CD:UK (another one that’s gone tits up – it’s not me, is it?) as a junior researcher. It’s fair to say that the floors of the CD:UK office were awash with bitten fingernails as the impending re-launch drew closer – after all, Andi Peters had one hell of a magic touch. This was the man that created the entire T4 strand from sweet FA. The man that brought hangover TV into new levels of magnitude. Shipwrecked! As If! Dermot O’Leary! There was reason to be scared.

However, the morning after the big night illustrated otherwise. Gathering backstage at CD:UK at stupid o’clock for a pre-show briefing, Riverside Studios rang with hysterical laughter at such a botched train wreck of a show.

Between my brief spell and the relaunch, there had been a staff cull. According to an associate working close to TOTP at the time, it wasn’t so much “out with the old, in with the new” as much as “out with the old, in with a selection of pretty young boys and bitchy, pinched women”. Auntie’s music department was less a thriving hotbed of buzzing ideas, more the Ku Bar on a 2-for-1 woo-woos night.

It’s easy to blame Peters for the demise of the show (so lets! Boo, hiss, etc) but the downward spiral was already gyrating wildly. Slashed budgets, supposed lack of support from the channel, Fearne Cotton, being dumped into a comparative graveyard slot – it all played a part. But moreover, it’s a painful inability to understand music.

It was a pleasant swansong to see a miscellany of presenters gathered for the finale, especially with the aforementioned Cotton left in Fiji. While permacreep Sir Jimmy Savile was the childhood bugbear of Kat (Official Sloppy Dog Sibling™) and DLT is the mortal enemy of Plymouth correspondent Dame Dot of Devon, it made the show feel like an event – how TOTP once felt on a weekly basis. But the overall problem is that even the last ever show was a near-shambolic Poker Night Live-quality excuse for a production. Human error is to blame, be it the current team, or BBC bosses, or Andi bastard Peters. To summarise, this could have been avoided.

So, having vented my cod-modernist spleen, what’s the next step for us Pops purists? Do we stand amongst chuggers on Carnaby Street with a clipboard, gathering signatures demanding its reinstatement? Do we sit begrudgingly in front of The Hits, allowing microphones and Marshall amps to forever fade into smoke, mirrors and undue prominence? Or do we accept the natural passing of an institution, and hope that its brand carries on in the form of its sister shows and magazines?

For now, all we can do is mourn its passing. And unless the BBC can provide us another programme in their repertoire that can boast the same acclaim as Top of the Pops, let’s hope they realise where they went wrong with something they once did very, very right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A wonderful peice on writing Sloppy dog, bravo.

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