“NOW FOR SOMETHING BIG IN GREECE… BBC POTATOES!”: The glory years of TOTP at Christmas
IT’S 25 DECEMBER. It’s 1400 hours Greenwich Mean Time. It can mean only one thing. The unmissable pop almanac that is the Christmas Day edition of Top Of The Pops. The massed ranks of Radio One DJs jostled for position on the Television Centre scaffolding, poised to introduce the biggest hits of the past 12 months.
And of course, more often that not, the start of this kaleidoscope of sights and sounds coincided precisely with the turkey-and-pud banquet in the dining room, rendering the Christmas Pops experience little more than a brief glimpse of GARY DAVIES in a leather blouson pointing at THE THOMPSON TWINS.
In case you’re still wondering what you missed back then, TV Cream has unspooled the tapes to chronicle the glory years of the seasonal pop jamboree, from Edmonds to Goodier and Baccara to Beats International. So position that armchair precisely two inches from the screen, clear a space in front of the fire for your sister to do “her dance”, and enjoy…
1977: “It’s written in the moonlight, painted on the stars”
Britain is in the grip of a cultural revolution. The Sex Pistols are jousting with Bill Grundy as mohicaned teens flick the V’s at the tourists in Trafalgar Square. Punk was about to sweep away everything the nation held dear and Leo Sayer’s chances of survival seemed slim. So how did the Pops intend to protect and survive this imminent popmageddon? By getting LEGS AND CO to dance to EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER’s Fanfare For The Common Man, of course! The luxuriantly coiffured pairing of NOEL EDMONDS and KID JENSEN compered a Christmas bill that might as well have been prefaced with the instruction, “Move along sonny, no punk here!”
DAVID SOUL wandered around in cardie and slacks imploring Don’t Give Up On Us Baby on video, while THE BRIGHOUSE AND RASTRICK BRASS BAND parped through The Floral Dance. No Tel, alas, although he’d have tapped a sturdy brogue to Lucille by KENNY ROGERS. The family could join in on the “ratty-tatty tat!” bits on Chanson D’amour by MANHATTAN TRANSFER, who’d have felt at home on lunchtime telly, thanks to their permanent residence on Pebble Mill at One. And WINGS recalled those “nights when we sang like a heavenly choir”, though the proto French disco of Magic Fly by SPACE might have appeared a bit out of place between HOT CHOCOLATE and BACCARA.
ONE FOR THE DADS: Knowing Me Knowing You by ABBA caused ructions over the brandy butter as your dad and uncle argued over whether “the blonde one” or “the dark one” was best.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: JOHNNY MATHIS puzzling over the eternal theological conundrum that is “Black? White? Yellow? No-one knows” in front of some pot plants in When A Child Is Born.
1978: “When he plays guitar, at the disco bar”
In a radical change of format, NOEL EDMONDS hosted the 1978 proceedings from the Top Of The Pops office (or a painstaking recreation of it, at any rate), enabling the Swapmeister-in-chief to unleash a barrage of visual gags. If he wasn’t opening a BBC cupboard to reveal a torrent of plastic limbs (“Here are… LEGS AND CO! Ooh, that’s where they go for Christmas!”), he’d be admiring the TOTP office plants (“Oh look, it’s a bush… and it grows small kites on it. It’s a… KITE BUSH!*”). It had been the summer of Grease and Saturday Night Fever, so JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN and THE BEE GEES held dominion over the British Market Research Bureau, but neither act could match three appearances from BONEY M, thanks to Rivers Of Babylon, Mary’s Boy Child and Rasputin (“What a strange man!”).
Having spent the last hour or so perched on an MFI dining room chair, you could watch ABBA do something similar in the video for Take A Chance On Me, and if that wasn’t enough two-hairy-blokes-and-two-birds continental pop, then here come the sweatshirted BROTHERHOOD OF MAN and their cautionary musical tale of guitar-strumming Ambre Solaire lothario Angelo.
LEGS AND CO flounced around to Three Times A Lady by THE COMMODORES, while SHOWADDYWADDY and DARTS went toe to winklepickered toe in a battle royale of the Cheggers Plays Pop doo-wop merchants. And FATHER ABRAHAM ruthlessly interrogated THE SMURFS over their ability to crawl through keyholes and water taps.
ONE FOR THE DADS: Ms “Neutron Bomb” herself, in black lurex pedalpushers thrusting around a load of fairground test-your-strength machines and a “shake shack” in the video for You’re The One That I Want.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: Pastie-and-peas troubadours BRIAN AND MICHAEL’s uplifting tale of LS Lowry and “sparking clogs” would have provided the perfect musical accompaniment to the Gaviscon.
* Kate Bush
1979: “Boogie with a suitcase”
The Beeb had something for everyone in their pop bran tub this Christmas, enthusiastically delivered by Radio One’s fresh-faced philanthropists KID JENSEN and PETER POWELL. ELVIS COSTELLO, IAN DURY and SQUEEZE provided a bit of new wave lip for your big brother, there was ace Look-In pop from BUGGLES, M and, yes, SIR CLIFFORD with We Don’t Talk Any More, and ROXY MUSIC contributed a dash of Mateus Rose sophistication with Dance Away.
LEGS AND CO tested Flick Colby’s choreography skills to the limit with a routine to ANITA WARD’s “bwooo! bwooo!” disco shakedown Ring My Bell, and DR HOOK added some Radio 2-friendly balladry with When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman (“you watch your friends!”). And all that relentless hanging around Swap Shop finally paid off for BA ROBERTSON as he got to serenade the millions about “Lord Nel and Lady Hamilton” with Bang Bang, as GARY NUMAN did his best to scare your auntie in a futuristic double-bill of Liberator-chic pop, comprising Cars and Are Friends Electric.
ONE FOR THE DADS: Debbie Harry’s lipgloss got a double outing in BLONDIE’s videos for Sunday Girl and Dreaming, causing dads everywhere to get a little hot under their new Burlington shirt collar.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: One Day At A Time by LENA MARTELL added a seasonal touch of Stars On Sunday spirituality to proceedings and a welcome respite from “all that bump bump bump” for the senior citizens.
1980: “It’s coming up like a flower”
Into a new decade, and TOTP’s Christmas show for 1980 resembled nothing less than a Bacchanalian feast, or at least, SIR JIM’LL and PETER POWELL sitting behind a table with a BBC canteen-issue turkey and a bowl of tangerines on it. The big hitters included THE POLICE foreshadowing Clare Scott’s infatuation with “Hoppy” Hopwood in Don’t Stand So Close To Me, DAVID BOWIE putting all those mime workshops to good use in the promo for Ashes To Ashes, and the nightmare-inducing animation that backed PINK FLOYD’s Another Brick In The Wall.
LEGS AND CO performed their final Christmas shimmy, to BABS STREISAND’s epic soft focus ballad Woman In Love, MARTI WEBB had the mum ticket sewn up with Lloyd-Webber imbroglio Take That Look Off Your Face, and SHEENA EASTON shrugged off the handicap of that Rantzen endorsement to warble Nine To Five, a song we cannot hear without picturing Kramer off of Seinfeld eating crackers out of a briefcase. The enthusiastically permed LEO SAYER pitched up to warble “Wo-ho-wo-ho-wo-ho-way/I love you more than words can say,” and SIR MACCA got to raise a festive wacky thumbs aloft to the falsetto cod-reggae of Coming Up, as Pete ravenously tucked into a BBC drumstick.
ONE FOR THE DADS: For some reason, mention of THE NOLAN SISTERS induced a lusty snigger amongst men of a certain age, so the arrival of Bernie and co in their jumpsuits “in the mood for dancing” might have had dads dreaming of a little “romancing”.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: There’s No One Quite Like Grandma by ST WINIFRED’S SCHOOL CHOIR, of course, although this is obviously blatant cheating.
1981: “Down below the cars in the city go rushing by”
In a bid to call a ceasefire to the squabbling at Egton House over which Radio One “jocks” got to compere the festive shindig, this year’s Christmas Pops was hosted by practically all of them, a cast of thousands comprising ANDY PEEBLES, PAUL BURNETT, PAUL GAMBACCINI, DAVE LEE TRAVIS, ADRIAN JUSTE, SIMON BATES, DAVID JENSEN, TONY BLACKBURN, JOHN PEEL, STEVE WRIGHT, PETER POWELL, RICHARD SKINNER, MIKE READ and SIR JIM’LL in a test card jumper conducting his troops in a bizarre arms-linked 275 & 285 rendition of All You Need Is Love (“From all the guys and gals, all the best, the merriest of all, yeah!”).
But the entertainment was undeniable, as THE HUMAN LEAGUE, KIRSTY McCOLL, THE BEAT, KIM WILDE and THE TEARDROP EXPLODES managed to satisfy both the Flexipop crowd and the NME mob. TOTP’s new dance troupe ZOO drew the short straw, mind, when they had to “interpret” LAURIE ANDERSON’s art-pop installation O Superman. But there were hits to spare in 1981, with DEPECHE MODE, TOYAH, SPANDAU BALLET and ULTRAVOX all present and correct.
ONE FOR THE DADS: The Pops went all out for the kids in 1981, so Clare Grogan off of ALTERED IMAGES bouncing around in a flouncy frock was the best your dad was going to get. And who’s going to argue with that?
ONE FOR THE GRANS: And they’d have to hang on until New Year’s Eve to see JULIO IGLESIAS oil his way through Begin The Beguine, so SHAKY pondering that lime portcullis was all the Steradent pack could look forward to.
1982: “Give me music make me jump and prance”
Everyone knows pop attained perfection in 1982, it’s a scientific fact! And to prove it, here come JOHN PEEL (“We are your vibrant Radio One personalities”), DLT and another overmanned roster of DJs to introduce HAIRCUT 100, DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS and DURAN DURAN. The ubiquitous CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, joined by that flapping mechanical seagull, pitched up to reprise Happy Talk and refuel those “golly baby he’s a lucky what?” playground rumours, while CLIFF RICHARD tackled the ‘singing the words of one song to the tune of another’ round on the ace Little Town.
MUSICAL YOUTH took time off from polishing the Blue Peter Award For Outstanding Endeavour as Peelie (in ‘Sheena Barmy Army’ jumper) expressed his delight at Pass The Dutchie reaching number one, and Radio One new boy MIKE SMITH skilfully promoted the station’s new open-all-hours policy (“From December, we went 18 hours a day! That’s the hard sell… now here’s the SOFT CELL!”). ZOO put in overtime in 1982, moving like Harlow in Monte Carlo to CHARLENE’s mini-series-in-song I’ve Never Been To Me, performing a magic show with illusionist SIMON DRAKE to THE STEVE MILLER BAND’s Abracadabra and, best of all, doing the Adam Ant arms-aloft strut to the Pops theme itself, Yellow Pearl.
Even Teutonic techno titans KRAFTWERK put in an appearance, albeit on tape only, thus denying the nation a chance to see Florian Schneider lobbing balloons at the audience and attacking Ralf Hutter with a can of silly string.
ONE FOR THE DADS: The 66.6% of TIGHT FIT that cavorted in leopardskin leotards to The Lion Sleeps Tonight provided the festive crumpet in 1982.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: Eurovision peace envoy NICOLE strumming through school assembly opus A Little Peace doubtless had the Dr Scholl slippers tapping in time over the mixed nuts.
1983: “She’s been living in her white bread world”
The reckless overstaffing of recent years came to an end in 1983, as SIMON BATES, ANDY PEEBLES, JANICE LONG and MIKE SMITH leant on the Pops scaffolding to introduce a relentless fusillade of glossy ’80s pop action, headed by THE EURYTHMICS, HEAVEN 17 and DAVID BOWIE under the moonlight, the serious moonlight, although this Christmas it seemed like the big stars only appeared on video. Like BILLY JOEL and his troupe of formation mechanics hassling Christie Brinkley, and IRENE CARA, doubtless prompting your sister to do her routine in front of the Trinitron during Flashdance (What A Feeling).
The BBC special effects department had no doubt requisitioned lorryloads of fake snow (cue Mat Irvine on Saturday Superstore: “It’s actually a leading brand of soap detergent!”) to mount a wintry tableau for THE FLYING PICKETS to unleash their patented formula of Labour club acapella mayhem on the nation’s ears. That dumper-bound dandy highwayman ADAM ANT turned up to romp through demented panto caper Puss’N'Boots (“Pussycat’s going to London, looking for love and for fame!”) and BUCKS FIZZ meandered down memory lane with When We Were Young.
ONE FOR THE DADS: BONNIE TYLER and her Strepsils-defying rasp belting through Total Eclipse Of The Heart in a billowing nightie.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: It’s SHAKY again (“Latest statistics show 90% of all British women like Shakin’ Stevens. On the other hand, 90% of all British men think he’s old enough to shake himself!”) crooning Cry Just A Little Bit.
1984: “But shoot it in the right direction”
If there was a Christmas Pops that had every teenager lingering for “just another five minutes” in the living room as the family assembled round the table, this was it. Practically every member of the Smash Hits synod was here, including PAUL YOUNG, CULTURE CLUB, HOWARD JONES and DURAN DURAN. Even better, the feuding denizens of W1A 4WW had been temporarily dismissed at the behest of producer Michael Hurll, to be replaced by the bands themselves looking uncertainly into camera and hesitantly delivering the links (“I’m sorry WHAM! can’t be with us tonight, George and Andrew have been delayed somewhere, I think he’s sick, but he’s OK, so this is, er, on video, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go! Over there!”).
THE THOMPSON TWINS indulged in some tinsel-adorned xylophone bashing on You Take Me Up, before the stunning moment when Joe Leeway (“Enjoy your Christmas dinner, go for it in ’85!”) introduced FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD performing Relax, newly liberated from the BBC banned file. Of course, this was the year of BAND AID, and the Pops mounted an impressive reprise of Bob and Midge’s Z-Cars whipround for the finale, although Paul Weller had to sheepishly mime Bono’s bit and BLACK LACE shamelessly sneaked onto the end of the chorus line.
Three days later, the Pops served up second Christmas helpings, with guest host LENNY HENRY showcasing his roster of kid-friendly comedy characters (Delbert Wilkins, PC Ganga, Trevor McDoughnut) to introduce the likes of NEIL (“My white bicycle… oh sorry, what, the other one?”), BANANARAMA and BRONSKI BEAT, and essaying the most dubious STEVIE WONDER gag in history (“I just called to say I love you… what? Wrong number?”).
ONE FOR THE DADS: PEPSI AND SHIRLIE in white Top Shop skirts and clicking their luminous-gloved fingers in the video for Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: JIM DIAMOND in a red jacket with nasty rolled-up sleeves doing I Should Have Known Better represented the sole concession to anyone over the age of about 15.
1985: “Monkey business on a sunny afternoon”
Normal service was resumed in 1985 as the call went out to STEVE WRIGHT, GARY DAVIES, JOHN PEEL, DIXIE PEACH and JANICE LONG to compere the Christmas proceedings, alongside JONATHAN KING in a baseball cap gurning about all the records he’d personally made a hit in America that year. Legitimate highlights were few and far between, beyond Tarzan Boy, that impenetrable homage to the “jungle life” by BALTIMORA, magisterial eye patch disco from DEAD OR ALIVE in the shape of You Spin Me Round and FEARGAL SHARKEY trembling through A Good Heart in a bootlace tie.
Instead, adhering to the useless Pops format of the day, the show largely comprised a thousand clips of videos, hence further exposure for MIDGE URE “carrying the weight of popular demand” in that Innovations catalogue-inspiring sequence for If I Was, PAUL HARDCASTLE reading bits out of the Orbis ‘Eyewitness Nam’ collection on 19, and THE CROWD, the least glamorous charity record of all time, featuring The Barron Knights, Ed Stewart and Motorhead swaying along to You’ll Never Walk Alone in response to the Bradford City fire. It could have been worse, mind, as ITV countered with Top Pop Videos Of ’85, presented by JIM DAVIDSON.
ONE FOR THE DADS: MADONNA in full-on Desperately Seeking Susan lacy gloves mode for Into The Groove and Crazy For You might have delayed dad’s appointment with the Moulinex electric carver.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: It must be ELAINE PAIGE AND BARBARA DICKSON striding unnecessarily slowly in opposite directions on a chessboard set in the video for I Know Him So Well.
1986: “From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station”
Into the Paul Hardcastle era of spinning cassettes and exploding saxophones, with SIMON BATES, JANICE LONG, GARY DAVIES and PETER POWELL in a horrible blue tracksuit. BILLY OCEAN opened the show with the “go and get stuffed” hilarity of When The Going Gets Tough, although the BBC’s budget didn’t stretch to jetting in messrs Douglas, Turner and De Vito to provide backing vocals. DOCTOR AND THE MEDICS set themselves up for a lifetime of ironic fresher’s ball performances of Spirit In The Sky and, best of all, the PET SHOP BOYS got to brood through West End Girls, with Neil in flying jacket and aviator shades and Chris in a bowler hat.
Mr Bit In The Middle got suitably enthusiastic over “the first hit for yonks for DIANA ROSS” and that mental exploding studio gallery video for Chain Reaction, and Janice acclaimed “a really lovely bloke” in the miniaturised form of CHRIS DE BURGH, dedicating his dinner-dance shuffler The Lady In Red to “his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Rosanna”. Before Her Maj settled behind her writing bureau for her annual 3pm appointment with the nation, there was just time for “Simes” to confirm that THE HOUSEMARTINS and their sports casual canticle Caravan Of Love had been beaten to the festive top spot by JACKIE WILSON, thanks in no part to perhaps the least impressive three minutes in claymation history.
ONE FOR THE DADS: “The material girl herself” in an ‘Italians Do It Better’ T-shirt for Papa Don’t Preach.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: NICK BERRY warmed up for the key role of tinkling the ivories as Angie storms out of the Vic, by chugging down a canal to the strains of E20 power ballad Every Loser Wins.
1987: “It was a theme she had on a scheme he had”
Decked in tuxedos, their bowties crucially loosened to give the appearance that they’d just popped in on the journey home from a far more exciting soiree, MIKE SMITH and GARY DAVIES helmed the 1987 knees-up. In spite of their gladrags, it proved one of the least impressive Christmas Pops to date, a brace of number ones from TENNANT and LOWE (with Fairlight excitingly displaying ‘PET SHOP BOYS’ in glowing green text) and DICK SPATSLEY shuffling through Never Gonna Give You Up notwithstanding.
For the first time TV Cream could remember, they counted down that week’s chart during the Christmas Pops (“Stand by your turkeys, here comes the Christmas top ten!”), and rolled out Next Directory balladeers JOHNNY HATES JAZZ to perform their forgettable tearjerker Turn Back The Clock. T’PAU’s crockery-shattering drivetime histrionics (“a smasheroonie number one,” according to “Smitty”) completed the studio roster, the rest of the programme featuring the likes of S/A/W’s Zeebrugge fundraiser FERRY AID, Newsround-baiting godfather of house STEVE ‘SILK’ HURLEY and STARSHIP’s majestic Mannequin anthem Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now (“Let ‘em see we’re cray-zeh!”).
The finale featured SPAGNA, resplendent in frightwig, leggings and military tunic, fighting off a barrage of balloons to a chorus of ‘Euro Number One’ Call Me. Don’t worry, Indiana Jones is on in a bit.
ONE FOR THE DADS: MADONNA completes the hat-trick, albeit practically by default, thanks to the videos for La Isla Bonita and Who’s The Girl.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: The timeless harmonies of those BEE GEES on the ace You Win Again is just about all the Stannah contingent got this Christmas.
1988: “If we should be evicted from our homes”
The fearsome menage-a-trois that is BRUNO BROOKES, ANTHEA TURNER and GARY DAVIES were your ringmasters for the 1988 festivities, but as a textbook omnibus of the year’s hits there was little to complain about, with performances from the PET SHOP BOYS, THE TIMELORDS and S’EXPRESS amid the streamers and balloons, augmented by mac-and-big-specs refrectory strumming from FAIRGROUND ATTRACTION, leggings-and-boots peroxide pop from YAZZ AND THE PLASTIC POPULATION, and ENYA at a big piano covered in flowers.
Meanwhile, the video playlist included Nathan off of BROTHER BEYOND running around after a convertible in ace S/A/W Motown pastiche The Harder I Try and TIFFANY in a big jumper harassing shoppers with her unfathomable hand signals. And although Sir Cliff might have annexed the Christmas top spot, it was BROS who got to bring down the curtain with their sanctified rendition of Silent Night. Not a dry eye in the house, and definitely nobody watching The Great British Pop Machine with French and Saunders on ITV.
ONE FOR THE DADS: KYLIE MINOGUE filing her nails and going mental with the Radox in the video for I Should Be So Lucky.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: The Right Reverend CLIFF RICHARD imploring the “hating and fighting to cease” in a red leather jacket for Mistletoe and Wine, memorably bidding “have a great Christmas everybody!” in the middle eight.
1989: “Come on everybody! C-C-Come on everybody!”
The final Christmas Pops of the ’80s boasted the presentational trinity of BRUNO BROOKES, GARY DAVIES and JAKKI BRAMBLES, by now transmitted in stereo “simulcast” with those “one million watts of music power” on 97-99 FM, enabling your dad to spend a good half hour rearranging the furniture and swearing in order to get the Midi system speakers in the right position either side of the telly. Might not have been worth it, given a show colonised by the big-eared cut-and-paste antics of JIVE BUNNY AND THE MASTERMIXERS, freshly oiled Eurodisco tumblers THE LONDON BOYS (“Hello Piccadilly!”) and the pan-generational supper club summit that was MARC ALMOND AND GENE PITNEY.
But there was always ERASURE, THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH and JASON DONOVAN still playing that guitar on that cliff top, and of course the Hit Factory passed round the collection plate for BAND AID II. If all that wasn’t enough entertainment, Bruno, Gaz and “Jake” rounded off the hour by donning panto costumes – la Brambles as Cinderella, of course, and appropriately enough, the boys as the Ugly Sisters.
ONE FOR THE DADS: If he’d got any energy left after humping those speakers around, he could have settled down to take his pick from those delectable BANGLES.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: Permed balladeer MICHAEL BALL gladdened the hearts of pensioners by belting out Lloyd-Webber show tune Love Changes Everything (“hands and faces, earth and sky!”).
1990: “Funny how quick the milk turns sour”
Evidently the producers felt the Christmas Pops had been lacking a little stardust in recent years, hence the decision to enliven proceedings by inviting DIANE-LOUISE JORDAN and BERNARD DAVEY (“ten out of ten for the weather in 1990!”) to stand around and chat to ANTHEA TURNER between the songs, and getting MARK GOODIER in a red bowtie to ask “Ric from CANDY FLIP” pressing questions like “have you had your Christmas dinner yet?” (“No I haven’t Mark, I’m getting very hungry though”).
Not that the musical guest list proved much more appealing, featuring the likes of LONDONBEAT (“Sh-pow-pow!”) and BOMBALURINA doing Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini for the billionth time. Even ADAMSKI managed to mess things up by attempting to do Killer live, and the kitchen sink crosstalk of THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH’s A Little Time hardly embodied the festive spirit.
KIM APPLEBY and a couple of clips of NEW ORDER and the B52s briefly made things watchable, but when your Christmas afternoon entertainment consists of ANDI PETERS in a red blazer expressing his enthusiasm for BEATS INTERNATIONAL, ancient footage of THE STEVE MILLER BAND, and STATUS QUO wheezing through The Anniversary Waltz (Part One), then all hope is lost. Er, anyone got Tony Dortie’s phone number?
ONE FOR THE DADS: KYLIE MINOGUE performing Better The Devil You Know in a ’60s PVC tunic and leggings ensemble.
ONE FOR THE GRANS: His Holiness CLIFF RICHARD “joining the old and” – hey! – “the young ones” for his last ever Christmas number one (no comments on the email, please, Cliff fans), Saviour’s Day.