I, like many others saw the full extent of this tax-payer scorn when my father was (unexpectedly) confronted with Boy George in all his glory. “What's that? Is it a lad or a girl? You surely don't like that, do you?” No, of course I didn't but I couldn't agree with him, now could I?
Fall from Grace – Top of The Pops
It's bollocks now isn't it?
But wasn't it always? Well....
I am well aware that Toppy has always been open to ridicule, simply because it followed the same trusty formula of broadcasting the nation's tastes in popular music week-in week-out. Music is a subjective issue after all. And one person's God–like genius is another's Devil-spawn on the shores of Lake Sodom. Toppy couldn't help The Osmonds, or S-Club 7, now could it?
Still, as TV programmes went, it was always a dead cert for inflicting moments of quite excruciating embarrassment on oneself. In fact it was quite unrivalled when it came to this. Especially when your parents were in the room, as that would lead to the inevitable, weekly, almost ritual attack on your generation's creativity that you'd always feel honour-bound to defend, no matter how lowly the artist in question ranked in your estimation. I, like many others saw the full extent of this tax-payer scorn when my father was (unexpectedly) confronted with Boy George in all his glory. "What's that? Is it a lad or a girl? You surely don't like that, do you?" No, of course I didn't but I couldn't agree with him, now could I?
Another thing that hasn't changed is that the nation's choice being reflected in living rooms up and down the land has (to my eyes at least) often resulted in the most mind numbingly boring and crap programmes ever broadcast on a regular basis. As a guesstimate, I would wager that only 2% at most of Toppy's output was ever any good, with a further 10% being viewable – leaving a whopping 88% of unspeakable detritus to wade through. Computed on a weekly basis, (using the old half-hour format) that's about four minutes each week. Blimey...
Still, there were moments of definition, visual landmarks that were signposts for an individual's (maybe a generation's) musical psyche; The Teardrop Explodes playing Reward (with Julian Cope in naught but a nightshirt and Para boots), The Bunnymen doing The Cutter, The Stone Roses miming with insouciance to Fools Gold – that sort of thing. Other great moments were conjoured up by the presenters. John Peel was always the best and a welcome break after a month or so of Gary Davis. I still remember squirming with acute prudish teenage embarrassment, pretending to busy myself with O-Level homework when he issued the famous threat to come round and break wind in your bathroom. (Of course, my parents were present in the room while this was on). And who could forget Julian Cope's magnificently fluorescent appearance as a presenter in the mid-nineties (complaints were at an all-time high I believe), especially as he prefaced an intro to the decidedly not-at-all missed Take That with a drawled "we're all, out of our minds kids..."
However, all good things must come to pass. Toppy's foundations as a programme were obviously set on the shifting sands of the singles market. Everything that has changed in the music industry (declining sales, different formats, technology, I could carry on but won't) in the last 15 or so years has obviously led to a significant crisis of confidence in the programmers. Somehow an all-in-one national singles chart broadcast each week doesn't seem to be either a pressing issue or a sure indicator of the nation's tastes anymore. Still, the Beeb could have made a better fist of the current programme. Collating the irreverent enjoyable TOTP2 the album charts and interviews into one single broadcast only undermines the original concept of a live weekly singles chart. Then there's the fucking about with the slots. Moving Toppy from its traditional Thursday evening slot to a Friday evening, then a Sunday evening (all this after taking the bloody thing off-air a couple of times) is just a further sign of it's failure.
There are other things that rankle. One is the compliance of the bands to obvious (or, to be fair, seemingly obvious) Toppy policies; bands saying "thanks very much Top of the Pops" (as if they are really grateful to be on a veritable institution) just feels shitty and false. It is certainly a far way from the indolent "rebellion" as shown by bands of yore. Another is the pretty and enthusiastic girl/humourous older guy with a bit of music knowledge presenter routine, which is such stale and contrived bollocks that it could come straight from Eurovision or Miss World. And then there's the small matter of their pre-song pronouncements – Sweet Jesus, who on this Earth writes their auto-cues? They don't half sound like a Brezhnev-era propaganda film; "Yes, here in sunny Ukraine, agricultural production has once again increased" Top of the Crops indeed.
Oh sod it, Sod It! Why bother? I can't even work myself up into a moderate lather over Toppy anymore. I was supposed to get on my high horse over the thing's demise and use lots of big and clever words in the process and all I've done is write a very reasoned well intentioned piece of wet, sympathetic flannel.
Fuck it. Take Toppy away and put it out of its bloody misery.
Words: Richard Foster.