27/02/2019

Top of the Pops 23 Feb 1984


Watched by Chris Arnsby. Mike Read: "Due to an industrial dispute we're doing tonight's Top of the Pops live from the canteen at the BBC." Janice Long: "Oh thanks, I'll have a cup of tea. We've got some great stuff in the show people like Carmel, and Nik Kershaw, and this lot over here. It's Hot Chocolate at number 28."
[28] Hot Chocolate: I Gave You My Heart (Didn't I?). A strike? At the BBC? Yes, it's true. The BBC was seeking to change pay and conditions in the Scenic Services department and decreed that changes would be implemented on 14th February 1984 with or without the agreement of the unions. The deadline passed, Scenic Services workers walked out and the strike spread. Even Blue Peter was affected (*clutches pearls in horror*) and you can see a lovely clip here https://twitter.com/BBCFOUR/status/883025323243253760
This edition of Top of the Pops is coming from a smaller studio and the scenery has been assembled in a haphazard way. Mike Read and Janice Long stand in front of a photographic enlargement from the title sequence. The neon logo is present but it's jammed between scenery units from another stage. Lights are hung from a lower ceiling, or from scaffolding off to one side. The audience are packed in more tightly because there is less space for them, and less space for cameras. The rigid walls of neon lights that made a definite edge to the performance space have gone and once again Top of the Pops looks like it's coming from a black void rather than a television studio. If I'm honest, I like the way it looks. The band stages seem a lot lower, and the audience intrude on shots more that they do in the usual studio.
There's a brilliant long shot Errol Brown. The audience are clapping their hands over their heads and because the camera is focused on Errol the hands (and balloons, and flags) become weird soft-focus shapes in the foreground. Frustratingly I can't grab a good still image to illustrate the effect. In motion it looks great. In still form it looks as if Errol is being attacked by an out of focus octopus.


[7] Rockwell: Someone's Watching Me. Yes, someone is watching you Mr Rockwell. You're on video on Top of the Pops.
[39] Marilyn: Cry & Be Free. Meanwhile, back in the strike bound studio, here's Marilyn. He's brought in a choir which is not helping the overcrowded conditions. Hang on. The choir is only three people. The other ten people on stage appear to be audience cheerleaders. What are they doing there? Marilyn's stage has a bank of the patterned neon units to the left with a dry ice machine balanced on top, I hope that's safe. Behind him is a giant projector screen showing the picture from one of the cameras. Here's the mystery. It's not the usual Eidophor projector used by Top of the Pops. That screen is smaller, and black and white. This screen is much bigger, and in colour. Once again the emergency strike set looks better than the normal one.
[10] Kool & The Gang: Joanna. Kool (& the gang) hang around Joanna's diner, on video. The service is terrible because Kool (& the gang) keep distracting Joanna; who is solely responsible for all the cooking and serving. It takes Joanna several minutes to serve a basic cup of coffee because Kool is canoodling with her the moment she comes out from behind the counter. Joanna then takes ages to walk past the rest of the band, because she keeps smirking at them and making meaningful eye contact. Mind you, in long shots of the diner there only appear to be two real customers. One who finally gets served a plate of cold (presumably, given the serving time), overcooked eggs. The other never even gets shown a menu. The business model of this place is unsustainable.

[9] Nik Kershaw: Wouldn't It Be Good. I assume the title of Nik's song is a cut down version of the longer Wouldn't It Be Good... To Get Out Of This Ghastly Green Snood And Into Something Less Fashionable But More Flattering. Nik's on the Marilyn stage and the video plays behind him. It's the one where Nik's jacket and trousers have been overlaid with high contrast black and white footage. It makes him look like Automan.
[35] Carmel: More, More, More. The crowded studio doesn't seem to allow for the normal pedestal cameras (the ones you automatically think of when you think of a TV studio camera). Instead there are a pair of cranes responsible for all the long shots and two hand held camera operators, where there would normally only be one. It's a lot easier to see the hand held camera operators ducking on and off stage. Recording tonight's show seems a lot more difficult than it would normally be but Michael Hurll is making good use of the awkward conditions to grab new and interesting shots. Watch out for the medium close-up of the audience cheerleader dancing in front of the back projection screen; it looks really good.
[15] Howard Jones: Hide And Seek. A soporific video. The tune is a wash of synthesiser noises and for the video someone has found a button that resolves moving pictures into a blur (and vice versa). It's very hypnotic. There's a lot of stock landscape footage that looks like off-cuts from a BBC documentary. I keep expecting Professor Brian Cox to suddenly step into shot and start going on about how brilliant science is.
Top 10 Videos: Suddenly Mike Read and Janice Long start going on about "the top 10 videos." Excitement! Has Top of the Pops unbanned Relax? Surely they wouldn't do a top 10 video countdown that only featured numbers 10 to 2? Yes. Yes they would. Why? I don't know.
It could be strike related. It may not be possible to fit another band into the smaller studio; at least not without exceeding the normal studio recording time. And Top of the Pops normally tries to avoid playing more than three videos; we've already had three and a half (with Nik Kershaw). Maybe clips are the only remaining option top pad out the 35 minute running time?
Obviously I'd like to guess that Michael Hurll is being rebellious and deliberately pointing out the stupidity of the ban on Relax with a Top 10 countdown that stops at number two and features previously viewed footage, but I think it's more likely to be boring logistical reasons.
[10] Kool & The Gang: Joanna. It's like déjà vu all over again.
[9] Nik Kershaw: Wouldn't It Be Good. Janice Long says "well as we've already seen..." which puts a nice hat on the sense of futility.
[8] Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Want To Have Fun. A new clip. Well fancy that.
[7] Rockwell: Someone's Watching Me. Rockwell's sense of paranoia is well justified as the audience settle down to watch him again.
[6] Matthew Wilder: Break My Stride. A clip from the 02/02/1984 edition of Top of the Pops. Apparently Matthew Wilder's record company didn't think it was worth making a video for this song.
[5] The Style Council: My Ever Changing Moods. Are Mick Talbot and Paul Weller really riding those bikes or being pulled along on a trailer?
[4] Queen: Radio Ga Ga. Radio goo goo.
[3] Thompson Twins: Doctor! Doctor! The huge blocks in this video remind me of the Walled City of Antescher from Ant Attack.
[2] Nena: 99 Red Balloons. "Well our producer Michael Hurll wisely kept me away from Top of the Pops while Nena was on live," says Mike Read enigmatically.
"Frankie goes to Hollywood, Relax, still number 1" says Janice Long as Mike Read's face assumes a rictus grin. It's a shame the audio doesn't appear to exist from 11th January 1984 when Mike Read supposedly lifted the needle mid-record and calling the song "obscene". The ban did lead to a great moment one year later (preserved on Youtube) when Mike Read interviewed Frankie Goes to Hollywood on Saturday Superstore. The band set a quiz which led to Holly Johnson asking the audience to name the person "who banned Relax."

[34] Re-Flex: The Politics Of Dancing. This is baffling. Tonight Top of the Pops has alternated between two stages; the one used by Hot Chocolate, and Carmel, and the other by Marilyn, and Nik Kershaw. Suddenly, right at the end of the show Re-Flex perform on a third stage. So, maybe there would have been room to bring a sixth band into the studio. In which case what was the point of the Top 10 video slot? Was it just that no bands were available and playing a fourth video wasn't an option? Did Michael Hurll want to embarrass Mike Read after all? My brain hurts.

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