28/08/2019

Top of the Pops 9 Aug 1984


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: "Hello and welcome to another half hour of the hardest street sounds around like Hazell Dean and Frankie Goes To Hollywood."
Richard Skinner: "We've got street-credible Blancmange and beach-credible Tracey Ullman here's Sunglasses."
[26] Tracey Ullman: Sunglasses. Gordon Elsbury has been credited as Producer since the start of August. This normally means that Michael Hurll is off doing something else. In this case something else might be organising the new series of The Noel Edmonds Late Late Breakfast Show which starts on 01/09/1984 with an ambitious live cross Channel (English, rather than BBC1 and 2) extravaganza. Who's going to be directing that outside broadcast? Oh, it's Gordon Elsbury again, in his ongoing role as hired gun for Michael Hurll.
Designer Rod McLean and Gordon Elsbury are trying something different for Sunglasses. They've constructed a new set rather than invite Tracey Ullman to perform in front of the standard perspex scaffolding. It's just a blue backcloth with a spotlight shining a sun in the middle but it's surprisingly effective and it's good to see the production team thinking of simple ways to ring changes in the presentation.
Also on stage is the world's largest deckchair. Now, Google tells me that Tracey Ullman is 1.66m tall (that's about 5'4'' in old lengths) and the seat of this deckchair is at the height of her waist. Why does the BBC have a deckchair that big in stock? What's it for? Who had it made? And why? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad it exists. Having impractical and bizarre props on hand is exactly the sort of thing the BBC should do but I'd love to know what programme requested the oversized deckchair. A strange Lilliputian version of Summertime Special?


[20] Windjammer: Tossing & Turning. According to John Peel, Windjammer have "flown from America just to be with us on Top of the Pops." I'm not sure the song was worth all that effort. Although it does have a mildly amusing suggestive title.
[8] Hazell Dean: Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go). Hazell Dean returns to Top of the Pops with what sounds in places like a disco version of the Juliet Bravo theme. She's accompanied by dancers Pinky and Tony who appear to have permanently split from Kelly Marie. That's show business.
[15] Jeffrey Osborne: On The Wings Of Love. A repeat from the 26/07/1984 edition (not shown by BBC4 because of D*v* L** Tr*vis). It's a 1982 single from the originally titled album Jeffrey Osborne. The single release was delayed until 1984 in the UK. Wikipedia is unclear on the reason why and Google is also unhelpful due to a large amounts of hits for the 2015 Philippine romantic comedy television series of the same name.
[22] Blancmange: The Day Before You Came. A terrific performance. Blancmange previously appeared on the 19/07/1984 edition and while I liked the song at the time, this is one of those occasions when a good song is really elevated by the staging.
Blancmange appear on the same stage as Hazell Dean and the small differences between the two performances really add up. Warwick Fielding is credited with Lighting and he's coloured the stage summer evening yellow, which better fits the mood of The Day Before You Came. A hint of smoke in the studio from Visual Effects Designer Peter Wragg (who went on to work on Red Dwarf) also adds to the atmosphere.

Hazell Dean gets a lot of high energy close-ups and fast camera moves which fit the pace of her song but feel frantic and exhausting after a while. It doesn't help that she's jogging up and down on the spot so even in close-ups she's constantly bouncing around. Blancmange on the other hand are stationary. When the camera goes in for a close-up of Neil Arthur you can get a good look at him, rather than a Hazell Dean shaped blur.
The slower pace of the Blancmange song also allows for more wide sweeping camera moves that give a better view of the studio and the audience. It's easy to underestimate how important the audience is to Top of the Pops. In the Hazel Dean performance the audience are visible, but it's rare to get a long look at them. They're shapes in the foreground, or being spun off screen by a Quantel video effect. During Blancmange's performance you can see the audience crowded round the stage dancing and having a good time. It makes Blancmange's song look like a performance, while Hazel Deans' is more like a communal aerobics workout.
A candidate then for performance of the week? Yes it absolutely would be expect for another song coming up later.
[13] Laura Branigan: Self Control. On video.
[1] Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Two Tribes. Nine weeks at number 1 (seven on BBC4's slightly reduced repeat rate) and five different studio performances come to an end. It's a barnstorming performance and, as with Blancmange, it's the combination of song and staging that make this such an outstanding end to a number 1 run.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood appear on the same stage as Windjammer, it's now kitted out with a portable air raid warning siren (every home should have one) and the flags of the USA and Soviet Union. Captions (in the Top of the Pops font, obviously) appear over a close-up of the siren. "...THE AIR ATTACK WARNING SOUNDS LIKE... THIS IS THE SOUND." Followed by a slow pan down to Holly Johnson who is browsing a copy of The Sun which he slowly and deliberately tears in half.
However, the best is yet to come when Holly Johnson steps off the stage and WALKS INTO THE AUDIENCE! I can't begin to explain why this is so indescribably exciting. We've seen performers walk between multiple stages (Adam Ant with Goody Two Shoes (20/05/1982) and Banarama singing Cruel Summer across multiple sets (28/7/1983)) but this is different. This is breaking down the barriers between artist and audience; or something.

I wonder if the intent was to try and recreate the Two Tribes video in studio? Top of the Pops didn't show the video (probably due to concerns about imitable violence) but it does start with a close-up of loudspeakers, and also features Holly Johnson performing directly to a hand-held camera. The key difference in studio being the lack of two fighting old men, and the BBC sensibly don't trust Paul Rutherford to handle one of it's expensive Ikegami HL-79A cameras.
The staging of the walk down is interesting. We start with a shot of the stage that shows a portable camera operator in the foreground. Vision Mixer Priscilla Hoadley then cuts to the output of a portable camera but not, as it turns out, the one we saw in the previous shot; that camera comes back into view as the operator of our camera moves away from the stage. We don't cut to the output of the hand-held camera we saw in the first shot until after a brief cutaway to Paul Rutherford doing whatever it is that he does (semi-sings and wholly-moves, according to the Liverpool album notes). The arrangement of shots makes it feel like the production team is concerned the audience at home won't understand what they are seeing unless the grammar of the images is very clearly explained.
Holly Johnson's walkabout is notable for the way he's immediately surrounded by a protective phalanx of audience cheerleaders. They don't want the real crowd getting too close. But it's still excitingly chaotic. Holly doesn't appear to have a route planned and at times his random changes of direction make it appear like he is trying to lose the cameras. Once the audience realise what is happening they press forwards, and you get a sense of the small studio size (only three stages used this week, the Sunglasses blue backcloth, the Windjammer/Frankie stage, and the one shared by Hazell Dean/Blancmange). At times there is very little space between the camera operator, Holly Johnson, and the audience.
But it doesn't end there. After Holly Johnson returns to the stage he excitedly waves his walking stick and clonks the overhead siren. He looks up to see what he's done, and then deliberately wedges the stick into a gap in the frame and starts the siren swinging. Fortunately it's firmly attached to the ceiling because Holly Johnson drags it backwards and forwards in a way that would never be approved by a BBC safety officer. Finally he leaves the walking stick hanging from the siren until it appears to fall into the audience. The performance finally ends with the safe detonation of some BBC issue thunderflashes (courtesy of P. Wragg Esq.) that send clouds of smoke billowing up to the ceiling.
Look at that, nearly 700 words just on Two Tribes. And that boys and girls is why Blancmange don't get performance of the week.
[25] Rod Stewart: Some Guys. There's no way to follow that, so Top of the Pops plays out to Rod Stewart with the crowd still waving their free stars and stripes, and hammer and sickle flags. There's a lovely moment when the camera catches a teenager staring glumly into space until she realises she's on camera, at which point she starts smiling and dancing.
Performance of the week: Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Two Tribes.

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