As shown on BBC4. Words: Chris Arnsby
On Youtube there's a 1980 edition of World In Action called The Chart Busters which examines the ways record companies manipulated the record charts. It's very much worth a watch, if only to see the prehistoric way record sales were measured. Obviously there's no suggestion the acts concerned knew what was happening to their records but it's timely to talk about the programme now because one of the singles briefly mentioned was Bang Bang by B. A. Robertson.
FADE. MEDIUM TWO SHOT. TWO MEN, ONE KNEELING DOWN SO HE'S TWO THIRDS THE HEIGHT OF THE OTHER.
(Who are these masters of visual comedy? Could it be Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy sprung back to life? No. It's Peter Powell and B. A. Robertson. Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.)
Peter Powell. "Good evening! Uh, I pleaded with them, I begged with them! Please don't let me do Top of the Pops with B. A. Robertson! Look what I got!"
B. A. Robertson. "I got on my knees [barely suppressed chuckle form Peter Powell], and they said you too can be on Top of the Pops. And I'm following in the line of other great guest presenters like... Attila the Hun, Dame Edna Everage, and Elton John.
Peter Powell. "[even more poorly suppressed chuckles] Uh... hopefully...!
B. A. Robertson. "Don't laugh."
Peter Powell. "Hopefully he'll disappear at some stage [B. A. Robertson does a comedy fall off camera] but if he doesn't we have got some great acts lined up for you [cut to shot of B. A. Robertson lying on the floor] and so let's take a look at what's on this weeks' show!"
The Barracudas: Summer Fun . Oh. This is one of those performances that fails to come together. The song reminds me a little of Top Of The Pops by The Rezillos, but it's a lot less engaging. The Barracudas' lead singer turns in a frenzied performance but it's sloppy and under-rehersed. At one point he jumps forwards towards the crowd and by the time the cameraman has followed him and got a good shot the lead singer is off on his travels again. In the second verse he kneels down and is obscured behind the cymbals. Watch Bob Geldof performing The Boomtown Rats songs Like Clockwork or She's So Modern for a masterclass in how to give a charismatic and energetic performance. The Barracudas are not helped by the studio layout. The standing crowd at the front are having a great time, but the group in the tiered seating look bored and unengaged, and close-ups of the band are filled with a background of disinterested teenagers; like the old Top of the Pops audience of yore.
|Gary interrupts the photoshoot to look for his boiled sweets|
Gary Numan: I Die You Die . The hijinks and hilarious hilarity continue between Peter Powell and B. A. Robertson who are mock fighting at the end of The Barracudas sole visit to the Top of the Pops studio. "You carry on like that and you'll ruin my make-up!" burbles Peter Powell as he is mock-strangled by B. A. Robertson, who then gets to reuse his Paccarudies mispronunciation gag which proved such a hit when introducing the group. Spoonerism fun follows. Gary Numan is called Nary Guman, which earns B. A. Robertson a bop on the head from Peter Powell and the threat, "if you carry on like that I die, you die." Form an orderly cue behind the sniper rifle. Gary Numan still doesn't do Top of the Pops but he's sent along a new promo film while he's off "rehearsing for a new stage show." When the audio fades oddly at the end there's almost a minute of music edited out from the promo; between Gary in the white suit and him walking down the green lit corridor like he's auditioning for The Matrix.
The Selector: The Whisper . As the camera pans left to show TheSelector there's a rare chance to view BBC studio crew going about their business in their natural habitat. In the background is a cameraman bent over preparing for a low angle handheld camera shot but of more interest are the crew attending to the piece of equipment closer to the camera. It looks like a piece of air conditioning ducting. What can it be? Whatever it is, it takes two people to operate.
Mike Berry: The Sunshine Of Your Smile . Mike Berry's build up is a dull rambling introduction from B. A. Robertson who has been taking lessons from the lead singer of The Barracudas and keeps nearly stepping out of camera shot. The director must have been in a hurry to get home and didn't want to do another take.
The Skids: Circus Games . Richard Jobson tries to muscle in on that sweet, sweet Roxy Music money. He's plainly had a makeover designed to make him look like Bryan Ferry; slicked down hair, check; smart jacket, check; hip swaying, arm swinging dance, check. The rest of the band seem to be unaware of this change of direction, did no one tell them?
Elton John: Sartorial Eloquence . Elton John's ongoing mission for 1980 is to produce records that sound like a dull copy of Elton John. So far he's 100% successful.
Sue Wilkinson: You Gotta Be A Hustler If You Wanna Get On . The audience are restless, more interested in watching the cameras than the singer. Sue Wilkinson does get a round of applause out of the crowd, although it's a rather desultory one as they flee across the studio to where something more interesting is happening.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads: I Want To Be Straight . Unfortunately, more interesting is a relative term. It seems unfair to keep listing every disastrous link and misfired joke from B. A. Robertson and Peter Powell -the two largest and most slow moving fish in tonight's barrel- but B. A. Robertson's next link is another stinker and he will keep shifting from foot to foot as if he's desperate for the toilet. Still, forget about that, and admire the camera work. Ian Dury's opening verse is captured as a long single take from a handheld camera whose operator moves through the crowd, climbs on stage, and then works his way round Ian Dury; while also doing his best to just keep in frame the members of the audience who look like they are having fun. At one point there is a fantastic shot over Ian Dury's shoulder showing us the crowd and the studio beyond; a performers eye view of Top of the Pops.
Village People: Can't Stop The Music . Legs & Co are off on holiday; choreographed by Flick Colby in her own unique style. Can't you just see it in your mind's eye. Lot's of synchronised splashing around the water, and picture postcard style shenanigans as they all try to get changed in a beach hut at the same time. Judas Priest: United . "Don't laugh, you're not hear to enjoy yourself you know," says B. A. Robertson as another of his pre-scripted ad libs pancakes on the audience. The lead singer of Judas Priest has had his hair cut, and is wearing black leather. Last time he looked like Tim Brooke-Taylor doing a spoof of a heavy metal band on The Goodies. Now he looks like a hard, scary version of Tim Brooke-Taylor, which is just odd.
Number One: David Bowie, Ashes To Ashes. Another chance to admire the woman dressed as a nurse who barely flinches as all the thunderflashes go off while she pretends to do the washing up; although the high angle shot during the "my mother said..." sequence at the end reveals that she does take a couple of quick steps to one side. The caption generator at the end outputs "No 1 David Bowie" in the shape of a 1; the way it appears line by line reminds me of a ZX Spectrum loading screen and makes me feel all nostalgic.
Closing titles: The Beat, Best Friend . Several people seem to be doing Hitler salutes in the wide shot of the studio under the credits. Was this whatcaused the enormous edit in the closing titles of last week's show, and someone forget to check this time?
Performance of the week: This week I've actually got to make a choice. The Selector or Ian Dury & The Blockheads. Decisions, decisions. It's Ian Dury & The Blockheads: I Want To Be Straight