Top of the Pops 27 March & 7 April 1986

 Presented by Chris Arnsby. 27 March 1986

[4] Samantha Fox: Touch Me (I Want Your Body). “It's the show that brings you Britain's biggest hits. Here's Samantha Fox,” Mike Smith. The off-air copy of Top of the Pops I'm viewing (downloaded from the very heart of Silbury Hill https://mega.nz/folder/h0snQACa#uiNNqosfbdrfzODHsE1clw ) begins excitingly with a glimpse of the old BBC1 computer generated globe. Nostalgia eases the pain.

Less excitingly, Top of the Pops starts with Samantha Fox's hit song which is drearier than I remember. It's... `Kids In America` at the wrong speed, isn't it? The synths, the electric guitars, the bit where the guitarists sing/chant “this is the night” is like the call and response “woh-oh” from Kids In America. This is Kim Wilde's better song fed through a system of filters designed to really maximise the mediocrity.

1986 was a good year for Samantha Fox. The end of her Page 3 modelling career was followed by four singles (although released to diminishing returns the last, I'm All You Need, didn't make the Top 40), and software house Martech released the “erotic” (yuk) video game Samantha Fox Strip Poker for anyone desperate to gawp at her grainy pixels. One of the charming qualities of VHS is the way the picture quality degrades as the tape is rewound, paused, watched, rewound, and watched again. There are a lot of tracking errors as Sam Fox starts singing, suggesting our mystery home taper watched this section a lot to ensure it had recorded properly.

 Bruno Brookes: “Touch Me I Want Your Body, Samantha Fox. Hello, good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops.” Mike Smith: “Yeah. Two million pounds a year and she can't afford a decent pair of jeans. What a shame. Welcome to the show this evening, some good stuff including this with the charts coming up. Atlantic Starr, Secret Lovers.”

 It's the lesser-spotted Bruno Brookes. Back for the first time since (checks calendar) 21/02/1985. It's even harder for him to get into the Top of the Pops studio than Steve Wright. Wright's afternoon Radio One show clashes with the Top of the Pops' camera rehearsals while Bruno Brookes post-Newsbeat programme clashes with the recording time itself. Presumably the Wednesday 26th Bruno Brookes show was pre-recorded giving him time to pop in for Top of the Pops and also prepare for his Thursday show “direct from the 1986 Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, Earls Court, London.” I'd guess his show was recorded while Steve Wright was on air (15.30-17.30) because Brookes is still not very present in the studio, he doesn't contribute to the chart countdown, and Mike Smith hosts much of the programme by himself which suggests his co-host wasn't much around earlier in the rehearsal day.

[24] Atlantic Starr: Secret Lovers. On video, with Starr spelt Star on both the caption and chart countdown. For shame Graphic Designer Everol McKenzie, you got it right last week.

[33] Tippa Irie: Hello Darling. Tippa Irie, Tipperary. I get it! By the end of this song you will be sick of the phrase “hello darling, uh-huh, hello good looking.”

Top 40 Breakers: [40] Bronski Beat, C’mon C’mon; [34] Big Audio Dynamite, E=MC2; [27] Falco, Rock Me Amadeus. Suddenly we're back to three Breakers. It's a thin week for pop music in the studio.

[16] Queen: A Kind Of Magic. On video. The return of the tracking errors. Whoever made this home recording liked Queen and Samantha Fox; how very 1986.

[12] The Art Of Noise & Duane Eddy: Peter Gunn.
The Art Of Noise have brought along eight people... eight! Including four backing singers for a song with no lyrics. The singers throw glitter around and pretend to be making all the electronic wah-wah noises in the absence of anything else to do. Duane Eddy just keeps his head down and focuses on the guitar strings; what a pro.

“And this is the last time you're ever going to hear this music again, ever,” says Bruno Brookes afterwards, just before the Top 10 countdown, which makes me suspect Paul Hardcastle is hanging around backstage with a tape of The Wizard.

[1] Cliff Richard & The Young Ones: Living Doll. On video. “What does this button do?” still makes me laugh.

[25] Stevie Wonder: Overjoyed. Bruno Brookes gets in a quick plug for his new gig presenting the Radio One Top 40. He's wrestled the slot away from Richard Skinner who follows David Jensen to Capital Radio. Richard Skinner fans can still see him on BBC1, he commentates BBC1's International Super Circus (31 March, 18.05) and gets to interview Paul McCartney (29 August, 19.35). Presumably it's a different Richard Skinner playing bassoon with the Elysian Wind Quintet.

Video and closing credits. Next week, it's Janice Long and John Peel. Performance of the week:  A thin week indeed for studio performances. By a process of elimination, it's not Tippa Irie, it's not Samantha Fox, so it must be The Art Of Noise & Duane Eddy, Peter Gunn.

3 April 1986

The groovy sound of 1986 is The Wizard by Paul Hardcastle. It's short and snappy, and I like it. I associate The Wizard with Top of the Pops much more than Yellow Pearl or Whole Lotta Love, or whatever song they used in the programme's declining years. For me, it's the sound of Top of the Pops. My one criticism is the opening drum roll, which is a very soft way to open compared to Yellow Pearl's electronic shriek. The new titles capture the essence of the programme showing singles (or CDs, hooray for the march of technology) and a cassette tape and a couple of musical instruments, all spinning and being disassembled before being repackaged as the Top of the Pops logo.

These computer generated titles have dated a lot less than others of the same age (see, The Six O'Clock News, Wogan, Doctor Who, Open Air -in fact, track down an edition of Open Air on Youtube and you'll see how well the Top of the Pops titles stand out in comparison to their bland contemporaries). In fact take a look at the basic wireframe graphics briefly used in The Wizard video -and they had longer to do those graphics. The success of the titles is partially due to not looking too computer generated. The graphics move quickly and are less flat and shiny than a lot of their contemporaries, and in places look a lot more like traditional animation with boosted colour and contrast.

Open Air wants you to take a good long look at its collection of grey shapes that resemble a television set. You're expected to be impressed and regard Open Air as a modern contemporary series because it has used modern contemporary computer graphics. The Top of the Pops titles are much less concerned with going “look we've used a computer!” and are intended to generate a sense of pace and excitement.

But, and as MC Hammer observed there's always a big but, I'm not mad keen on the titles.  They're ultimately a computer generated collection of shapes that come together to form the programme logo and that also the titles for The Six O'Clock News, Wogan ... and so on and so on. Writers Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles described sixties Doctor Who as being less a programme and more a place you visited with weird images and strange sounds. The same was also true of Top of the Pops, and unfortunately the new titles narrow the gap between Top of the Pops and “normal” television*.

So what's the alternative? I don't think Top of the Pops ever did better than the titles which debuted with Yellow Pearl on the 900th edition (09/07/1981). The multi-coloured records flying out of fog. The Doctor Who-esque remix used from the 1000th edition (05/05/1983) is technically clever but lacks the simple impact of the original; although the cut at the end is great, making it look like the television screen has exploded due to pop power overload. If you've got the time and the inclination play The Wizard alongside the 900th edition titles. They work really well together. My best suggestion for new Top of the Pop titles would be to turn your back on what other shows are doing, ignore or minimise computer graphics and produce something in live action like the flying records and end with the exploding TV screen gag**.

Oh. The new logo is awful. It looks bad in the titles and the neon version they've knocked up for the studio is even worse.


[20] Big Audio Dynamite: E=MC2. Janice Long, “welcome, on Top of the Pops it's Big Audio Dynamite and E=MC2.” A live edition of Top of the Pops. It makes sense that you'd want to introduce the new titles with the sense of occasion brought by a live edition; even though the show has spent the last month on the softest of relaunches. What's surprising is that this is only the second live edition of 1986. Top of the Pops' first ever live show appears to have been the 900th edition; and the numbers quickly jump up from 3 in 1981, to 10 in 1982, 11 in 1983, 23 in 1984, and then only 7 in 1985. There will also only be 7 in 1986, 4 in 1987, and then nothing until 1991's Year Zero relaunch when Producer Stanley Appel subtly rewrites the programme's Radio Times blurb to make it unclear if the viewer is watching a band performing live in studio or a programme being broadcast live.

What made live editions fall out of favour? I suspect it's partly Michael Grade's 1985 relaunch of BBC1. Cramming Top of the Pops into a fixed 30 minute slot makes it harder to deal with the unpredictable nature of live television. Then, in 1988 Top of the Pops starts broadcasting simultaneously on Radio One and it would probably have been a technical nightmare to get the two to synchronise live. Lastly, I suspect the viewers just didn't care that much.

Janice Long: “Yeah. Local lads make good.  Big Audio Dynamite, E=MC2. Hi-ya! Live. John Peel: “Live and direct. Live and direct we are tonight Janice. Here's one for William, Alexandra, Thomas, and Florence. Highest new entry at number four. This is George Michael, come on George. Do the mess around.”

[4] George Michael:  A Different Corner. On video. Watching viewers hold their breath, waiting for Janice or John to start yakking over George Michael's solo song but it never happens. Hooray! The daft chart revamp has been staked.

[23] A-ha: Train Of Thought. “As pretty as a picture,” according to John Peel. Janice Long has more base thoughts on her mind, “from here I get a great view of Morten's bum. Thank you very much indeed.”

[5] The Real Thing: You To Me Are Everything. Who's that standing next to Janice Long as she reviews Morten Harket's posterior? It's the man of the moment Paul Hardcastle. “In depth interview time,” says Janice. Is it time for one of Top of the Pops famous 20 second interviews? No, this is all about the new theme so it's allowed to run twice as long.

To be fair those 40 seconds cover a lot of ground. We learn that Michael Hurll commissioned Paul Hardcastle after his last appearance (Don't Waste My Time, 13/02/1986); that The Wizard won't be the next single (that will be Foolin' Yourself); and that you'll be able to buy a copy of The Wizard about three months after “the next single.”

Top 40 Charts: No breakers this week, and the Top 40 is restored to its own slot, with the countdown run over a modified version of the new titles.

Atlantic Starr are at number 14, Graphic Designer Everol McKenzie has a chance to remedy his mistake from last week; but he messes up and credits them again as Atlantic Star.

[10] Falco: Rock Me Amadeus. Janice Long is less keen on Falco than me, “he's a cool dude,” is her only comment at the end of their song. I think Falco and his band are doing a deft job of walking the line between sincerity and sending up the whole thing. The keyboard player looks like he's taking the performance terribly seriously, but one of the guitarists is wearing Lederhosen. You won't get any sort of clue from the man himself. Falco, with his slicked back hair, flight jacket and aviator shades looks like he's auditioning for Top Gun, but he breaks out a sweetly cheesy grin at one point (the cymbal crash during the “baby baby do to me rock me” bit) as if he can't believe he's getting away with this.

Top 10 Charts: Now in the same format as the Top 40 but with its own caption, unlike the old countdown which reused the Top 40 animated title.

[1] Cliff Richard & The Young Ones: Living Doll. On video.

[27] The Style Council: Have You Ever Had It Blue? Video and closing credits, including a Signature Tune credit for Paul Hardcastle -not something given to Phil Lynott, for Yellow Pearl. Mike Smith and Steve Wright next week.

 Performance of the week: I am undone. Last week I was complaining about a lack of contenders for Performance of the week, this week we've got Big Audio Dynamite, A-ha, and Falco... decisions decisions. It's Big Audio Dynamite, E=MC2 by a gnats whisker.  

*there was a footnote here but now it's gone.



  1. top of the pops's first live episode of the 1980s was 07/05/1981, this was also apparently why it had to be skipped by bbc4 - there was a fault with what was recorded to the master tape, as peter powell's link audio and the audience ambience were missing after the second song

    this issue then also affected a number of live shows from 1982 and 1984, however in those cases the bbc were offered an off-air recording to dub the missing audio over for the bbc4 repeat

    the live shows also did not stop after 1987, radio times just didn't state them, though the audio problems appeared again:

    23/06/1988 - had a couple of minutes of complete silence on the master tape from the middle of the opening song to the second, then no link audio or audience ambience after. bbc4 were offered an off-air but did not respond and skipped the show
    30/06/1988 - recorded and repeated with no problems
    13/07/1988 - no link audio, audience ambience was intact on it but the audio from the chart rundown VTs was missing instead, bbc4 again skipped
    04/08/1988 - all audio recorded correctly to tape, however that didn't stop all about eve failing to hear and mime to their song martha's harbour in the studio - thankfully bbc4 repeated it anyway

    30/03/1989 - somehow they managed to find a way to record the live shows in stereo with radio 1, and problems did ensure - the sound levels on the presenters microphones are low at the start of 30/03, though it was still repeated
    11/05/1989 - no audio issues present
    01/06/1989 - the stereo audio feed from radio 1 seems to have not been recorded to the master tape for this one, and the graphic captions for the presenters and songs are also missing from the version bbc4 repeated
    31/08/1989 - first 8 and a half minutes are in mono, then switches to stereo suddenly on the version bbc4 repeated

    04/01/1990 - no issues from here on out


    as far as i know there were no live shows during the "year zero" revamp era, and only two in 1994 after that, until the final rejig of totp in november 2003, which saw it go out live almost every week

    hope this helps for the blogposts

    1. Also the original mastertape with all the presenter links and graphics does exist for 23/6/88 and was the tape used for Big Hits 1988 when they showed the eurythmics performance but it was not rediscovered in time for BBC 4.