Top of the Pops 1988 Triple Bill!


Words: Chris Arnsby

Gary Davies: “Hello. Good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops. You know, the last time my friend Susie Mathis appeared on Top of the Pops was in 1968 with a group called The Paper Dolls.”
Susie Mathis: “But I was only seven at the time Gary. Mind you, they must have been impressed because they asked me back twenty years later.”
Gary Davies: “Well it's good to see you back. We've got a great show for you. We start off with who?”
Susie Mathis: “Start off with Yazz at number two.”

 [2] YAZZ: stand up for your love rights. Who is Susie Mathis? Gary Davies is right. She did indeed appear on Top of the Pops in 1968 as part of a trio called The Paper Dolls.

The group made three appearances with a song called Something Here In My Heart; 28/03/68, 11/04/1968 and 18/04/1968. I don't understand how they made two back-to-back appearances when they weren't at Number One. The Paper Dolls were back once more on 21/11/1968 to sing their less successful follow up song, Someday. Then, after a few more unsuccessful songs the group split in 1970.

Susie Mathis moved on and joined Manchester's Piccadilly Radio in 1979. The same year as Gary Davies. She had a decent radio and television career, including an eight week stint on Radio 2, in May and June 1986, in the sleepy 4-6am slot.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Susie Mathis is here. Gary Davies describes her as a friend and I think we can take him at his word. I can't help feeling he's the éminence grise, arranging for her to be booked at a time when Top of the Pops was trying out new hosts and also as possible to the twentieth anniversary of her last appearance.

Meanwhile, Yazz is repeated from her performance on 03/11/1988.

TOP 40 FROM 40 TO 31.

[29] ALL ABOUT EVE: what kind of fool. “Singing live”. Always a bit risky, that. This episode has a slightly different structure (repeat performance first, then charts, then the first “live” studio performance) so I peeped ahead at the closing credits to see who was responsible. It's Brian Whitehouse, which caught me by surprise. I described some of his recent Top of the Pops work as pedestrian but here that's not the case.

Putting Yazz first doesn't strike me as the choice of Pedestrian Brian Whitehouse. What Kind Of Fool would be fine as the opening song but Yazz is clearly better in a hook-the-audience way; even if it is a repeat. However, opening Top of the Pops with a repeat is not something Top of the Pops has done before (qualifier, I only checked back as far as 1984) and I choose to believe Pedestrian Brian Whitehouse would have played it safe, and stuck to the usual formula.

[4] INXS: need you tonight. On video.

TOP 40 FROM 30 TO 11.

[28] MICA PARIS: breath life into me. Pedestrian Brian Whitehouse is not in the house. Brian Whitehouse uses some lovely shots of Mica Paris backgrounded by the big video screen at the side of the main stage. There's nothing significantly different about his direction this week but it just feels like he's putting in a bit more effort.

[22] TANITA TIKARAM: twist in my sobriety. Again, it feels like everyone is a bit more engaged than previously. The direction and cutting is slow and deliberate to match the mood of the song. There's a lovely moment when one of the camera crew catches a big close up of Tanita Tikaram with a white spotlight in the background. Technically it's not a good shot because the light keeps bleaching out the picture, but Brian Whitehouse chooses to hold on it because it's moody as heck and Vision Mixer Priscilla Hoadley cross fades it to a profile of the oboe player, leaving the white spot hanging briefly in the background like the setting sun before fading. My rating; two thumbs up!

TOP 10.

[1] ROBIN BECK: first time. A repeat of last week's performance.

[12] SALT 'N' PEPA: twist and shout. Simon Mayo and Andy Crane next week. Gary Davies wants to know of Susie Mathis, “your first time on Top of the Pops for twenty years. You enjoyed it?” “I loved it,” comes the reply, “I run true to form I'll see you in 2008.” “I'm sure it'll be sooner than that,” says Gary and he's right but next time Susie Mathis will have to share the screen with Bruno Brookes.

 PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK: Tankita Tikaram, Twist in my Sobriety. It's great and I don't care that I've chosen it before. In the spirit of Robin Beck, as far as I'm concerned this is the first time.

Andy Crane: “Hi. Good evening. Welcome to this week's Top of the Pops in FM stereo on Radio 1. Featuring Deacon Blue, Bananarama, Chris De Burgh, and Simon Mayo.”
Simon Mayo: “Thank you very much. Some important business. Just twenty seconds ago the latest Radio 1 FM transmitters were switched on... over here like this. Oxfordshire is now on, on 98.2. It's now on.”
Andy Crane: “And if you're watching in Belfast and the surrounding area you can join us on 96.0.”
Simon Mayo: “OK, so they're the latest transmitters. Here's your first stereo tune perhaps. It's Tiffany at twenty one this week.”
Andy Crane: “Yeah!”

[21] TIFFANY: radio romance. Simon Mayo and Andy Crane have been given a map to point at, how delightfully old school. It even as STEREO written at the top in red letters. This is a shame because Dickie Higham has coloured the studio background with red lighting and the text is less visible than it could have been. Flashing video effect circles are overlaid on the map. They radiate out of the highlighted regions to give visual representation of all that pumping twenty-first century stereo power.

And what's the first song for this bold new stereo Elizabethan age? Tiffany. Joining Level 42 with Heaven in My Hands, and Sinitta with I Don't Believe In Miracles as a stereo launch legend. Presumably Tiffany's song was chosen because of the title. I don't think Simon Mayo likes it very much. His strained grin betrays his underlying feelings about Radio Romance being the first experience of the magic of stereo for viewers/listeners in the Oxfordshire/Belfast and adjacent regions.

[19] BOMB THE BASS featuring MAUREEN: say a little prayer. “Brilliant,” is Simon Mayo's verdict. Alas, I am distracted by the scenery. Is this a new set?

At the front of the stage is a shiny silver metal effect pillar which tapers down to the ground like a pin. It has a yellow neon tube wrapped around it. This is definitely new. However, at the back of the stage are square metallic beams with with masking tape on them to give an effect somewhere between graffiti and camouflage. The square beams aren't new but the masking tape is, I think.

What we're looking at is possibly a redesign of the stage which had two beams running across the top, which met in the middle in an x-shape. The one Yazz used for Stand Up For Your Love Rights on 03/11/1983.

I think the front of the stage has been cut off to add the giant pin-thing along with a circular scaffold round the top at the front. Meanwhile, the back of the stage has had the tape added to give a different texture to the surface.

TOP 40 FROM 40 TO 31.

[8] DEACON BLUE: real gone kid. The Top of the Pops gods smile upon me! The next performance repeats Deacon Blue's appearance from the 10/11/1988 edition and what stage are they using? Why, it's the new pin stage in it's previous x-beam incarnation. Some roving camera work in this and tonight's Bomb the Bass performance reveal both stages are in the same place on the studio floor plan. If you were standing on the main neon-logo stage looking down the length of the studio this would be the next one on the right.

BREAKERS: [12 MICHAEL JACKSON smooth criminal]; [7 PET SHOP BOYS left to my own devices]; [6 IRON MAIDEN the clairvoyant].

[20] BANANARAMA: nathan jones. Brian Whitehouse is pulling off some lovely crane moves in this episode. Check out the one used to pan from Simon Mayo and over to Bomb the Bass, or indeed this one at the start of Bananarama. The camera pans up and to the left to give us a view of the Nanas on the main stage behind Simon Mayo (he's on the new pin stage for those keeping track) and then pans back across the studio to bring the group into a head to toe long shot, just in time for the end of the introduction. It's very well timed.

Brian Whitehouse really does seem to have upped his game recently.

What's changed. The last couple of shows have been much more dynamic. Were all the camera cranes off being used to record Christmas 1988 shows? Or, while the festive stuff was being recorded, was Top of the Pops relegated to smaller studios where there was less space for fancy camera moves like this?

TOP 40 FROM 30 TO 11.

[3] CHRIS DE BURGH: missing you. On video. At the end of Andy Crane's introduction, Vision Mixer Hilary Briegel adds black bars to the top and bottom of the picture. It's a clever way to transition into the faux-widescreen video for Chris De Burgh's ghastly song.

TOP 10.

[1] ROBIN BECK: first time. A second repeat of Robin Beck's 10/11/1988 performance. Top of the Pops seems reluctant to run the video. Presumably they object to the footage in the video which is recycled from the Coca-Cola advert. [Drink Pepsi!]

[25] HITHOUSE: jack to the sound of the underground. Bruno Brookes and Mike Read next week. Simon Mayo has to run to catch a plane because “next week” the Breakfast show comes from Belfast (in glorious Tiffany stereo).

 PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK: Bomb the Bass featuring Maureen, Say A Little Prayer

Bruno Brookes: “Hello. Good evening and welcome to Europe's number one TV pop show. This is Top of the Pops with the hits in vision. And the stereo sound of Radio 1FM.”
Mike Read: “Really?”
Bruno Brookes: “Yeah.”
Mike Read: “Fantastic. Right. Just shortly ahead of their tour, first up tonight on Top of the Pops, Rick Astley and the gang at number twelve and Take Me To Your Heart.”

[12] RICK ASTEY: take me to your heart. Rick Astley, a good safe (bland) choice to open  Top of the Pops although he's not doing much for my word count. We're at the start of the race for Christmas Number One and surely no one, not even the most optimistic Rick Astley backer, thought this was doing to get to the top, did they? Even Rick looks a bit bored.

TOP 40 FROM 40 TO 31.

[8] MICHAEL JACKSON: smooth criminal. Michael Jackson is on video. Bruno Brookes garbles his introduction, “if you really want to see a dance routine then keep your eyes peeled out.” Keep your eyes peeled out? Peeled out? This is why Bruno Brookes didn't take over from Shaw Taylor on Police 5

BREAKERS: [24 GEORGE MICHAEL kissing a fool];[16 ANGRY ANDERSON suddenly (neighbours wedding theme];[7 CLIFF RICHARD mistletoe and wine];[6 PHIL COLLINS two hearts]

[4] PET SHOP BOYS: left to my own devices. The Pet Shop Boys appear on the same stage as Rick Astley. Usually this is a sign that one of the two performances have been sneakily pre-recorded but Brian Whitehouse does a seamless pan from the hosts to the group at the start of both. Clearly the scenery shifters have been hard at work moving Rick Astley's keyboard, drums, and quiff off stage to clear a space for the two Pet Shop Boys.

Vision Mixer Hilary Briegel runs the video alongside the performance but it's not cut into studio footage in the usual way. The video has been recorded looking up through a glass floor and the different perspective allows it to also be mixed over the studio footage, an effect which works very well indeed.

Brian Whitehouse is confident enough to allow the Pet Shop Boys performance to play mainly as long and static medium or tight close ups. He doesn't feel the need to keep moving the camera or adding in lots of quick cuts. The energy of the performance comes from the music and the audience dancing away in the background.

There are three cuts in about 45 seconds of screen time. Brian and Hilary have divided the lyrics into couplets and allow these to play out before changing the shot.  single slow zoom into a medium close up of Neil Tennant covers the lines: “It's not a crime when you look the way you do, the way I like to picture you. When I get home it's late at night, I pour a drink and watch the fight.” “Turn off the TV, look at a book. Pick up the phone, fix some food.” Is a low angled hand-held camera shot. “Maybe I'll sit up all night and day. Waiting for the minute I hear you say.” Is a bigger close up. And the transitions between shots are cross-fades rather than cuts which helps maintain the deliberately slow pace.

It's great. Sometimes less really is more.

TOP 40 FROM 40 TO 31.

[2] BROS: cat among the pigeons. Bros and Rick Astley on the same Top of the Pops? I knew I shouldn't have shot that albatross.

TOP 10.

[1] ROBIN BECK: first time. A third repeat for the performance from the 10/11/1988 edition. The BBC really didn't want to use the video. This is probably (ie, I can't be bothered to check) the first time a single performance has played weekly for four weeks. Let's hope Robin Beck isn't still Number One next week.

[18] HUMANOID: stakker humanoid: Caron Keating and Nicky Campbell next week.

Top of the Pops plays out with something different. A new studio performance running under the credits. With a few limited exceptions Top of the Pops has played out with a video since June 1986, and those exceptions were mainly the run of repeated performances around October 1988. Brian Whitehouse is so keen to make it clear we're not watching a repeat or a pre-recorded performance that he uses the pan-from-the-hosts-to-the-stage camera move for the third time in this edition.

Humanoid put on an impossibly energetic dance performance, I'm knackered watching it. Brian Whitehouse works the camera crew hard as well. Check out the moment when we get pictures from a hand held camera operator who is dashing down the stairs at the back of the stage; that seems unsafe.

Closing credits are overlaid on the studio footage, for the first time in ages the picture isn't shrunk down into a smaller box to allow the credits to roll over a plain background. Instead the credits run over a wide shot of the stage with the backs of the audience at the bottom of the screen providing a safe dark space for the credits to be clearly read.

 PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK: Pet Shop Boys, Left To My Own Devices.

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