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Series: Top of the Pops
The 1998-2003 series logo.

"Yes, it's Number One, it's Top of the Pops!"

Long-running music programme from The BBC that ran from New Year's Day 1964 to July 2006. Still turns up on special occasions, such as every Christmas Day and the past two Comic Relief nights.

Was presented by disc jockeys from BBC Radio 1 for many years (including John Peel, the legendary DJ who helped popularize Psychedelic Rock, Punk Rock, Alternative Rock and Indie Rock on his various radio shows) but most viewers associate the show with Jimmy Savile, who presented the first episode, co-hosted the last, and appeared regularly as a host for 20 years.

For a large part of its history, the artists performing on the show were required to lip synch their performance. Some (like Belle and Sebastian, blur, Oasis, The Cure, Nirvana and Marillion) had fun with this, intentionally miming their vocals and instruments poorly. The Smiths, in fact, gained their first major breakthrough with their anarchic miming of their first UK Top 40 single "This Charming Man" on the show. Before the "lip sync-only" rule was removed, there were a handful of performers (namely New Order, David Bowie and John Lennon) who performed one of their songs ("Blue Monday", "Starman" and "Instant Karma", respectively) live on the program. These performances were always a made into a big deal. Suzi Quatro's band really went to town on this: during a performance of "Devilgate Drive", the keyboards player left the piano and got up and danced, whilst the piano appeared to play itself. The drummer soon joined in, whilst the thunderous drum-playing continued with no obvious musician at the drum kit to provide this. Suzi herself took both hands away from her bass guitar to emphasise the point she was miming. Meanwhile three hundred clearly bored and embarrassed kids just sat there, listlessly clapping out the beat and still getting it wrong.

Spun-off in the 1990s and early 2000s to various series:
  • Top of the Pops 2 (originally a mix of the main programme, new music and archive show performances, Re Tooled as mainly archive with the arrival of Steve Wright)
  • Top of the Pops Saturday
  • Top of the Pops on THREE
  • Top of the Pops Plus

Not to mention various adaptations in other countries around the world (although an American adaptation flopped, perhaps because trying to sell this to the home of American Bandstand and MTV was the televisual equivalent of trying to sell snow to Eskimos or coal to Newcastle).

Sadly, the entire original show is now trapped in the shadow of the discovery that Savile abused his position at the BBC and with various charities to become the British Isles' most prolific child/adult/dead-person/the-list-goes-on-and-gets-increasingly-unpleasant sex offender (although according to Operation Yewtree, the investigation into celebrity sex offences, he probably wasn't the only ToTP presenter to abuse his position this way; colleague Dave Lee Travis was tried for, but cleared of, similar allegations); the stories of his assaults broke to the public after his 2011 death, so he was never brought to judgment for his crimes. Not surprisingly, his episodes are no longer seen in reruns, and any footage used for news purposes is heavily blurred to edit out audience members to protect the identities of the victims.


This show provides examples of:

  • Book Ends - Jimmy Savile presented the first episode. At the end of the series, he co-presented the last, and the final scene showed him shaking his head in sadness and then pulling a giant switch as though to cut the power. This is grim in hindsight, of course — Savile is now an Un-Person in the eyes of the BBC and much TotP material featuring him as linking man has been locked up in the archives, unlikely to ever be screened again.
  • B Roll Rebus - Dance troupe Legs and Co, on the show from 1976-81, relied so much on literal dancing that it was often joked that viewers could identify the song with the TV muted.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander - Jimmy Saville, at least onscreen.
  • Deadpan Snarker - John Peel. "That's one of the very best things since Napoleon's retreat from Moscow - Keith Harris and Orville."
  • Fanservice - Resident dance troupes Pan's People and follow-ups Legs and Co; arguably most of the female presenters in the late 1990s: Jayne Middlemiss, Gail Porter, Lisa Snowdon...
  • Guest Host - Played with at various points of the show's history.
  • Invisible Backup Band - Common with solo acts, as most artists appearing on the show were lip-syncing.
  • Is This Thing Still On? - Jeremy Clarkson was a guest presenter of one episode late in the programme's life. After an American hip-hop group finished performing he asked his co-presenter the trope question, then proceeded to refer to the song as "bloody appalling."
  • The Last DJ - John Peel.
  • Long Runners - Into its 45th year - just about.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Averted especially with straight repeats. The show's policy was to broadcast whatever was trending in the charts at the time- which includes all the stuff that most people have forgotten and in some cases, preferred to forget. Even though it's essentially a Clip Show, Top of the Pops 2 sometimes lampshaded this, with Steve Wright sometimes saying words to the effect of "yes, we really did listen to that back then!" or "yes, this one really was a hit!"
  • Nothing But Hits: Unintentional deconstruction, in a way. The show's remit was, as mentioned, to focus on current singles chart hits, as opposed to The Old Grey Whistle Test which focussed on more "serious" rock music and the like, perhaps catering to slightly more niche interests. So in a very literal sense, the show was about "nothing but hits". But because of the rules governing what they had to show, this meant whatever was trending in the charts, as mentioned above.
  • One-Liner - John Peel. "And if that doesn't get to Number One, I'm gonna come and break wind in your kitchen."
  • Re Tool - Often when a new producer was appointed. Either made the show good (Ric Blaxill) or awful (Andi Peters). Also the TOTP 2 Re Tool mentioned above.
  • Take That - The TOTP crew insisted that Nirvana play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the show, and Kurt wasn't too fond of the focus on "Teen Spirit" already, so his Creator Backlash mixed with an imitation of Morrissey and made a Take That moment to the crew of TOTP.
    • Also Suzi Quatro's performance as described above.
  • Trans Atlantic Equivalent: American Bandstand (in fairness, this started in the 1950s).
  • Unintentional Period Piece: And how! Not even mentioning the charts and the featured songs, the audience and their fashions and the video effects and graphics combine to make each episode a time capsule of the year it came from.
  • Vinyl Shatters: The early '80s titles end with a vinyl record exploding into fragments in mid air. (Although this clearly wasn't dramatic enough, as the titles were later updated to have an exploding TV instead).

That GirlSeries of the 1960sThe Twilight Zone
Top GearBritish SeriesTorchwood

alternative title(s): Top Of The Pops
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