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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Celebrating the banality of 1976 Top of the Pops

A highlight of the week is BBC 4's faithful serialising of Top of the Pops from 1976.
1976 was before punk, when banality and mediocrity reigned. The show was at the height of its powers and presented by a series of Radio 1 DJs: Jimmy Savile, Dave Lee Travis, Diddy David Hamilton. They seem really square now but were like rock gods back then.

The last show I saw featured 10,000 Volts performing Dr Kiss Kiss. "This stayed at number eight but two weeks running, but MUST go up, it's amazing," shouted the Hairy Monster. The lead singer could easily have been in her 40s, dressed in a floaty top and looking as if she'd just come back from Tesco.
Then there was the memorable "In Zaire" (?) and Twiggy proving why she never really took off as a singer. Steve Harley (Cockney Rebel) rampaged round the ramparts of a castle licking his lips in what he presumably thought was the height of sexiness.

Occasionally there's a gem among the dross. In this episode it was Abba and Dancing Queen. I remember the very first time I heard it, early on a Saturday, not long before we were setting off for a caravan holiday in Hayle. I shouted up the stairs to my Mum, "It's the new one from Abba, it's really good!" Although strictly speaking, I didn't give Abba the time of the day, being a David Bowie fan. The Number One spot was held by Elton John and Kiki Dee for what seemed like weeks with "Don't go breaking my heart."

Another highlight of the show for me is looking at what the audience is wearing, and their hairstyles. In 1976 the hairstyles de jour were a) a feather cut or mullet, and b) a strange bob with flicked up ends. I favoured (a).  The height of fashion was a short sleeved flowery dress, worn slightly below the knee, with a shirred / ruched top. I know, I had one. We also sported a knee-length denim skirt, not unlike the ones that Stella McCartney made fashionable last year, with a very demure pastel coloured short sleeved top. Wedge shoes were all the rage too athough you can't often see the feet of the dancing teens.

Ruby Flipper
What's also funny about this re-run of 1976 is that the ill-fated dance troupe Ruby Flipper (right) gets another stay in the sun. Flick Colby, the creator of their predecessors Pan's People, created Ruby Flipper when Pan's got the chop after nine years. The septet featured boys and girls.

We thrilled to their literal interpretations. Wings' seminal hit "Open the door and let 'em in" featured Ruby Flipper's dancers peering out from behind cardboard doors. No dancing at all, just pouting and gesturing to "come on in."

We probably didn't thrill because Ruby Flipper was axed in 1976 after just a few months and replaced by the all girl troupe Legs & Co. For their first three appearances they didn't even have a name, but listeners to Ed Stewart were asked to come up with one. Sadly, the TOTPs show where it was announced, in Nov 1976, no longer exists in the archive.

The BBC apparently lost most of its 70s transmissions of TOTPs except for 1976, which is a real shame. I hope they are more careful now with their archiving!


FitForNothing said...

I've been avidly watching (well skipping the odd week) and it really has been terrible! but still riveting viewing.

I was looking forward to it moviing on through 77 and beyond, so if as you say they've lost all but 76 I'm gonna be devastated.

Anne @ The Frump Factor said...

Oh, my, as the memories come flooding back. 1976 was not a good year for me -- it was a pretty bad decade, actually -- but I loved, loved, LOVED "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart."

Oddly, I love the 70s fashion revival. What's up with THAT, I wonder?