How punk rescued Top of the Pops in 1976

BBC Four (or BBC Fortysomething as I call it) ran an excellent series of programmes back to back on Friday night about Top of the Pops in 1976 – the year, which I’m sure you’ll recall, it really sank to all time lows.   The 1960s TOTP focused on music and giving youth a voice had continued healthily in to the early 1970s with the amazingness of glam – particularly Marc Bolan – but then it all ran out of steam.

What I thought the programme showed brilliantly – and Paul Morley is a god for saying it – was how crap the crop of DJs on Radio 1/TOTP looked by the mid-70s.   These Radio Luxembourg leftovers used every excuse on the programme to explain now whey they didn’t play punk then – mainly pointing to record sales.  But is DLT seriously saying that he didn’t plug his horrible “Convoy GB” on his show over and above what kids really wanted to hear?  His on air resignation in 1993 made me laugh – how on earth had he lasted that long on Radio 1???

Tony Blackburn rocked up on the BBC4 prog to say that he didn’t still hated punk.  And that’s really why it didn’t get the airplay (ditto 2Tone of course in the early 80s – hence the Selecter’s vitriolic ‘On My Radio’).  But then Blackburn was a man who I remember pronouncing Duran Duran as ‘durren durren’ – no ‘doo’ but ‘duh’.   It was like listening to your Dad presenting a pop show at the time.

The BBC carried on turning TOTP in to a variety show for all the family until the knocking of punk at the front door became so loud they had to be let in.  I mean, to give you an idea how awful 1976 was on TOTP – just think about Disco Duck, Brotherhood of Man and Showaddywaddy and consider that while that was being played at TV Centre to people still in flares, the Sex Pistols were gigging but a few miles away in central London.

As Toyah said on the programme, and I never thought I’d quote her, punk injected new life in to TOTP.  Far from overthrowing it, they gave the format a whole new lease of life.  Seeing Siouxsie Sioux playing Hong Kong Garden on the show is as electric now as it was when she appeared.  And yet, there was David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton on the BBC4 programme still saying that punk was horrible.


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