Although BBC4 are continuing to plug away with their archive TOTP repeats (we’ll shortly be hitting 1983) sadly there will continue to be considerable gaps. It’s understandable why any that feature Jimmy Savile get chopped, although DLT’s continuing blacklisting is a little harder to comprehend.
The recent news that the late Mike Smith elected not to authorise repeats of any shows in which he featured (a decision supported by his widow, Sarah Greene) is another blow. The reason for this isn’t clear, although it’s possible that Smith felt tainted by association with the likes of Savile.
Still, at least many of these “banned” shows are in circulation, although complete editions tend to get pulled quite quickly from YouTube (other video sharing sites tend to retain them a little longer). But one that has remained on YouTube for a number of years is the 1981 Christmas Special, which I’ve recently been revisiting.
It opens with the Teardrop Explodes and Reward. It’s still fairly early in Michael Hurll’s reign, so there’s not an excessive party atmosphere – Julian and the boys share the stage with a few depressed-looking tinsel Christmas trees and some balloons – but hey, with a song as strong as this you don’t really need much in the way of set dressing.
Up next are Ultravox with Vienna, which was held off the top spot by Joe Dolce (surely one of those facts that just about everybody knows). The rest of the band decided to dress quite normally, but Midge went for the full biker look. It means nothing to me (sorry). We do get a ballerina though, which is nice.
The lovely Kim Wilde sings Kids in America. Sigh …..
I’ve always liked the Human League, which means that this edition of TOTP is on a bit of a roll at present. The League perform Love Action (“this is Phil talking”) and it’s back in the day when Philip had plenty of hair whilst Susan and Joanne haven’t really gone down the glam route (but look most attractive, nonetheless).
The good stuff keeps coming, with Godley & Crème and Under Your Thumb. It’s not exactly a cheery party song, but the audience jig about a bit from side to side – which shows they’re attempting to get into the spirt of things. Perhaps wisely the camera tends to focus on Kevin and Lol, especially Kevin who’s in full emoting mode at the end.
There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears he’s Elvis saw Kirsty MacColl labelled as something of a novelty artist, but in the years to come she’d more than prove her quality as a singer/songwriter (and there’s nothing wrong with this song anyway). Thanks to Fairytale of New York she’s always present at Christmas, but MacColl shouldn’t just be for Christmas, she’s good enough to be enjoyed all year round. Make it your New Year’s resolution to check out her back catalogue, you won’t regret it.
Awkward interviews were a feature of TOTP during this era and Simon Bates draws the short straw when he encounters Adam Ant. Colin Blunstone and Dave Stewart are up next with their cover of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted. If you don’t already have it, then a copy of Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies should be a last minute Christmas present to yourself. The Zombies, with the core partnership of Blunstone and Rod Argent, are still going strong today – gigging and recording albums – and they’re well worth checking out.
Zoo dance to the Jacksons’ Can You Feel It. Linx have got into the Christmas spirit (their keyboard player is dressed as Santa!). Intuition is one of those songs that I haven’t heard for years, but it still sounds pretty good and fits perfectly into the Christmassy atmosphere.
Too Nice to Talk To is one of The Beat’s lesser-known hits, but it jigs along nicely. Spandau Ballet are next, and the good news is that they haven’t yet turned into slick balladeers. But the music (Chant No 1) wasn’t uppermost in my mind – where’s your shirt Martin Kemp? You’ll catch your death of cold in that drafty studio ….
Nothing screams early eighties like Toyah does. Why? It’s a Mystery (sorry again).
Laurie Anderson’s O Superman defies description and it’s wonderful that a fairly short-lived (Peter Powell mentions that they never featured it on the regular TOTPs as it exited the charts shortly after entering) and decidedly left-field hit made the Christmas edition.
Clare Grogan’s covered in streamers as Altered Images perform Happy Birthday. It’s another track that fits in perfectly with the happy, party vibe and it’s an undeniably slick slice of pop.
At this point in their career, Depeche Mode (with I Just Can’t Get Enough) look impossibly young and fresh-faced. Sensible clothes (especially jumpers) are well to the fore. Also well-turned out are OMD. As they perform Souvenir some of the dancers do a bit of smoochy dancing (watch where you’re putting those hands!) whilst members of the audience, in time-honoured TOTP fashion, turn around to gawp at the camera.
We end with a big old singalong as the groups and the DJs join forces to warble through All You Need is Love. Other familiar faces, like Justin Hayward, also pop up (was he just passing?) and it brings to an end an almost faultless edition of the show. Pop perfection pretty much from beginning to end.