Top of the Pops – 1976 Christmas Special

DLT and Noel Edmonds are your hosts for this year’s Christmas show. They wish the viewers at home seasonal greetings in a short CSO-tinged pre-credits sequence, most notable for the way Edmonds stumbles over his few words. Couldn’t they have afforded a take two? And as the show wears on it’s noticeable that the pair seem to be marooned in a CSO bubble, well away from the audience ….

Slik are on first with Forever and Ever. It starts moodily enough but once the lights come up the song transforms into more of a chugging sub-Bay City Rollers sort of track (understandable really since the song had originally been written for the Rollers). It’s cheesy fun, with little Midge giving his all.

Elton John & Kiki Dee then pop up on video with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart before Legs & Co entertain with Dancing Queen (which judging by the way DLT starts to froth at the mouth, gained his approval).

It was a canny piece of scheduling for J.J. Barrie (No Charge) to appear next. All those dads (and DLT) who had got just a little hot under the collar watching the six young ladies of Legs & Co jigging around could now cool down with J.J. Somebody (well many bodies) obviously loved this as it made the UK Number 1 (J.J.’s only Top 40 hit).  Alas, his 1981 collaboration with Brian Clough (You Can’t Win Them All) failed to trouble the scorers. As for No Charge, it’s a bit grim really ….

Let’s raise the tempo with Laurel & Hardy who (obviously enough) are appearing on film with The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. A surprise hit this year, there’s some interesting background to the song’s re-release here.

Tina Charles, wearing a nice scarf, belts out Love to Love (a live vocal!). That’s quite exciting, but even more exciting is the fact she performs the song from a gantry high above the studio floor (which means we get a rare birds-eye view of the studio). It’s a bit grim and grimy up there, but that all adds to the charm.

I love The Wurzels (in a totally non-ironic way). The Adge Cutler era is obviously closest to my heart, but post Adge they still came up with a few gems (such as today’s Combine Harvester song). Another performance featuring a live vocal, it’s ideal Christmas Day fare. The audience (some of whom have been given pieces of straw to chew) seem to be enjoying themselves.

Tip top Cliff Richard with Devil Woman. It’s easy to mock Cliff, but give him the song and he could deliver. Decked out in a nice pinkish shirt (which is cut quite low to show off his medallion collection) he gives full value during this performance – pointing dramatically throughout whilst half-hearted flame effects are overlaid onto the screen.

ABBA entertain a handful of audience members with Mamma Mia. The ABBA foursome are decked out in silky blue suits, although clearly they couldn’t afford to buy stage clothes for their two additional guitarists and drummer, who are forced to wear their normal clothes.

Most of the performances in this show have been pretty basic, but the boat’s pushed out when Hank Mizell turns up with Jungle Rock. We get a jungle set (of course), Hank stuck in a cooking pot, Legs & Co gyrating around and a load of extras dressed as elephants, crocodiles, etc. With so much going on it’s no surprise that the camera rarely focuses on Hank (who nevertheless would have been pleased to see Jungle Rock finally becoming a hit – some eighteen years after it was first released).

Pussycat (live vocals!) do Mississippi. The instrumental backing is a little off, so it’s one of those instances when playback might have been the better option. But they gave it a go, so deserve a thumbs up for that.

We’re coming towards the end of the show, but first there’s the substantial hurdle of Demis Roussos to leap over. If I was watching the show for pleasure no doubt I would have skipped this – but since I’m in review mode I felt it was only fair not to take the easy way out. But since I’ve made the sacrifice, if you wish to wind him on then I quite understand.

Queen close proceedings with Bohemian Rhapsody. Given that it first hit Number 1 at the end of 1975 (although it held the top spot until early 1976) the song probably would have seemed a little old-hat by December 1976. It would have been nice to see them in the studio, but they no doubt had better things to do, so sent the video instead.

And that’s it for 1976. Punk may have begun exploding, but it had yet to reach the Christmas TOTP studio ….

6 thoughts on “Top of the Pops – 1976 Christmas Special

  1. Footage from this edition (and other BBC1 Christmas Day television) is interpolated into Michael Abbensett’s 1977 BBC play ‘Black Christmas’ (d. Stephen Frears). I can remember the ironic use of ‘Devil Woman’ when the parents (Carmen Munroe and Norman Beaton) are surprised by the visit of their estranged drama.

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  2. I look forward to your reviews of Xmas Top of the Pops from 1977-79, especially 1979.

    Speaking of Laurel and Hardy on Top of the Pops, didn’t Dooley Wilson have a posthumous hit in the seventies with As Time Goes By from Casablanca? I remember the song being played on Radio 2 a lot, complete with Ingrid Bergman speaking at the beginning.

    Currently Warner Brothers films and tv shows play a snatch of As Time Goes By over the WB ident, but a lot of people don’t know where it comes from.

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  3. ‘As Time Goes By’ was a hit over late 1977/ early 1978, reaching as high as number 15 in the charts. The Casablanca performance was shown on the 15th December 1977 Top Of The Pops.

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  4. Two sets of Top of the Pops danced to Jungle Rock. (There were three dance groups on Top of the Pops during 1976. A bit like having three kings in 1936.) The Jungle Rock was in the chats Pan’s People danced to it dressed in safari suits, and at Christmas Legs and Co dressed as cannibals with Tony Blackburn in the cooking pot.

    Some people play a game where they download a clip of Pan’s People or Legs and Co with the sound turned down, and play a different record over it.

    For example when BBC4 showed Top of the Pops from 1980, and showed the programme with Legs and Co dancing to John Lennon’s Just Like Starting Over, someone theorized that they were originally going to be dancing the David Bowie’s Fashion. So some people watched Legs and Co dancing to John Lennon while listening to the David Bowie record, and thought they went well together.

    I’ve just watched Legs and Co dancing to Jungle Rock on the Christmas Top of the Pops with the sound down while listening to the Human League record Being Boiled.

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  5. 1976 was a vintage year of pop hits for me but there was a point that year where we had the worse top ten of all time and for some reason the artistes from that top ten all show up on the Xmas edition of ToTP. What a revolting memory. Even watching ToTP 1976 on BBC4 before the Saville Affair broke, one could see how many good music hits of that year didn’t make it to the Christmas Edition.

    I could argue the charts started to get stale after Kiki Dee and. Elton John’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. But the later half the year did produce gems like Joan Armatrading, Neil Diamond and Queen. Strangely none the above made it to the Christmas Show. Odd.

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  6. The Review of Top of The Pops Christmas 1976 BBC-1.

    45 Years Ago in The Long Hot Summer of 1976 When Elton John & Kiki Dee Scored Number 1 Hit,Don’t Go Breaking My Heart for Six Weeks in The British Charts.

    The Famous Artists On Top of The Pops including Abba,Pussycat,Queen,Cliff Richard,J J Barrie,The Wuzels,Joan Armatrading,The Who,Neil Diamond,Tina Charles & Silk.

    The Great Wonderful Memories of Top of The Pops On BBC-1 Christmas 1976.

    Terry Christie.
    Sunderland,Tyne & Wear.

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