Top of the Pops – 1979 Christmas Special

The 1979 TOTP Xmas Special has an unusual opening. There’s no cheery greetings from that year’s R1 jocks, instead we go straight to Boney M – a vision in furry white – who give us Mary’s Boy Child. An odd way to kick off proceedings, especially since the song was a hit from the previous year.

No matter, once they’ve departed up pop David ‘Kid’ Jensen and Peter Powell to get things started for 1979. Like previous years, the songs are a selection of some of the top-selling Number 1s and 2s of the year. Will that mean that some of this new-fangled New Wave music will start to appear? Let’s see ….

Hurrah! Up first are Ian Dury and the Blockheads (who’ve clearly come straight from the building site) to entertain us with Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Christmas trimmings for this first performance are fairly modest (a smallish tree popped on the piano). Let’s see if things pick up later.

Next is Janet Kay with Silly Games. Christmas trimming watch – there’s a few sad looking Christmas tree twigs dotted about the stage (complete with a handful of baubles). As Janet does her thing, it becomes clear this is another of those audience free shows. Although since Peter and the ‘Kid’ are lurking rather noticeably in the background (looking down upon Janet from on high) it means she has a small (but appreciative) audience.

The good songs keep on coming with Gary Numan and Cars (performing on a tinsel free stage). He makes way for Roxy Music with Dance Away. This is a little smoother than I generally like my Roxy, but it’s always fun watching Bryan Ferry, who’s come dressed for the occasion (as has Gary Tibbs). On the other hand Phil Manzanera looks like he’s just rolled out of bed and grabbed the first clothes that came to hand.

Ding Ding! Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell is danced to by Legs & Co. They have plenty of small bells to ring, so make something of a racket as they cavort on top of six chimney pots.

The ‘Kid’ is particularly pleased to see this next song – The Buggles with Video Killed The Radio Star. Christmas trimming watch – Camera 7 is covered in tinsel, the stage less so. This song, their debut single, did pretty well for them – topping the charts in sixteen countries. Their debut album – The Age of Plastic – is also jolly good, an ideal Christmas present in fact.

We’re getting into this Christmas spirit now as B.A. Robertson (Bang Bang) has turned up. He’s wearing a Father Christmas coat (although he clearly drew the line at the beard) and is accompanied by two attractive young ladies who bang big drums at regular intervals. Pity the rest of the band though, who must have been deemed less photogenic than the two drum ladies and were shuffled off to an adjoining stage.

TOTP certainly seem to be getting into the New Wave swing as Blondie give us Sunday Girl and M (“New York, London, Paris, Munich”) then appear with … Pop Muzik (what else?).

After all this excitement it’s time to relax with one of my favourite Legs & Co performances (they’re dancing to Tragedy dressed as sad-faced clowns).

Disappointingly, Elvis Costello hasn’t come dressed as Santa Claus (and the stage is a Christmas free zone), but he and the Attractions are performing Oliver’s Army, so I’ll let them off.

For those who have been missing their middle of the road musical entertainment (compare this show with Christmas 1977 and 1978 for example) there’s salvation at hand with Lena Martell and Once Day At A Time.  I always thought she was American, so it came as something of a shock to learn she actually hails from Glasgow. She’s put her glad rags on – a glittery jacket and dress – which fits in nicely with the Christmas tree stuck at the back of the stage.

First live vocal of the show comes courtesy of Chris Difford (nice cap, sir) as Squeeze gives us Cool for Cats. It’s a rather truncated performance though (even by TOTP standards) clocking in at under two minutes.

Dr Hook (When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman) are the next act. It’s obvious who the star turn is – the eyepatch wearing, maraca shaking Ray Sawyer. No matter that the maracas must be empty (as no sound comes from them) he shakes them like there’s no tomorrow whilst mugging at the camera like a good ‘un. Now that’s entertainment.

There’s a quick return for Blondie. Debbie’s taken off her sunglasses as the tinsel comes pouring down (hopefully she didn’t swallow too much of it). Dreaming is the pop platter they serve up. Gary Numan also returns for an encore. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that nobody dared to release the tinsel on him – which is fair enough as it wouldn’t have fitted in with the moody tone of Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

Racey entertain Peter and the ‘Kid’ with Some Girls. Throughout their performance a barrage of clips featuring Legs & Co down the ages are spliced in (which allows the viewer to boggle yet again at some of their more interesting costumes).

Sir Cliff of Richard closes the show with We Don’t Talk Anymore. Sporting a natty pink jacket and a sprig of tinsel in his buttonhole, Cliff – always the trouper – gives a typically polished performance.

Musically, TOTP Xmas 1979 was very strong. A pity that there wasn’t an audience yet again, but then a surprising number of seventies TOTP Christmas shows suffered the same fate. Unlike previous years there were no performances played in from promo films – which helped to make the show feel just a little more special.

7 thoughts on “Top of the Pops – 1979 Christmas Special

  1. Will you be giving us Part II (27 December) as well? I can vividly remember watching that, given next door’s ‘television room’ to myself while the grown-ups were post-Christmas socialising in the living room.

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    • I’ve had a brief skim of it and it looks to be mostly promo videos, so it’d be harder for me to find anything interesting to chat about. I’ll have a proper watch later just in case there’s anything that stands out.

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  2. I sometimes think that ‘The Village People”s appearance on that edition, when at the end of their routine they rip off their moustaches revealing themselves to be… Legs & Co! – a ruse that could only have fooled an especially-unobservant 7 year old such as myself – may have had some lasting imprint upon my expectations of adult sexuality. Though quite what it meant, I still can’t puzzle out.

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  3. Musically the a show was stronger musically. I don’t recall even watching it. Probably couldn’t be bothered. I think Boney-M were still number one at the beginning of 1979. Thinking back now I enjoyed the music of 1979 at time the songs were in the charts so why bother watching another ToTP Xmas Special with an audience-free audience. ToTP Xmas 1980 was far worse as you will eventually review and hopefully agree.

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    • I think you’re right about Boney-M (and it was a good Christmas record). And I am still affronted that There’s No One Quite Like Grandma was even released, let alone got to number one.

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  4. I didn’t see this programme at the time, but I did see the one broadcast on Thursday the 27th of December, with Dave Lee Travis and Mike Read, which I hope you will review as well.

    But these two episodes are possibly the two best ever editions of Top of the Pops because 1979 was the best year in the history of pop music. It was when the new wave finally got into the mainstream.

    For years I thought that Legs and Co danced to I Will Survive on the Christmas Day programme and YMCA on the other programme, but they were both on the latter edition. I also thought that they all roller skated on the I will Survive Dance (like the dancer in the Gloria Gaynor video), but only one of them did. Maybe only one could skate.

    And by the way the two girls playing bass drums for B J Robertson were member of Legs and Co.

    Of course when BBC4 showed Top of the Pops from 1979 the only showed the Xmas Day show. (Most editions of Top of the Pops in 1979 were hosted by Peter Powell, David Jensen, Mike Read, Dave Lee Travis, and the late Jimmy Saville.)

    The only thing I don’t like is the obviously fake applause at the end of the acts.

    The Xmas Day edition was mostly studio performances, but there were more videos in the next programme including the Christmas number one by Pink Floyd, the best selling single of the year by Art Garfunkel, and the best number one from the best year in the history of pop music by the Boomtown Rats.

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