Christmas Top of the Pops 1981

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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.

Top of the Pops – 1973 Christmas Special

 

For obvious reasons, many Christmas editions of TOTP are unlikely to ever surface again on British television (instead they’ll live out the twilight of their lives on YouTube and other streaming services). But it’s lucky that one which is mostly still available for rescreening – 1973 – is something of a corker …

Presented by Tony Blackburn (nice tanktop, sir) and Noel Edmonds, it’s a glamtastic forty minute treat. Well, maybe that’s overselling it – let’s say that the glam quotient accounts for a good half of the running time whilst the other half is more of a mixed bag.

Many people (including one positioned right behind Tony and Noel) are wearing impressive hats. That can only mean that Slade are in the building. They kick off proceedings with Cum On Feel the Noize, a piledriver of a song which gave them their fourth UK Number One single. Forty five years on it’s still ridiculously entertaining – as is Dave Hill’s remarkable clothing (I’m sure someone else has already observed that he appears to have come dressed as a Kraag, so I won’t crack that gag).

Donny Osmond (on film) brings the mood down with Young Love (not my cup of tea) but no matter, things soon get back on track with Suzi Quatro and Can The Can. Suzi, a vision in black leather, is very compelling (I believe there were other people on the stage with her, but I can’t remember what they looked like).

Her first UK number one (surprisingly it only stayed at the top spot for a week) Can The Can was another gem from the Chinn/Chapman writing team. 1973 was a pretty decent year for them, as they also penned several classic Mud tracks (including Dyna-Mite) as well as the Sweet standards Blockbuster and The Ballroom Blitz. Indeed, it’s a pity that The Sweet’s performance has been snipped from recent repeats (as has Gary Glitter, but I can live with that) .

Another change of mood as Tony introduces one of the surprise hits of 1973 – the Simon Park Orchestra and Eye Level. The theme to Van Der Valk, it’s always been a favourite of mine. It was composed by Jan Stoeckart. who worked under various pseudonyms – one of the better known being Jack Trombey. As Trombey, he composed a fair few library tracks, several of which were used as the themes for series such as Callan and Never The Twain.

Oh god, it’s little Jimmy Osmond and Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. Press the fast forward button quick ….

Up next is Tony Orlando and Dawn – Tie A Yellow Ribbon. Singing live, Tony certainly puts his all into this tale of a convict, his sweetheart, a tree, a bus-driver and a yellow ribbon. It’s cheesy stuff, but I love it.

Pan’s People interpret Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Get Down in their typically literal way (they spend their time wagging their fingers at some dogs and flouncing about – the girls that is, not the dogs). Indeed, the dogs fascinate me as they’re so incredibly well behaved, none of them move a muscle (well, apart from one who made an early exit).

After a spot of film (David Cassidy – Daydreamer) we’re back in glam mode with 10cc and Rubber Bullets. Well, it’s a glamish sound (albeit riffing classic-era Beach Boys) but the boys haven’t really come dressed for the occasion. Another favourite, it’s slightly amazing that the lyrical content didn’t earn the song a ban in the UK (maybe the jaunty music helped to divert people’s attention).

Peters and Lee perform their debut single, and by far their biggest hit, Welcome Home. There’s something very warm and very seventies about it. A track that’s aged well I think.

If the boys in 10cc didn’t make much of an effort clothes-wise, then you can always rely on Roy Wood and Wizzard. Teddy boys, an angel on roller skates, gorillas and Roy himself all make for an intoxicating mix. Oh, and the song’s pretty good too (See My Baby Jive).

Slade play us out with Merry Christmas Everybody. Sadly we miss the moment where Noddy Holder gets a pie in the face (but then some of the camerawork does seem a little off during this song) but no matter, it’s the perfect way to conclude a show that always brightens up my Christmas.

Top of the Pops – 1974 Christmas Special

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Following on from the Glam-tastic treats of Christmas 1973, the 1974 TOTP Special does feel a little pale in comparison. Still, let’s press on ….

Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Savile are on presenting duties (which of course means that the chances of this one ever receiving another television airing are slim to zero).

Ignoring as best we can the spectre of Savile, first up are Mud with Lonely This Christmas.  Sincerity oozes out of Les’ every pore as he recounts this sad, sad tale. Not quite the jolly start to the programme you might have expected, and this early feeling of mild gloom is only enhanced by the fact that Mud are performing to an empty studio.

Tony chats to the Rubettes (well he asks them one question) before introducing the Osmonds on VT. Then it’s Sweet Sensation and Sad Sweet Dreamer which is quite jolly – and those purple suits are very impressive.  Still no sign of the studio audience, so maybe this was one of those strike-bound years where things had to be done in a rush.

Pan’s People dance to You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me by The New Seekers. PP always favoured very literal song interpretations, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that they’re all sporting red noses like very sad clowns. The whole sequence has to be seen to be believed – dignity at all times, girls ….

Thing are looking up, both on the Christmas and also on the music front.  Cheeky little David Essex, surrounded by tinsely Christmas trees, treats us to Gonna Make You A Star. This gets the thumbs up from me.

Paper Lace with Billy Don’t Be A Hero shuffle on next. This tragic story (war is hell and it’s best to never volunteer for anything) has always been one of those seventies novelty songs that I’ve never been able to forget (whether this is good or bad I’m not sure).  Possibly there were live vocals on this performance or maybe they were miming to a re-record.  Either way it helps to make it a little more interesting.

The Three Degrees, performing on a set with plenty of tinsel, give us When Will I See You Again? Like the rest of the show it’s far from cutting edge, but perfectly pleasant and undemanding – ideal Christmas afternoon fare in fact.

Throughout the show, Messrs Blackburn and Savile hobnob with the musical acts, asking them inane questions or (as with David Essex) forcing them to read Christmas cracker jokes. This does manage to raise a titter from the crew though – I guess it’s the way you tell them.

Everything I Own by Ken Boothe is another somewhat soporific hit, but the pace picks up about 75% with Waterloo by ABBA. It’s early days so their clothes don’t look ridiculous, but the song remains a cracking one.

After that bouncy interlude, we once again slow down the pace to a crawl with Charles Aznavour and She. Plonked in front of the same artificial Christmas trees as David Essex, Mr Charles certainly gives the song his all. A great favourite of grannies everywhere no doubt.

A double dose of Pan’s People today. They’re back to jig about to a Barry White song, You’re the First, the Last, My Everything. It’s a classy little dance, they keep their clothes on and everything.

We close with Slade and Merry Christmas Everybody. Like everyone else, Noddy and the boys don’t have an audience to perform to, but at least they amble off the stage towards the end of the song and join all the other acts who are still hanging about the studio. This does mean that a little bit of atmosphere is generated.

Not a classic Christmas year then, but not totally devoid of interest. I wonder what gifts 1975 will bring?

Top of the Pops – 1975 Christmas Special

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Noel Edmonds (dressed as Fred Astaire) and Tony Blackburn (dressed as Buttons) are our genial hosts today. Could be worse I suppose ….

First up are Pilot with January. It’s all quite bouncy and rather agreeable – live (or re-recorded) vocals and massive guitars are firmly to the fore. A good start.

Johnny Nash gives us Tears On My Pillow. There’s not a great deal to say about this performance, but luckily the next turn – Don Estelle and Windsor Davies with Whispering Grass – contains plenty of talking points.  Davies’ outrageous mugging to camera (well I guess he had to do something, since Estelle was handling most of the singing) still raises a smile today, whilst you have to tip your hat to Don Estelle – he was a very good vocalist.

Pan People’s are wearing candelabras on their heads. That was unexpected.

Ralph McTell with Streets of London is up next. Given the sentiment of the song, it fits well into the Christmas show. As expected, it’s a no-frills performance, but none the worse for that.

The Tymes, Ms Grace. I love everything about this performance – the red suits, the coordinated dancing, the off-screen parping of the TOTP orchestra.  Tammy Wynette, plonked next to half a dozen or so tinselly Christmas trees, belts out Stand By Your Man whilst the TOTP orchestra once again scrapes away as best they can.

The Bay City Rollers with Bye, Bye Baby would no doubt have whipped the teenage audience into a frenzy – but like last year, all the turns have to perform to an empty studio.  That’s a little odd, as it means that the party atmosphere seems even more stilted than usual. Mud then pop up for the second year running with Lonely This Christmas. This time Les is standing up, rather than pouring out his tale of woe at the piano.

Guys and Dolls, A Whole Lot of Loving. Consisting of three pairs of guys and (well) dolls, this is quite the performance. The chest hair (from the men you’ll be glad to hear), their stack heels, their impossibly tight trousers. Crickey. The dolls can’t compete with that sort of competition.

Telly Savalas, sporting the widest shirt collars I’ve ever seen, appears on film to intone If.  It’s quite remarkable. It’s not good, but it’s quite remarkable.

More Pan’s People, this time they’re dressed as Christmas parcels.

10cc, with I’m Not In Love, arrive in the nick of time with a quality pop song. That just leaves diddy David Essex, in maximum Cockney mode, with Hold Me Close.  Live vocals, the worst jacket seen in the programme and plenty of chest hair. That’s the way to bring the show to a memorable conclusion.

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 ….

Top of the Pops – 1977 Christmas Special

Sandwiched in between a repeat of Are You Being Served? (The Father Christmas Affair) and HM The Queen was the 1977 TOTP Christmas shindig. As with some previous years it was split into two (the second installment popping up on Boxing Day). Since I’m a glutton for punishment I’ll be watching both (wish me luck). Let’s tackle the 25th first though ….

David ‘Kid’ Jensen (velvet suit, ruffled shirt, dicky bow) and Noel Edmonds (blue suit, stripy wide tie) are your hosts today. But they’ve barely time to exchange yuletide felicitations before up pop Showaddywaddy with You Got What It Takes. The sort of group designed for colour television (pity those still watching in black and white as they’re denied the full glory of the Showadd’s stage outfits) the group do their retro rock’n’roll shtick as well as ever. And not only do they manage to sing and play, they also pull a few crackers and tuck into some Christmas nosh.

Denice Williams, with Free, is next. Sorely lacking in Christmas trimmings, she has to get by with just the power of her song. Luckily it’s a good one and – singing live – manages to hit the warbly high notes without embarrassing herself.

1977 has seen lots of new names in the charts, the ‘Kid’ tells us. The ears prick up at that – could this be, at long last, one of those new-fangled punky bands? Things seem promising when he goes on to say that the next act were one of the most outrageous. Hurrah! Who could these anti-establishment types be?

Ah it’s the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band.

I’m not too disappointed though, as I do love this version of The Floral Dance (so much so, it’s one of the tracks on my ‘favourites’ playlist in Spotify). In fact, I love it so much I think I’ll listen to it again. Excuse me a moment ….

Noel and the ‘Kid’ are reunited for some torturous banter, which is their way of introducing Legs & Co dancing to Fanfare for the Common Man by ELP. Legs & Co are looking mighty fine today it has to be said. There’s plenty of Christmas trees and dry ice too (for those who like that sort of thing).

Leo Sayer, presumably wearing the jumper his mum bought him for Christmas, is next on with When I Need You. Unfortunately no-one seems to have needed him, as the audience are conspicuous by their absence. Keeping the ambiance at a fairly soporific level are the Manhattan Transfer with Chanson D’Amour (rat de dat de dah). It’s almost like I’ve switched on to an episode of The Two Ronnies.

Hot Chocolate and You Win Again are wheeled on next. Not a very jolly song for Christmas Day, but Errol attempts to leaven the tone of the lyrics by smiling throughout – which sort of works. The set decoration (balloons) also helps to raise the party atmosphere a smidge, although by now the absence of a studio audience is becoming rather noticeable.

David Soul (Don’t Give Up On Us) and ABBA (Knowing Me, Knowing Me) are both on film and both continue the downbeat relationship feel of the show. At least David seems hopeful that things might work out (he’s probably deluding himself though) whilst ABBA are certain it’s the end. Hey ho. Let’s hope for something cheerful next.

Ah, that’s better – it’s Space with Magic Fly. Things then settle down again with Johnny Mathis and When A Child Is Born (one for the mums I think). Sitting amongst a pile of greenery in a director’s chair, it’s one of the odder TOTP staging decisions. Couldn’t they have popped a few baubles on the trees to make them look just a little Christmassy?

Legs & Co (dressed as Reindeers) are joined by a black Father Christmas, no doubt to reflect the fact that they’re all dancing to Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder. Yes it’s as bonkers as it sounds, thank goodness.

The maudlin tone of the show returns with Kenny Rogers and Lucille on film. Fair to say that if you’re feeling a bit down this isn’t the TOTP Christmas show to lift your spirits. Luckily Baccara jolly things up with Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.

We close with the UK No 1 – Wings and Mull of Kintyre. Paul, Linda and Denny were already booked for The Mike Yarwood Show, so appear here in video form (complete with an unconvicting grassy knoll, plenty of mist and the Campbeltown Pipe Band walking through the shot at exactly the right time).

Would things cheer up for the Boxing Day show? Give me a few days and I’ll let you know.

Top of the Pops – 1977 Boxing Day Special

Stuck in between Holiday on Ice and It’s A Christmas Knockout, part two of the 1977 TOTP festive retrospective was hosted by DLT (don’t expect to see this on BBC4 anytime soon then) and Tony Blackburn.

We open with Boney M and Ma Baker. Good news, we have an audience and even better news – the M are singing live. Considering that Bobby Farrell apparently never sung on any of the records, how does he do? Hmm, well his performance is interesting to say the least (plus DLT pops up as the mid song radio reporter). The curious can check it out here.

Rod Stewart tackles The First Cut Is The Deepest (the clip lifted from a television special, it seems) before making way for Heatwave and Boogie Nights. It’s a playback performance, which given the amount of jigging about the lead singer – Keith Wilder – does is probably just as well.

Legs & Co dance to David Soul’s Silver Lady. They’re dressed in silver (which is one of the more logical costume/song interpretations). After they’ve shimmied off, we get Joe Tex on video with Ain’t Gonna Bump No More. This leaves me with the feeling that we’re being fobbed off with post Christmas leftovers. What we need are a few more memorable TOTP studio performances.

Ah, here come The Brotherhood of Man riding to the rescue with Angelo. Even though I find it difficult not to substitute their lyrics with the Barron Knights’ pastiche version, this is still good fun. The group have been provided with some simple Christmas staging – a tree and balloons – whilst a few members of the audience are wearing party hats. And as ever, the TOTP audience are always entertaining even when the song isn’t (in this case, it’s the chap in the front row who spends part of the song turned away from the stage and gawping into the camera who naturally catches the eye).

There’s a touch of class next with Billy Ocean and Red Light Spells Danger. Possibly played in from an earlier edition, since I can’t see any Christmas trimmings, it’s nevertheless top notch – thanks to his live vocals and the TOTP orchestra going for broke.

Billy gives way to Julie Covington and Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. With no Julie in the studio, the song plays out over a series of photographs of Eva Perón. Film again for the next clip – The Floaters with Float On. This is one of those songs that I’ve attempted to block, but once you hear it again the memories just come flooding back. Those suits! Those spoken word lyrics!

Legs & Co return, dancing to I Feel Love by Donna Summer. Their choreography choice mainly consists of them twirling around and shaking their long skirts. Frankly all their energy is beginning to tire me out.

Back to film with Queen and We Are The Champions and ABBA with The Name of the Game. For a change we then go onto tape with The Jacksons (Show You the Way to Go). Not surprising that they couldn’t be bothered to fly over to London (well it was Christmas) but this recycled clip (along with all the others) does give the show something of a half-hearted feel. Maybe it would have been better to just have had the one ninety minute show this year, mainly sticking to new studio performances.

At least Elvis Presley had a good reason for not turning up in person. The montage of photographs and film clips set to Way Down was a little bit touching I have to say.

Showaddywaddy have ditched their glow in the dark suits for something more subdued (white jackets and trousers, brown shirts).  They treat us to Under The Moon Of Love, which seems to go down well with the audience – well they’re vaguely clapping in time and looking at the stage, which are both good signs.

And that’s it – apart from watching DLT in his horrible cardigan attempting to punch balloons away whilst the end credits roll. Not a classic then, since most of the best stuff had already been included in the Christmas Day show (Boney M, Brotherhood of Man and Billy Ocean are the ones unlucky enough to have been relegated to this division two fixture).

Top of the Pops – 1978 Christmas Special

TOTP Christmas 78 is somewhat running on reduced power. Due to strike action, Noel Edmonds is forced to link the show all on his lonesome from a fairly cheerless office (although the Christmas tree looks nice). With the music pre-recorded there’s not a great deal that’s festive about this one, but let’s press on anyway.

Darts open the show with The Boy From New York City. It’s jaunty retro fun. Equally jaunty is the next song, Rasputin (who was Russia’s greatest love machine, you know) sung by Boney M. This performance is, of course, all about Bobby Farrell, who flings himself about with wild abandon. He’s going to do himself a mischief if he carries on like that.

Legs & Co (and some male friends) dance to Summer Nights and then the tempo slows down a little with Wings and Mull Of Kintyre. Until Band Aid, it was the UK’s top selling single (the first to exceed two million). Like last year, we have the video rather than a studio performance (so expect to see once again an unconvincing grassy knoll, plenty of mist and the Campbeltown Pipe Band wandering through the shot at exactly the right time).

Next up are the Brotherhood of Man with Figaro. Looking very coordinated (gleaming white trousers and red jackets) the foursome give their all. Like most of the studio performers they don’t have an audience to bounce off (but given that TOTP‘s audience members could sometimes border on the apathetic, this isn’t too much of a problem). I can understand why some find this sort of middle-of-the-road fare unpalatable (when I mentioned on Twitter that I’d be covering TOTP Christmas 76 there were grumblings that the punk era was long overdue) but personally I love it. Well most of it ….

Father Abraham and the Smurfs with The Smurf Song is a step too far, even for me (but it does have a strange hypnotic quality after a while). Following the Smurfs, there’s Legs & Co in shorty nighties, dancing to Night Fever. Hang on, nighties = Night Fever? If the decision to deck out Legs & Co in nighties was due to a fairly poor play on words, then I for one won’t complain too much.

Cloth caps are to the fore as Brian and Michael give us their one and only hit (Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs). A number of songs featured in last year’s Christmas show (including the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band with The Floral Dance) were given another airing in 1978. It’s another of those tracks which won’t earn me any street cred if I admit to liking it (but then I daresay my street cred days are long over).

We then briefly dip our toe into current musical trends with Kate Bush and Wuthering Heights (although this track does have a sort of novelty disc element which makes it fit in nicely with the rest of the show). After that, Showaddywaddy (a group who surfed the fifties nostalgia wave better than most) make an appearance, and they give way to Boney M with Rivers of Babylon. This song gives far less opportunity for Bobby to fling himself around like a madman, which is a mark against it.

Legs & Co go all classy next, with The Commodores’ Three Times A Lady. Then it’s ABBA on video with Take A Chance On Me. Noel Tidybeard, still marooned in his office, introduces the next song (Rose Royce – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore) with a sad sniff, telling the audience that no doubt its tragic tone caused an awful lot of problems this year. Not quite the vibe you want for a (hopefully) jolly Christmas afternoon.

Never mind, the tempo soon picks up as Legs & Co (working hard today) and their male chums give us another song from Grease – this time it’s You’re the One That I Want. By this point I’m reeling in a slightly punchdrunk fashion from all these festive treats, but let’s crack on as we’re nearly at the end.

Returning for a third(!) time are Boney M with Mary’s Boy Child. And that’s your lot, apart from James Galway who is heard but not seen as Annie’s Song plays out over the end credits. Studying these credits, it looks as if the recent BBC4 repeat has been jiggered about with a bit (replacing the clips from Grease with performances by Legs & Co) but apart from that everything seems to be intact.

As touched upon before, TOTP Xmas ’78 is going to disappoint those who find it difficult to stomach seventies LE, but I found it slipped by rather nicely. However, the winds of change were blowing and even TOTP eventually began to reflect that.  Next time, we’ll see those changes in TOTP Xmas ’79 ….

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.