Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby
BBC1, 7.25pm. Bellamy's Backyard Safari has just finished and now something is about to happen. Something wonderful.
Multi-coloured records fly out of fog towards the camera. The words Top of the Pops flicker on screen. Numbers flash and disappear. More words, like searchlights. Top. Of The. Pops. A large pink tinted record flies to the centre of the screen, again the words Top of the Pops flicker, and the record explodes. All backed by a staccato drum beat, swooping electronic noises, and a weird ethereal voice.
I'm not sure when Top of the Pops last used a proper title sequence. Best guess 13th June 1974. That was the last programme broadcast before a 7 week strike, and when it returned the new format was a DJ introduction followed by the charts backed with Whole Lotta Love. A format which persisted in one form or another until the end of a different strike, the 1980 one by Musician's Union members. Michael Hurll has been producer since then, and he's experimented with different ways to start the show. There was the preview of the night's attractions -ditched along with the doomed dual presenter format- and since then the show has just sort of lurched onto the air with a DJ awkwardly trying to welcome viewers to the programme over the introduction to the first record. I don't doubt that in 1974 it seemed exiting and immediate to cut straight from the continuity announcer to the DJ talking directly to the home audience but by 1981 it was time for a change. A good title sequence should evoke the spirit of a programme and this fifteen second strip of film does that perfectly. It's fast, exciting, a little bit spooky, and it's not about music or bands or instruments; it's about the singles.
(The new title sequence actually premièred last week -1981 relative time- for the 900th edition of Top of the Pops but that can't be shown on BBC4 because of the presenter)