Heaven 17

“Adorable creatures with unacceptable features” – Top of the Pops, 5th May 1983

Richard Skinner & David JacobsWhile BBC Four takes its annual summer break from repeating old episodes of Top of the Pops, filling the gap with the Proms, The Sky at Night and whatever else it can crowbar into the gap while the censors cross-check the episode guide against the sex offenders’ register, let’s jump forward a few years. It’s May 1983, the Hitler Diaries are about to be published, Margaret Thatcher is about to call a general election and somewhere in a BBC office, someone has counted up the episodes of TOTP aired to date and worked out that it comes to roughly one thousand. Time for a party! And like any great party, it starts with a man in a dinner jacket and bow tie. This man is Richard Skinner and he’s in Broadcasting House to welcome us to “the first stereo transmission of Radio 1.” Presumably he means the first stereo transmission of TOTP, because in those far off, analogue, pre-NICAM days the only way to enjoy stereo sound with your TV picture was on special occasions such as this, when a show would be simulcast on FM (or “VHF” in old money). Radio 1 didn’t even have its own FM frequency at the time; this would have been a very rare weekday incursion into Radio 2’s frequencies, something which was normally reserved exclusively for John Peel. As if to justify this barefaced intrusion, Skinner chats briefly to Radio 2 stalwart David Jacobs, one of the first hosts of TOTP back in the mid ’60s – “so far away that I’ve almost forgotten all about it,” he admits, making him the most useless guest on the show so far. Still, it’s an hour long special, so there’s plenty of time for someone to steal that title from him. Why are we talking to him anyway? Where’s Jimmy Savile when you need him…?


See the full top 100 for this week on the Official Charts Website.

THOMPSON TWINS – We Are Detective (#7)

Thompson TwinsAh, of course, here he is, the millstone present at all milestones in TOTP history, from the first edition to the last. Savile’s presence is kept to a minimum tonight as he takes time out from his busy schedule to remind us that he hosted the first ever edition of the show before introducing the Thompson Twins. Those of you who are fond of a conspiracy theory will take great glee from the title of the song and the fact that Tom Bailey is wearing a policeman’s hat, but this is no more of a tacit nod towards Savile’s extra-curricular activities than the time he introduced Ian Dury & The Blockheads all in full police uniform back in September 1980. We Are Detective was the Twins’ second top ten hit; they would go on to have three consecutive singles peak at numbers 4, 3 and 2 but never quite made it all the way to number 1. Bailey plays an accordion while Joe Leeway and Alannah Currie dance a rather awkward tango; we leave them to it and join the strangest looking boy band ever. Peter Powell says hello to Steve Strange (“It’s great to be here, what a great party,” he intones with no hint of enjoyment whatsoever) while Simon Bates greets Roger Taylor – who reckons he was last on TOTP performing Under Pressure, which never happened – and John Deacon, who has to remind Simes that as well as their Bowie collaboration, Queen also reached number 1 with a now-forgotten tune entitled Bohemian Rhapsody. Simes ignores him and introduces the next act.

HUMAN LEAGUE – (Keep Feeling) Fascination (#3)

Human LeagueNever ones to take the obvious route, the League decide no one member should take centre stage; instead they all form an orderly line across the stage like a police identification parade. (This may be why Sir Jim’ll has done only the opening link and then legged it.) It’s the end of the League’s imperial phase, due largely to the difficulty of making a follow-up to the enormous Dare! album, but Fascination is perhaps their best pop single, each member of the band taking a line of the song in a curious pre-empting of Band Aid, while Jo Callis plays back-to-front guitar and nobody mimes to the song’s famously wonky opening keyboard riff. Make a note of this moment: The Human League are actually enjoying themselves. No time for frivolity though, as we’re treated to the lesser-spotted Andy Peebles, Janice Long and Tommy Vance, who makes a controversial admission to having been on Radio Caroline when TOTP started – careful, Tommy, remember you’re going out on Radio 1 as well.

THE BEAT – Can’t Get Used To Losing You (#29)

The BeatDespite having been all over the 1980 TOTP repeats like a rash, with four top ten hits in their first year, it’s been slim pickings since then for The Beat as singles from their second and third albums met with increasing disinterest. The obvious solution? Release another single from the first album! It might have been suggested as a joke but this cover of a 1963 Andy Williams hit did the trick, returning The Beat to TOTP and going on to become their biggest ever hit, although the band split two months later. Dave Wakeling in particular looks like he’s in danger of getting banned for not taking it seriously, pulling all sorts of faces to camera while Andy Cox and David Steele get in some practice for the weird sliding dance they’ll be taking with them to Fine Young Cannibals. Once this is done, there’s a battle of the beards as Noel Edmonds and Dave Lee Travis reminisce about early TOTP; Travis remembers little except that “there were lots of short skirts”. Time for a quick montage of clips from the ’60s, of which very few remain, so it’s the usual line-up of the Dave Clarke Five, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, the Supremes et al. Whoever thought it appropriate to keep that Billy J. Kramer clip but junk all footage of the Beatles needs a good talking to. We do get a Beatles clip, but it’s All You Need Is Love from the Our World TV special. Twice. Oh, and that clip of the Rolling Stones doing Let’s Spend The Night Together sounded just as wonky in 1983 as it does now.

HEAVEN 17 – Temptation (#8)

Heaven 17From that run of archive clips we cut to the gaping face of Cilla Black, amazed that she looked different in 1969 to how she looked in 1983, although what’s more amazing is that she looked exactly the same in 1983 as she did for the remaining 32 years of her life. Also cringing at the past is Noel, as a monochrome clip of him presenting TOTP a mere ten years earlier seems to be the most embarrassing thing ever. Back to the present day now with Heaven 17, finally reaching the top forty after two years of trying whilst having to watch their former Human League colleagues mutate into the biggest band in the country. This wasn’t their TOTP début though: just as the fledgling League had fluked their way onto the show in 1980 with their novelty Gary Glitter cover, Heaven 17 had somehow wangled a slot on the show in September 1981 when Play To Win was languishing at number 52. By the time Temptation finally gave them a proper hit, Glenn Gregory had wisely ditched the pony tail and was now concentrating full time on becoming Max Headroom. Although it feels like Heaven 17 had loads of hits, in fact they only troubled the top forty another four times, but this still beats uncredited co-vocalist Carol Kenyon whose only other hit came as featured vocalist on future TOTP theme composer Paul Hardcastle’s Don’t Waste My Time. Meanwhile Temptation was on its way up to number 2 and would return to the top ten in remixed form nine years later.

NEW EDITION – Candy Girl (#30)

ZooAnother awkward moment now as Steve Wright interviews Chas & Dave (an interview which consists of them asking each other “You alright?” “Yeah, I’m alright, you alright?”) while Tony Blackburn unwisely attempts to ask Gary Glitter a serious question. “What do you think the influence of the 1970s music is on today’s scene?” Glitter, true to form, picks a random female out of the crowd. “Ask her.” No time for that though, as we’re on to a montage of ’70s and ’80s clips, from that Rod Stewart / John Peel clip right up to Duran Duran from just a couple of weeks earlier. Noel Tidybeard then gets to interview someone who was on the first edition of TOTP – no, not Savile but Bill Wyman, whose own track record in asking ladies for proof of age is not unblemished – and Gary Numan who, lest we forget, had two number 1 hits just four years before this. Back to the future now though, as down at number 30 we have New Edition, already being touted as the new Jackson Five, which was kind of true in as much as lead singer Bobby Brown went a bit mental over the next decade or so. The story of New Edition is a cautionary one, the group having signed so many bad business deals it’s a wonder they’ve ever made any money to this day. Back in 1983 though they were fresh faced, squeaky voiced youngsters too young to come to the UK for a mere number 30 hit so… enter Limbs & Co! Er, except, no, we’ve moved on and Limbs & Co have been replaced by a new “repertory” dance troupe called Zoo. Whereas you could be fairly certain of seeing your favourite member of L&C on the show every week, the nebulous nature of Zoo meant that any number of male and/or female dancers (The horror! Did Ruby Flipper die in vain?) could crop up in each routine; some might be seen once and never again. Not that it really mattered, because by this time the prevalence of promo videos meant that a resident dance troupe was no longer necessary, and Zoo’s appearances became less and less frequent until they were finally ditched in September 1983.

BLANCMANGE – Blind Vision (#28)

BlancmangeYet more Radio 1 DJs get in on the act, in the form of the “Rhythm Pals” John Peel and David “Kid” Jensen – Jensen gets to briefly interview Shalamar’s Jeffrey Daniel, while Peel brilliantly interviews Clare Grogan of Altered Images thus: “Well, my dear, are you in a band?” “Yes.” “That’s very very nice indeed. Here’s Jonathan King.” Yes, here’s King introducing a selection of recorded congratulatory messages from such luminaries as Meat Loaf, Lionel Richie and Charlene. Paul Gambaccini and Mike Read swap TOTP trivia for a bit before Read does the chart count-up from 30 to 21, returning to 28 for some Blancmange. Noted at the time for the keyboard riff’s unintentional resemblance to the theme from Jeux Sans Frontières, Blind Vision would go on to become the second of three top ten hits for the duo of Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe. An unnecessary brass section in dinner jackets pretends to play the obvious keyboard parts, while someone else strums the world’s smallest electric guitar with gusto. Having split in 1987 Blancmange reformed in 2011, although illness forced Luscombe to retire from the band shortly afterwards and today Arthur carries on the Blancmange name on his own.

FUN BOY THREE – Our Lips Are Sealed (#16)

Fun Boy ThreeYet more incisive interviews as Read talks to Sandie Shaw and Kim Wilde, the lucky bleeder, leaving Gambo to uncomfortably count up the chart from 20 to 11. Gambaccini wasn’t a regular TOTP host but was occasionally roped in for special occasions such as this; the Fun Boy Three, on the other hand, had been seen frequently on the show, having started out as three members of the Specials back in 1979, splintering off into their own group in 1981, but Our Lips Are Sealed was to be their last hit before splitting. Smiling Terry Hall puts in a stellar display of inertia while Neville Staple and Lynval Golding – plus an all-female backing band – bring a bit more life to the proceedings. Our Lips Are Sealed had originally been The Go-Gos‘ only UK hit of the ’80s the previous year, but the Fun Boy Three’s version wasn’t a cover; Hall wrote the song with Go-Gos guitarist Jane Wiedlin while they were secretly romantically involved a few years previously. The rumour that the song is to be used as the theme for forthcoming children’s TV show Alex The Seal is unfounded, because I just made it up.

SPANDAU BALLET – True (#1)

Spandau BalletTime to crowbar in a final few Radio 1 DJs as Gary Davies, Mike Smith and Pat Sharp engage Bucks Fizz in a particularly shallow interview before Read and Gambo share count-up duties on the top ten. At number 1 for the first and only time, it’s New Romantics turned sensible suit wearers Spandau Ballet with a song written by Gary Kemp about the lady who John Peel earlier established was “in a band”. It’s a fittingly classic ’80s track to be top of the pops on the thousandth Top of the Pops; a few hundred sales either way and it could have been Words by F.R. David at number 1, so think yourselves lucky. Almost inevitably Jimmy Savile returns to close the show, with Gary Glitter leering over his shoulder. “I said, twenty years ago, that we were here to stay, and I was right,” smirks Savile, “so I’m telling you, book your seats now for the year 2002 for the 2000th edition of Top of the Pops and we’ll still be around!” Well, he was right, and as much as I’d love to talk you through Jurgen Vries, Appleton and Atomic Kitten, unfortunately it’s outside of our remit. Instead we play out with a throng of people (some of whom may or may not be members of Zoo, it’s so hard to tell) dancing to Overkill by Men At Work while Spandau Ballet get stuck into a massive birthday cake. Top of the Pops may or may not return at some point in the future, but if Spandau Ballet can reform, anything’s possible.

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