The Round Ball on the Square Box: Part Three - Top of the Pops: Side A - 1964 to 1981

In late 1963, the BBC commissioned its own equivalent of ITV’s ‘Ready Steady Go!’, conceived as a televisual equivalent of BBC Radio’s long running ‘Pick of the Pops’ and Radio Luxembourg’s ‘Teen and Twenty Disc Club’.  It was christened it ‘Top of the Pops’ (often referred to as TOTP for short).  Its first edition aired on New Year’s Day 1964 and was shot in a disused church on Dickenson Road in Manchester.  While it was shot in Manchester, it encountered trouble in attracting the big stars to the North to appear on the show, though Manchester’s biggest name in the mid-1960s managed to make an appearance on the show.


Although a footballer by trade, George Best became the first Footballer to enjoy pop star adulation and even christened the ‘fifth Beatle’ by the Portuguese press after a performance which destroyed Eusebio’s Benfica side in 1966.  One year earlier, Best appeared on TOTP.  Many of the episodes filmed at Dickenson Road studios either went out live and were never captured on film, or were taped over by the BBC due to the high cost of video tape at the time (a procedure often referred to as ‘junking’).  George Best’s appearance within the TOTP audience (01.48), during the Rolling Stones’ performance of ‘The Last Time’ in March 1965 however had survived the junking process and can be seen below.

It would be another five years before the next footballing appearance on the show.  By this time, the filming of the show had transferred to Television Centre in Shepherds Bush London, where it stayed for the remainder of its existence.  In early 1970, Arsenal signed Peter Marinello from Scots side Hibernian.  An Arsenal director had claimed at the time that the club had signed Football’s equivalent of the Beatles.  The press also touted Marinello as the new George Best, so naturally Marinello appeared on Top of the Pops in February 1970 to present the winner of a TOTP dancing competition with their prize, ahead of Tony Blackburn receiving the NME’s TV show of the year award and the Edison Lighthouse played out with their number one hit ‘Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes’.  It survived the junking process and can be seen below.

Two months later Footballers would begin to appear on the show in their own right as performers.  The England 1970 World Cup Squad made a TOTP appearance to perform their official Mexico ’70 track ‘Back Home’.  Also appearing on the show that week were The Hollies, The Moody Blues, Glenn Campbell and the Radha Krishna Temple performing the George Harrison produced ‘Govinda’.  The song rose up to grab the Number One spot in May 1970 – the first Football side to attain that honour (their performance on the show however was wiped).  That year however, the England could only reach as far as the Quarter Finals before losing to West Germany 2-3 in extra time, after taking a two goal lead.


One year on, Arsenal’s 1971 Double Squad became the first club side to appear on the show, five days after completing the elusive League Championship and FA Cup Double by beating Liverpool in the FA Cup Final.  This episode was hosted by Everton fan Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart and also included performances by the Hollies, Cat Stevens, Free, The Byrds, The Elgins performing the Northern Soul classic ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You’, Tony Orlando and Dawn at Number one with ‘Knock Three Times’ and three songs by Labi Siffre on the show’s short lived ‘Album Slot’.


Sadly, this episode was also wiped, so footage of Frank McLintock, Charlie George et al on TOTP exists only in the memories of those who saw it at the time – though a photograph of the players pictured with Pans People has been found on Pinterest.  The following week, the song rose to number sixteen and bagged the Arsenal First Team Squad a top twenty hit. The song however peaked at this chart position, before falling down the charts thereafter.  The following October featured another North Londoner and football fanatic shooting up toward number one in the charts.  Rod Stewart had previously been a traillist for Brentford.


After Rod reached number one with the Faces with ‘Maggie May’, he carried out an impromptu game of Football on stage while DJ John Peel mimed playing the Mandolin.  Rod explained years after that he, John Peel and the Faces had been drinking all day and were playing football in the BBC corridors with glam rockers Slade who were also on the show to perform their new hit ‘Coz I Luv You’ which eventually knocked the Faces off the Number One spot.  Rod said to John Peel: 'do the performance with us and bring the footie!' – and the rest, as they say is history.  

By February 1972, Arsenal’s London rivals Chelsea followed suit by becoming the second club side to appear on TOTP with their League Cup Final song ‘Blue is the Colour’.  This episode was hosted by the now infamous Jimmy Savile and joining the Blues on the show would be the equally infamous Jonathan King, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Badfinger, the New Seekers, the Bee Gees and the Sweet.  Once again however, this episode has been wiped.  Three months on, Leeds United’s 1972 FA Cup Final Squad’s hit ‘Leeds United’ would feature on the show.  Don Revie’s side were famously dour in comparison to their southern counterparts, whom they famously looked down on as 'soft'.

Revie hated Chelsea’s fancy-dan glamour boys so much that he very rarely picked a Chelsea player on becoming England boss in 1974.  Leeds players were also not permitted to wear long hair and for team bonding often chose real ale and bingo over pop music.  The West Yorkshire side therefore never appeared themselves on TOTP.  Their song instead was played over the Chart countdown intro and the show’s outro in successive weeks.  The show’s policy was only to feature mainly songs within the top thirty that were going up in the charts.  There therefore followed a five year gap before any such Football songs met that criteria again.


The next came in 1977 with Liverpool FC’s ‘We Can Do it’ – their cover of a Rubettes’ track.  This appeared five days after Liverpool’s FA Cup Final defeat to Man United and the show’s presenter – the infamous Manchester born Dave Lee Travis (DLT) – ribbed Merseyside band Liverpool Express on the defeat.  One day prior however, Liverpool became only the second English side to win the European Cup.  DLT did mention this in congratulations to the side, while ‘We Can Do It’ played out the show’s outro.  The song had peaked at number fifteen that week and then fell down the charts thereafter.

At the end of that calendar year, Watford Chairman and pop star Elton John would be guest host of the show.  One week later, Elton would also be guest host of LWT’s ‘The Big Match’ in place of Brian Moore as a Christmas novelty.  After a barren few years, TOTP in 1978 would see quite a bit of Football-related activity.  First up in January would be The Sweet’s Wrexham-born guitarist Andy Scott wearing a rosette for his home town side while performing the band’s final hit ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ in support of his home town club who were about to face top tier Newcastle United away at St. James’s Park in the fourth round of the FA Cup. 

The Welsh side pulled off a draw on Tyneside, before thumping Newcastle 4-1 at the Racecourse Ground.  In the fifth round, they may have considered themselves lucky to pull out non-league Blyth Spartans, but needed a replay at St. James’s Park Newcastle again to see the non-leaguers off.  In the Quarter Finals however they met late seventies Cup kings Arsenal who eliminated them with a 2-3 defeat in March.    

1978 would also see the rise to prominence of Sham 69, whose name was taken from a piece of local Football graffiti at Walton-on-Thames train station by from followers of Walton & Hersham FC.  The band’s songs often replicated football terrace chanting, such as their hit ‘If the Kids are United’ (seen below opening an episode of TOTP after the usual countdown intro), where the song’s outro replicates the ‘United! United’ football chant.


The band also got a loyal football-style following called the ‘Sham Army’, but unfortunately also attracted a hooligan element, as well as the far right – whom lead singer Jimmy Pursey publically denounced and also participated in ‘Rock against Racism’ concerts throughout the late 1970s.  Sham had disappeared by the start of the 80s, with Jimmy Pursey allegedly braking up the band to prevent any further association with far right hangers on.  Sham however influenced many ‘Oi’ bands such as the Cockney Rejects, as well as ‘New Wave of New Wave’ groups like Blur or Supergrass in the mid to late 1990s.

Sham 69's association with football would be furthered in 2006, with an unofficial World Cup song called 'Hurry Up England', based on Sham's 1978 track 'Hurry Up Harry' which was recorded and released.  The rights to 'If the Kids Are United' had been sold on by the band and came to be used in a football-related advert for McDonald's.  Jimmy Pursey, as a vegetarian had been vexed but was powerless to prevent this from occuring.  The same song was then played ahead of a Tony Blair's speech at the Labour Party's 2005 conference. Jimmy Pursey however retaliated by performing the song on Newsnight with anti-Iraq war lyrics.

1978 was also a World Cup year and March saw an appearance on TOTP by Andy Cameron with an early World Cup track for the Scots – ‘Ally’s Tartan Army’ three months before the competition kicked off.  That same episode saw Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest and their League Cup Final track ‘We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands’ played out over the outro of the show, after Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights had been crowned that week’s number one by the show’s host, Tony Blackburn.  

The 1978 World Cup – though the English failed to join the Scots in qualifying – still managed to disrupt TOTP that summer.  The first week in June saw the usual Thursday night episode cancelled due to the BBC featuring the opening fixture of the World Cup between West Germany and Poland.  Tony Blackburn announced something of a semi apology during the last episode of May 1978, before the show’s outro played out Rod Stewart’s ‘Ole Ola’ – his World Cup song with the Scots squad.


When the show returned on the 8th June, the show’s intro included the host Noel Edmonds proclaiming the show to be a Football Free Zone, before announcing: ‘Here’s Top of the goals……pops!’ before ‘You’re the One That I Want’ from Grease played over the chart countdown.  The BBC’s World Cup theme tune however – Argentine Melody by Andrew Lloyd-Webber - would be next up a fortnight later, on a show which included live guests as distinguished as Ossie Osbourne’s Black Sabbath, Bob Marley and the Wailers and Thin Lizzy.

That however would be the last football related activity on the show during the 1970s.  By 1980, on West Ham reaching that year's FA Cup Final, East end Oi Punk band the Cockney Rejects released their own punk version of the club’s anthem ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’.  Twelve days after West Ham won the Cup, the Rejects appeared on the show, with their single at number forty five in the charts.  This appearance pushed the single up to number thirty five, but it rose no higher. 

The band collectively performed in West Ham shirts and became the first known sighting of an act performing on the show in football strips.  One week later, Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers became the second instance of this occurring.  The Ulster Punk band played ‘Nobody’s Hero’ and Jake’s wearing of the famous Green shirt was in honour of the fact that Northern Ireland had just won the 1980 Home International Championship a week earlier.  This had been the first time in which the Northern Irish had won the competition outright since the partitioning of Ireland after the First World War.  This the beginnings of a golden period for the Northern Irish National side, which led to back to back World Cup qualifications during the following decade. 

This show would also be noteworthy in the history of TOTP for the fact that it was the last episode before a strike, initiated by the Musician’s Union, which kept the show off air for the next ten weeks.  The reason behind the strike was that BBC cuts imposed by the Thatcher government meant the axing of several BBC orchestras, including the TOTP orchestra.  When the show returned in August, the presentation of the show had been revamped.  Gone was the countdown intro at the start of the show, which was to be incorporated into the show itself.  The orchestra too was axed, as well as live performances by artists meaning that all performances were now lip synching/mimed.


Also, prior to the strike, the show would have a solo presenter.  After the strike, the show’s hosts were now to be joined by a guest presenter.  The first would be Watford Chairman and Pop Star Elton John.  After further guest appearances from Roger Daltrey, Cliff Richard, B.A. Robertson, Leo Sayer, Olivia Newton-John and Russ Abbott, there would also be an appearance from Kevin Keegan who that summer had returned to England with Southampton, after a spell in Germany with SV Hamburg.  Kevin Keegan had a hit single the previous year with ‘Head over Heels’.  However Kev would miss out on a TOTP appearance due to the fact that his single reached number thirty one and fell just short of the coveted top thirty, which guaranteed an appearance.

Kev appeared with the now infamous DLT (whose infamy was enough to prevent a repeat broadcast on BBC4 a couple of years ago).  Keegan was asked by Travis before introducing Kelly Marie’s ‘Feels Like I’m in Love’ whether he likes red heads, to which Kev replies like he ‘likes Alan Ball’, then playing alongside him at Southampton.  The show also includes a three way interview/conversation between Keegan, DLT and Cliff Richard.  The show’s guest host feature however proved to be unpopular with the viewers and would be dropped a month later.


Into 1981, and in the spring of that year Chas n Dave would appear on TOTP with Tottenham Hotspur Squad to perform ‘Ossie’s Dream/Spurs are on their way to Wembley’.  Footage shows members of the TOTP dance troupe Legs and Co were forced to wear the Spurs kit (having over the years been forced to wear Smurf outfits, dress up as a birds for the ‘Birdie Song’, a camel for Jonathan Richman’s ‘Egyptian Reggae’ or impersonate the Village People, this must have surely been the final humiliation for the poor girls!).   

It’s fair to say however that the spring of 1981 however would only really be remembered fondly by Spurs fans or Chas n Dave, as the wider world would pretty much show at the time.  In Chas n Dave and Spurs’s first performance of this song, that same episode included the guitarist Damon O’Neil of Northern Irish band The Undertones performing their hit ‘It’s Gonna Happen’ wearing a black armband to mark the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands a day earlier.  The performance was broadcasted live and so meant that the BBC could not edit out the performance.


Allegedly, the BBC would claim that the live recording master tape of this episode was captured in an un-broadcastable condition, which prevented its repeat broadcast on BBC Four last year, though during the 1980s it was noticeable that the broadcasting of anything construed as pro-Irish republican had been heavily clamped down on (an example being the Pogues performing a song protesting the innocence of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six on Channel Four’s ‘Friday Night Live’ which rather abruptly cut to a commercial break).  One therefore wonders if the master tape of this episode had been impaired deliberately to prevent further broadcast.


Such would be the turbulence in Ulster at that time, Northern Ireland’s defence of the Championship would be disrupted by the fact that sides refused to travel to the Province to play at Windsor Park – this led to what would come to be known as the ‘unfinished’ Home International Championship.  This led to the beginning of the end of the Championship with England and Scotland withdrawing from it just a few years later.

The FA Cup Final of 1981 went to a replay for only the second time in seventy years.  This would be the first ever FA Cup Final replay to be carried out at Wembley and the first to occur on a Thursday evening (the reasons for why Wembley replays took place on the traditionally non-Footballing night of Thursday has never been fully explained, but quite possibly may be down to regulations laid down by local authorities regarding short notice big events to be held at the Stadium).  For the first time ever, this meant disruption to TOTP as a result, being as it was aired at the time in the 7.20PM time slot, clashing with the big game.  As a result, a shortened Cup Final Special TOTP would be aired ahead of the big game.

The show hosted by Tommy Vance would be whittled down to twenty minutes and contained just six appearances from Thin Lizzy, Sheena Easton, one-hit wonder post-Punk acts Department S performing ‘Is Vice There?’ and Ten Pole Tudor performing ‘Swords of a Thousand Men’, and videos for Kim Cairns’s ‘Betty Davis Eyes’ and that week’s number one – Adam and the Ants – with ‘Stand and Deliver’.

Spurs went on to win that year’s FA Cup Final with an eventful 3-2 victory over Man City, settled by a superb Ricardo Villa goal.  Over the summer of 1981, the show’s presentation would evolve further.  The show’s long running theme tune of CCS’s cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love' would be ditched (although it had in fact been missing from the show’s opening titles since 1977).  As will be seen in the concluding part of this piece, the era of the show’s post-‘Whole Lotta Love’ presentation would still bring even further football related appearances on the BBC’s iconic weekly music show.  

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The Box Set for 'Round Ball on the Square' Box can be found here 

*Published July 24th 2017