Out with the neon, in with live performances. TOTP goes international. A wave of number of TOTP visual overhauls, and the return of an iconic themetune.
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Top of the Pops began the new decade with less optimism than had previously been attached to the programme. Viewing figures were falling, the theme music and set were beginning to appear dated, people were not as interested in chart music as they had once been, and the crucial fact that the most popular form of music of the time, dance, was not very well suited to the TOTP format.
The presenting team was similarly flawed. Why were children’s TV presenters in there amongst Radio 1 DJs? What could Andy Crane possible have to add to TOTP that other Radio 1 DJs couldn’t? This lead to the now infamous 3rd October 1991 "year zero" relaunch. “The Wizzard” was replaced by Tony Gibber’s “Now Get Out Of That”, a dance track that quickly became outdated for the show. The new title sequence featured people dancing in a kind of smoky warehouse setting, perhaps trying too much to associate itself with the rave scene popular at the time. The logo itself has become known as the "weathervane logo" because of its metallic form, but is perhaps best remembered for being virtually illegible.
The format of the show itself also changed. Out went the established presenting team and in came virtual unknowns: STEVE ANDERSON, TONY DORTIE, MARK FRANKLIN, ADRIAN ROSE, CLAUDIA SIMON, ELAINE SMYTH and FEMI OKE, although by the end of 1992, only Dortie and Franklin remained within the TOTP presenting team. The programme now included sections such as a look at the U.S. chart. The studio set was completely remade for the first time in about ten years, still featuring the famous balconies in areas but with a much more minimalist feel to it. Coloured squares, triangles and circles hung from the ceiling and a kind of white structure supported audience members around one of the main stages.
None of these new features were successful, and the programme’s ratings continued to slide. Credibility was not helped by the fact that the show was being produced by Stanley Appel, a veteran producer at the BBC and former director of TOTP, who actually retired after leaving TOTP. Not a good way to have a show that was supposed to be presented to the nation’s youth produced.
In early 1994 RIC BLAXILL became executive producer of Top of the Pops. The now very-dated title sequence was reduced to a brief sting, and preceded by a spoken intro by one of the acts on that week’s show, usually along the lines of "Hi, we’re Take That, catch us later on Top of the Pops". The Year Zero hosts were finally given their P45s and a barrage of guest presenters, some good, some bad began their assault on the programme. All these changes paved the way for another Year Zero in the programme’s history on 2nd February 1995.
The relaunch of the programme complemented the changes Blaxill had made since taking the helm the previous 12 months. He quickly dropped the rule that acts should have to sing live and gave the programme a more indie feel to it, coinciding with the new approach being made by Radio 1 at the time. The new theme tune was composed by Vince Clarke and had a more gritty feel to it, and it was accompanied by a dark title sequence featuring blue squares as the background and various naked figures holding microphones, headphones and eventually the TOTP logo.
The new graphics featured a kind of radio wave motif, which emitted from the TOTP logo and surrounded the chart positions on the caption bars. The logo itself featured a version that simply said "TOTP" and had been used on the programme’s sister show, TOTP2, since the previous September. The new studio was adorned with this shortened version, and the various stages were all very metallic and dark. Because of the way the programme was filmed the studio appeared enormous, when in fact it was a relatively small studio at Elstree, the programme’s home since 1991. For a time the programme was critically successful with its new approach, and a new BBC magazine of the same title accompanied the relaunch. Unfortunately it did not have the same success as the format of the TV show, and after the long running Fast Forward was axed the magazine changed into a chart pop affair.
In summer 1996, the programme was moved from its home of 11 years (Thursdays at 7pm) to Fridays at 7:30pm. This was initially claimed to be to make way for summer sport, but it quickly became clear that it was a decision that was being eased in gently. When the new time was officially launched it was accompanied by a Saturday night repeat and a new Sunday afternoon Radio 1 show hosted by JAYNE MIDDLEMISS and RAJESH MIRCHANDANI, going behind the scenes of the previous week’s programme. This was changed at some point in 2000 to a simple chart interview programme presented by Scott Mills, and the final edition was broadcast on December 31st 2000.
By 1997, however, the programme was once again beginning to fray at the edges. After Ric Blaxill began to run out of ideas he departed, and a year of changes begun. The title sequence changed to sky scrapers with the shortened "TOTP" logo on top of it for a while, but after a while they got bored of this and it was relegated to the end credit screen instead. In the summer of 1997, new producer CHRIS COWEY arrived and a new presenting team was introduced, ending the run of guest presenters. ZOË BALL, JO WHILEY and JAYNE MIDDLEMISS took turns at presenting, and gave the show it’s first ever all female team. The 40-11 chart rundown was axed as the show began to focus more on live performances than showing videos. From now on videos would only be shown when it was absolutely necessary, and accordingly the clips in the rundown at the end of the programme were now from TOTP performances where available. The only chart rundown in the programme was the final sequence, now the Top 20 and voiced by MARK GOODIER (or his Radio 1 stand in). Song and artist captions began to appear occasionally at the end of performances instead of the start, and finally the theme music was abolished. The opening titles would have the intro of the first song played out over it and the chart rundown would have a current song played over it.
The overall presenter input was reduced. There was no opening link between the titles and first act, before the Top 20 or after the number one itself. This gave the programme a more streamlined approach but without any theme music at all it had virtually no identity. The studio set had been modified by seemingly painting it all white, a contrast to the shiny, moody atmosphere generated by the 1995 set. There were less links directly from one song to another, meaning the programme felt more disjointed, and other stages were more openly seen during other performances meaning the studio felt much smaller.
On 1st May 1998 the fruits of these changes were achieved when the show was given a new colourful logo and title sequence featuring scrolling coloured stripes. The theme tune was a remix of the classic "Whole Lotta Love", this time given a drum and bass feel by Bad Man Bad. The idea of this change was to make sure that this theme wouldn’t outdate within a couple of years like the previous few. The studio remained the same, but the captions now appeared regularly at the start and end of each performance. To tie in with the relaunch, a compilation CD of chart hits was released. A couple had been released to tie in with the 1995 relaunch but this release was more successful, and the series continues to this day.
Later in 1998 a new "backstage" area was introduced where the presenters (now JAMIE THEAKSTON, GAIL PORTER and Jayne Middlemiss) would chat to stars and link into the next group. This format continued virtually unchanged for the next three years, but with many presenter changes. Theakston remained, but others who came and went included SCOTT MILLS, and KATE THORNTON. Things were looking on the up for Top of the Pops, with the format being sold to other countries across the world. However, the end was nearing as the 90s closed, and Top of the Pops entered the millennium …