The 1960s Episode Guide

The swinging 60s, the decade of flower power, the Beatles, and the decade Top of the Pops first winging it's way onto our screens.

Episode Guide

The 70s

Jimmy Savile

Alan Freeman

Pete Murray

In the mid-1960s, television was rapidly gaining popularity as a mainstream form of entertainment in the United Kingdom. At that time, there were only two major television channels in the country: BBC TV and ITV. ITV had already established its own music program, known as 'Ready Steady Go,' where prominent artists of the day showcased their latest hits.

In 1964, executives at the BBC were seeking ways to compete with their television rival, ITV. They conceived the idea of creating a music chart show, which they eventually named 'Top of the Pops'. This concept was commissioned for a trial run lasting six weeks, following a successful pilot program beforehand called 'The Teen & Twenty Record Club'.

Johnny Stewart, the show's inaugural producer (serving in this role from 1964 to 1973), instituted a policy of featuring only songs that were ascending the music charts. This strategic decision was made to prevent record labels from attempting to boost flagging chart positions by getting their artists on the show.

The original 'Top of the Pops' studio was situated on Dickinson Road in Manchester, housed within a converted church. The show's format was relatively straightforward, consisting of performances by artists with climbing chart singles, interspersed with on-screen commentary by various BBC radio personalities of the time. Jimmy Savile hosted the inaugural episode on January 1, 1964, alongside Pete Murray, David Jacobs, and Alan Freeman. This trio remained the show's regular presenters throughout the 1960s. As the decade progressed and Radio 1 was launched in 1967, additional personalities were incorporated into the regular lineup, including Tony Blackburn, Stuart Henry, Emperor Rosko, Simon Dee, John Peel, and Kenny Everett. In its early days, 'Top of the Pops' often embraced a spontaneous and unscripted approach, with presenters frequently improvising their on-air banter when introducing artists on the programme. Despite this somewhat chaotic arrangement, 'Top of the Pops' quickly became a sensation, prompting the BBC to extend its run for several more years.

However, a significant development occurred when the Musicians Union expressed concerns that the practice of artists miming their performances on television was negatively affecting the job opportunities of their members. In order to maintain a positive relationship with the Musicians Union and safeguard their broader portfolio of television and radio entertainment programs, the BBC introduced the 'Top of the Pops orchestra.' During the 1960s and 1970s, this orchestra skillfully recreated the sound of nearly any song in the Top 30 chart. While solo artists like Lulu and Tom Jones would sing along with the orchestra, full bands performed live.

Due to spatial constraints, it became evident that there wasn't sufficient room to accommodate a full orchestra within the Manchester studio. Consequently, 'Top of the Pops' relocated to Television Centre's TC2 studio on January 20, 1966, thereby exposing a new audience to the show's production. With this transition to Television Centre, Johnny Stewart introduced competitions for the best studio dancers, offering prizes such as the latest vinyl releases. As the 1960s drew to a close, 'Top of the Pops' broadcast its inaugural color episode on November 24, 1969.

Johnny Stewart, made the prudent decision to record and archive every 'Top of the Pops' episode produced after June 1967. This practice ran counter to the prevailing custom of erasing aired shows, a practice that was common not only for 'Top of the Pops' but also for most BBC programs at the time. The prevailing belief was that once a show had been broadcast, it held no further commercial value. Additionally, given that 'Top of the Pops' was based on the contemporary singles chart, it was considered unsuitable for international syndication. Consequently, many episodes predating 1973 were lost forever. The oldest surviving complete episode of 'Top of the Pops' within the BBC archive dates back to Boxing Day in 1967.

During Johnny Stewart's tenure as producer, it was abundantly clear that he had steered 'Top of the Pops' to remarkable success, culminating in the show's 300th episode milestone in October 1969. Nevertheless, as the swinging sixties came to a close, times were changing, signalling a shift in both the music industry and the trajectory of 'Top of the Pops' as the 1970s beckoned.