Tag Archives: Peter Checksfield

Book review: ‘Top Of The Pops: The Lost Years Rediscovered 1964-1975’ by Peter Checksfield

A prolific author and archivist of music history and pop culture, the latest book from Peter Checksfield is a mammoth 650-page tome devoted to the Top of The Pop’s glory days – from its inception in 1964 through until 1975.

As a writer I’d already made use of Checksfield’s own meticulously-researched publication ‘Look Wot They Dun’ which chronicled the TV appearances of all the key figures from the UK’s glam rock scene in the early to mid- 1970s and it’s referenced in my own book ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’. Likewise, I’m pretty sure I’ll be making similar use of this latest volume.

It includes a complete episode guide stretching from the first ever show on New Year’s Day 1964 through to the Christmas Top Of The Pops edition that went out on 25th December 1975. Each entry includes a chronological run-down of the acts performing on that show, potted bios and relevant chart positions. This is no mean feat given that many of the episodes from this period no longer survive. Only five complete shows from the 1960s still exist and only two complete shows from 1972 at the height of the glam period survive – although many more clips (the handiwork of early home-taping, sneaky BBC technicians or overseas TV stations) mean the archive isn’t quite as empty as the official figures initially suggest.

While the book is a crucial reference work, what really brings it to life is a succession of anecdotes that Checksfield has garnered from various artists who appeared on the show. Ralph Ellis of the Swinging Blue Jeans recalls a scuffle with Keith Richards in the BBC canteen, surviving members of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band recall their time on the show miming to ‘Urban Spaceman’ and Ray Dorset (Mungo Jerry) recalls arriving late for rehearsals when ‘In The Summertime’ hit the charts as he was still working at the Timex factory and had to ask his boss for time off.

There’s also plenty of little nuggets I learned for the first time. Who knew that for a few months in 1971 Top Of The Pops ran an ‘Album Spot’ where artists would perform three songs from a current album, for example? My own personal recollection from when I really remember looking up and avidly watching an episode of Top Of The Pops (rather than it just being on in the background as I coloured with crayons or whatever) was when that week’s presenter announced a brand-new single from Mud called ‘Tiger Feet’. What 7yo doesn’t love tigers?! On checking the episode guide I find that the episode in question went out on 3rd January 1974.

Thoroughly researched and with some fascinating personal insights together with a comprehensive index of each artist’s appearances on the show ‘Top Of The Pops: The Lost Years Rediscovered 1964-1975’ will appeal to any fan of the show and anyone with an interest in pop culture over that period.

Published: 2021

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‘Look Wot They Dun! – The ultimate guide to UK glam rock on TV in the 70s’ by Peter Checksfield

Book review: ‘Look Wot They Dun! – The ultimate guide to UK glam rock on TV in the 70s’ by Peter Checksfield

Rather than another biography giving an overview of the various glam acts of the 1970s ‘Look Wot They Dun’ is basically an encyclopedic directory that methodically lists all the TV appearances of numerous bands associated with the glam era throughout the 70s. Fifty different acts are covered in all, with the appearances for each in turn listed chronologically.

As much as I am fascinated by this era and as much as I will always love bands like Sweet and Slade and T. Rex, I must admit when I first picked up this book I wasn’t sure whether there would be enough in it to sustain my interest across a whopping 286 pages. However, I soon began to get engrossed, reading some of the fascinating little snippets and insights that accompany many of the entries. In one of his earliest TV appearances, Elton John, for example, is wearing “a horrible outfit of faded blue jeans, a long-sleeved orange T-shirt and a sleeveless striped cardigan” prior to the emergence of the flamboyantly-dressed larger-than-life character of later appearances. The Sweet’s Andy Scott had a run of appearances on Opportunity Knocks in late 1966 in an outfit called The Silverstone Set, we learn, several years before finding fame with the glam rockers. And Mud’s first TV appearance, back in 1968, is on the Basil Brush Show while David Essex’s first appears some two years earlier on the Five O’clock Club.

Indeed, although the book is presented in catalogue format and lacks an explicit overarching narrative there are, nevertheless, obvious patterns that begin to emerge across a significant number of bands. First we see tentative appearances on scratchy black and white shows during the 60s beat boom (Marc Bolan and David Bowie/Jones on Ready Steady Go, the aforementioned Andy Scott on Opportunity Knocks etc.) Then we fast-forward a few years and see those same people bedecked in glitter and glam hamming it up on Top Of The Pops in the period 1971-1973. Then by around 1974 we mostly see the glam bands to start putting away the bacofoil and the glitter and opting for a more conventional rock star jeans-and-leather jacket or cool-white-suit look. Then, finally, in many of the cases we see the number of entries for TV appearances steadily declining as the second half of the seventies draws to a close.

Though I would have welcomed a bit more by way of narrative thread, the book nevertheless provides a fascinating insight into how one of the most visual musical genres of the twentieth century projected itself on to our TV screens. And as an invaluable reference tool I’m sure ‘Look Wot They Dun’ will be something I’ll be going back to again and again.

Published: February 2019

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