"You can't even tell if it's a bloke or a woman!"

LONG before it became the corporate wheel-'em-on, wheel-'em-off trade show it is now, The 'Pops was a crucial Thursday night festival of scaffolding, sex, and bizarre goings on. The feeling, especially when it was live, was that anything could happen. And, by accident, design, or a bit of both, it often did. Here's a slice of 'Pops life that will always be remembered by someone, somewhere...

MORE POPS IMAGES IN THE SET DESIGN HISTORY

"He's drunk!" (or worse)

Rick Parfitt from Status Quo staggered backwards into the drummer, falling off the stage and taking most of the kit with him. Chemically induced, for sure. The rest of the band just carried on regardless. Again mid '80s - Marguerita Time could (appropriately) well have been the track.

Julian Cope preferred a couple of Green Shields before attempting to mime "Passionate Friend" live atop a piano - after nearly being knocked out by a swooping camera crane. He later revealed the ordeal as a constant battle to avoid sinking into the piano lid, while desperately struggling to mime the words (he failed pretty abysmally).

 

Subverting the medium

Jockey Wilson made an infamous appearance in the background for Dexy's rendition of Jackie Wilson Says. A researcher/technician was evidently on a wind-up, here. Kevin Rowland didn't seem to mind, though...

The KLF were "masters of media subversion", or so they like to tell everyone, but when it came to the 'Pops, they held back a bit. A late '80s incarnation as The Timelords (with the self-consciously awful Doctorin' The Tardis) was originally to be "performed" by "Ford Timelord", the US police car that featured in the video, just sitting in the studio. The producers wouldn't have it. So, instead, a crappy home-made Dalek and Gary Glitter
were drafted in. Subsequent guest spots tended to involve Bill and Jimmy clad in monks' habits with large rhino horns stuck to their head. For, of course, no adequately explained reason.

And Mark E Smith doing his usual pose of reading the lyrics off his Inspiral Carpets-backed "I Want You Back" off a crumpled sheet of A4 (we imagine the producer nixed the accompanying pint of bitter and Capstan full-strength at the last minute). Shaun Ryder also tried the same trick, but that was probably because he genuinely had forgotten the words to his own song.

 

"Psst... you're on!"

All About Eve infamously failed to take their cue to mime Martha's Harbour live in 1988. The music played out for broadcast, the cameras went through the choreographed moves, but someone forgot to turn on the studio monitors. The result - the poor saps just sat there, shrugging bemusedly at the audience, for the first two minutes of the song. Career killer? Well, it didn't help much, put it that way.

 

Get Dancing

Who can forget that new romantic wannabe audience member falling off a dance podium while in close up...

The resident 'Pops dancers (Pan's People, Ruby Flipper and Legs and Co., respectively) went to inordinate lengths to try and jazz up the presentation of hits where the band wasn't available in pre-video days -

- Literally robbing banks (while dancing and smiling winningly, as always, of course) for The Clash's Bankrobber (and subversively undermining their punky 'Pops boycott in the process)...

- dressed as flowers and a bee during Piero Umiliani's "classic" Mah Na Mah Na...

- (below) dancing with an assortment of dogs during Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Get Down', and literalising Macarthur Park with an actual cake-let-out-in-the-rain...

- Typically Tropical's Barbados - the People clad in bikinis, in front of a pile of sand, a lame palm tree and a blue curtain, into which they CSO'd a picture of a Jumbo Jet as Babs and friends pranced around with beach balls. Ace.

- Ruby Flipper "improvising" a bizarre primary-school-PE-style forward roll routine in front of some tellys for Bowie's undanceable TVC 15...

The two dancing 'hunks' accompanying Boystown Gang doing Can't Take My Eyes Off You...

Jeffery Daniels with the first 'live' bodypopping display during a Shalamar song...

Oh, and don't forget early 80s in-no-way-a-rip-off-of-Hot-Gossip troupe Zoo - from the party hats, balloons and happy meal flags era. They had blokes in there as well, most memorably fan-dancing in vests to highly inappropriate tunes like Automatic and Let It All Blow. Always remember a fairly theatrical performance by them to the Hill Street Blues - detective macs etc. Good old "Flick" Colby.

During a performance by the Tams of their hit,"Hey, girl! Don't bother me." the band consisted of a fatherly lead singer out front with four backing singers clustered around a mike up back. During the song, the guys had to do some sort of dance,swinging their arms, clapping and whatever else passed for funky in those days.One member of the troupe, however, looked rather unwell,and was unable to keep up with the simple lyrics and dance moves. During the chorus,the camera did a close up shot of each of the backing singers, crooning "hey,girl, don't bother me" in turn...this went very nicely indeed, and they started to go "OOOOHHHH!" to back up father funk in his earnest entreaty to the girl, and...PING! As if by magic the rather unwell one had completely vanished! Nowhere to be seen! But, the chorus was coming up again and there were the four individual shots to be lined up... So the obviously overworked cameraman took his position...took three close ups of the remaining members, and a strange close up of backing singer number three's left ear in lieu of our missing friend...

"I shouldn't really be here..."

All manner of ageing sitcom stars found themselves thrust in front of the pop tarts of a Thursday, but no-one had thought to brief them on how to act. Clive Dunn had the foresight to surround himself with simpering cross-legged girls for the doorbell-inspired Grandad, but Windsor Davies and Don Estelle couldn't have looked more ill-at-ease doing Whispering Grass in fron tof some spider plants.

St. Winifred's School Choir had a good run in, with the effable Grandma (gap-toothed "cutie" doing the solo) and backing Brian and Michael on Matchstalk Men - ("addy-addy-o", went the posh little treasures in what were world record-holdingly bad northern accents until the advent of that woman off Frasier). And indeed Brian's achievement of being a crap Gilbert O'Sullivan.

More displaced TV noteables include Dennis Waterman and George Cole running through a tepid What Are We Gonna Get For 'Er Indoors? at Christmas, Des O'Connor clearly expecting to be attacked any moment (and rightly so, quite frankly) during a rendition of The Skye Boat Song with Roger Whittaker, and a truly grotesque turnout for Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker's cover of You're The One That I Want. Stay indoors...

Terry Wogan was lost in that studio as his avuncular but decidedly flat tonsils wrapped themselves around The Floral Dance...

... but of course, the oldest of them all, Sir Cliff, always took the studio by storm with his time-honoured trick of pausing before the final chorus and shouting "Everybody!" Something Norman Cook might like to try.

 

Playing it up...

Fish from "Aylesbury's own" Marillion getting around a sore throat problem when performing Lavender live in 1985. He had a huge idiot board with the lyric on it and got the audience to sing the song for him while he just pointed at the words...

Mick Jagger taking over the studio to do a weird conga with a bunch of stage school kids for his 1987 anti-dolite non-hit "Let's Work"...

Farley Jackmaster Funk performing Love Can't Turn Around lying on his back in '86...

The short-lived early '80s music hall-style singalonga scrolling lyrics screen lived out its tiny Pops life like an overhead projector in the wind. Check the Antmusic words unsteadily moving up behind a completely uninterested (as usual) standard-issue '81 t-shirts-'n'-balloons studio audience. Moments after this shot, the entire thing broke down, natch...

One-off German Casiotonesters Trio enlisting an assembly line of small kids with "local weather report"-style drawings to sit around in the background while they ponced about to their atonal plinking "Da Da Da"...

Barry Manilow's classic Bermuda Triangle ("try and see it from my angle"), stood in an inflatable Argos paddling pool. Must've been a strike on, or something.

Boney M and their various dodgy costumes to illustrate their hits - bizarro eskimo furs for Mary's Boy Child, the silly man (Bobby Whassname) as a loopy twirling cossack for Rasputin, etc...

Oh, and The Goombay Dance Band (Danny Baker: "If you couldn't get Boney M, you could always give The Goombay Dance Band a ring") having the foresight to provide the entire crowd with scarves with the name of their record (Seven Tears) on them. Marketing? Eat shit, Malcolm McLaren. They also had a fire eater with them. That little touch of class, see? Magic.

Godlike genius poet Ian Dury and the Blockheads got into navvy fatigues for the first Pops outing of the epoch-making number one Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, complete with hardhats and boots. No panties, though (we assume...)

Jasper Carrott performing top Brummie novelty hit Funky Moped in THAT white suit...

The amazing animated police car (well, we say 'animated' - more a juddering cut-out done by a five year old) going across the screen during The Sweet's 'Blockbuster'...

Coati Mundi, Kid Creole's diminutive percussion-playing sidekick, mugging it up like in an oversized beret like a black Barry Chuckle...

Who could forget Howard Jones' "Mental Chains" dancer? Jones' answer to the Stalinist removal of the in-house dance troupe (possibly), he reached his zenith having a one-way silent 'conversation' with Cheggers in the Bargain Basement on the first ever Saturday Superstore...

David Essex enlisting the help of whichever passing celebrities could be found in the studio to sing the "I Don't Think So" bit in his number-one smash Gonna Make You A Star.

Les Gray of Mud got into various amusing stunts (yes, the early '70s was the prime era for Pops japes): The most famous was the belt-loop-thumb/dwarf-milking-a-cow dappy dance to Tiger Feet (featuring fluffy pretend tiger feet on the band members! The cards!). Sub-Elvis yuletide maudlin ballad Lonely This Christmas was once presented as a bizarre duet between Les and an Archie Andrews-style ventriloquist's dummy, and The Secrets That You Keep featured an odd staged fight between Les and a bloke dressed up as a Mrs. Mopp-type studio cleaner, interrupting the band in full flow.

The first-ever sighting of Kate Bush doing the widey-eyed Wuthering Heights, sitting cross-legged in some dry ice wilderness, waving arms about like a woman posessed.

Jilted John and his ultra-fey anti-punk band (complete with one-fingered guitarist) ripping off Pulp five years before they existed. Yeah yeah, it's not fair...

Rod Stewart and co. enlisting a self-effacing John Peel (in brown suede jacket, no less!) perched on a stool playing, well, miming at least, the mandolin for Maggie May, while the rest of them kicked footballs at each other...

Morrissey was responsible for many of the Pops' finest moments: The Smiths doing 'William It Was Really Nothing' and illustrating the line "would you like to marry me?" by having Morrissey rip his shirt open revealing the words, written in eyeliner, so legend has it. (cf. Mozzer "machine-gunning" the audience, Billy Liar style, during "How Soon Is Now", Mozzer glaring with utter hatred at member of audience that whooped during "Sheila Take A Bow", Mozzer just being Mozzer (early incarnation) during "What Difference Does It Make?" (open shirt, flowers, hearing aid, beads, flailing - audience flag waving and wearing head-bands/braces), Mozzer having the word "BAD" stencilled on his neck during "The Boy With The Thorn..." (having just returned from a disastrous US tour). And on "Whistle Test (when it was still Old and Grey), The Smiths en masse in school uniforms for "Bigmouth Strikes Again". Them was rotten days...

Nirvana's Kurdt/Curt/Kirt Kobain/Cobain/Cobain on the then LIVE! TOTP dropping an octave and solemnly singing "Load up on drugs, kill your friends", whilst performing Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Oh, and the Eels hi-hi-ha-ha-hi-lariously turned up with a load of children's instruments, and proceeded to trash them towards the end of "Novocaine for the soul".

...or down, as the case may be

Johnathan King appeared, singing dire ditty Everyone's Gone To The Moon, perched on an op-art stool... all on his own. Aaaah. The 'King never returned to the Pops studio. Well, not under his own name, at least.

Carrying on from Ron "Sparks" Mael, the '80s plucked out a ripe crop of do-nothing motionless keyboard artists. New Order played live at every opportunity rather than mime, but apart from "Hooky", their visual performance differed little from a test card. Most infamous human statue was Chris Lowe, whose baseball cap never moved, stuck behind that TV and a keyboard that somebody lent him, until Raw Sex took the piss. After that, he stood still in a range of different hats. And, as "housey housey music" leapt into suburban living rooms, there were any number of monolithically static artists stood behind decks, most notoriously Simon "Bass! How Low Can You Go?" Harris, looking like he was waiting on death row. What a bummer.

The Wedding Present dressed in weird radiation-type suits and stood practically stock-still for the jangly, Dandy comic strip-referencing Brassneck...

Bringing the "doing sod all" ticket (almost) bang up to date are ambient jugglers The Orb, who thrilled teeny audiences not once but twice, by sitting about playing Star Trecky 3D chess to The Blue Room, and sitting in fairground waltzers doing nowt to Toxygene.

 

"Hiya! Welcome to Planet Pop!"

The presenters were always splendidly awful. Gary Davies (right, in cool jacket, with Mike Read in shades) always had that habit of saying "what a beautiful record" after every mind-numbing Phil Collins duet, save for when linking into LL Cool J's I Need Love: "This is the first rap ballad," he proclaimed, with slightly more enthusiasm than might be deemed sane.

And of course, the monthly "live" edition - Kid Jensen or Janice Long would always announce at the end, "well I've got to rush off now to do my show on Radio One." Don't slip off the gantry steps and break your neck on our account, Kid...

Peter Powell barking up Lionel Richie's video for Hello, by eulogising about the fact it had *dialogue* in it (ie. the words "Hi, Laura!"). This was when any technically half-impressive video (Take On Me, Sledgehammer etc) would be hailed as being on a par with Citizen Kane.

Don't forget the storm (well, three people ringing into Open Air) when Gloria Hunniford's daughter, staying up late from Blue Peter, introduced rubbish acid house cash-in "We Call It Acieed" by D-Mob (themselves guilty of poor-quality attention grabbing with rubbish sub-Residents eyeball masks). "BP" presenters and drugs, eh?

 

The more "senior" of Radio One's jock rota found it heavy going to fit in during the '80s. The sight of DLT or Simon Bates, respectively clad in stupid bit of "wacky" wardrobe - v. often a deerstalker and bloody pipe; and smart-casual (left), was enough to turn the hardiest stomach. Only Jimmy Saville blended in, with a series of beyond belief mutton/lamb clobber...

The 500th edition, with special appearances from The Osmonds AND David Cassidy, flown in specially and performing his hit on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport. And also the 1000th edition in 1983, with Jimmy Saville arriving on the APT train (good choice!) and HOWARD JONES singing I'd Like to Get to Know You Well, while, erm, shaking everyone's hand. Great.

John Peel always managed a modicum of weird dignity, somehow. Whether failing to do the top 40 rundown properly with Janice Long ("At number 18, it's Jennifer Rush, scoring more often than Ian Rush..."), or those Brechtian vignettes with his genetic polar opposite, Kid Jensen (eg. Jensen, standing on orange crate: "Hey there, shorty!" Peel: "All right, big guy!")

Peel was a godsend for the airhead '80s 'Pops incarnation. After Haysi Fantayzee had finished "John Wayne is Big Leggy" John Peel made the immortal observation "they're so good doesn't it make you want to spit". And, After refering to Tracy Ullman as "multi-talented" during a chart rundown (it was around the time "Three of a kind" was on), John Peel then proceeded to refer to everyone in the charts as "multi-talented", ending with the "multi-talented F.R. David", the Euro popster of "Words" fame who went on to achieve immortality by being the first person to receive 0/10 in a Smash Hits album review.

Ooh, yes! Noel and Tone livened up this Christmas Special by, erm, wearing crappy, half-arsed Robin Hood get-up (the green shirt is probably a coincidental Edmonds original). See also the brief popularity of deelyboppers in about '82, and DLT's shameful marshmallows-on-sticks "I am an alien" headgear for "Calling Occupants..."

That weird era when TOTP would be presented by one R1 DJ and one CBBC presenter all about? Simon Parkin, Andy Crane, Andi Peters - they were all on there.

Not to mention that 1991 "year zero" revamp - Tony Dortie ("Laters!"), Mark Franklin, Femi "Central listings programme" Oke, Adrian Rose, Claudia Simon et al - where now, eh?

 

Weirdos

IN THE pantheon of all time nutters who made their scary mark in many a child's mind via the 'Pops, you can't get better than Sparks' RON MAEL. While his singing bruv Russell skipped about like Mick Jagger via Mick Robertson (usually in bare feet, an' all), silent keyboard type Ron sat stock-still behind his organ, in a smart three-piece suit and patented "dodgy symbolism" straight-edge Brilliantined haircut and small, clipped tache. Had the unnerving habit of
catching the camera out of the corner of his eye, and staring at it, unblinking, until it cut back again. One-fingered keyboard technique, with rest of upper body absolutely rigid, filtered down to New Order, The Pet Shop Boys' CHRIS LOWE, and many others.

Another top in-studio scary was Jethro Tull's IAN ANDERSON. Aiming (presumably) at some sort of rustic pagan eccentric, the lanky flute wielder instead conjured up an image of a cider 'n' mushroom-addled village idiot, leaping about, doffing his silly hat and weilding his flute like some Wiltshire equivalent of nunchuckas. He also wasn't averse to the Ron Mael staring-out-the-cameraman gambit, only this time accompanied with a maniacal rictus grin. Which didn't make matters much better, to be honest.

And of course, trannies are always "weird" to the majority of the 'Pops audience's dads. A quick role call reveals -

The glam original (Bowie) always freaked out the village elders, from that ginger cockerel's comb in '72 to the fried Ashes To Ashes video in 1980 (after that, he did Let's Dance and became most played artist on pub jukeboxes the land over)...

The obvious-bloke trannies of the glam second wave - Mud's flares mutating into frocks, and of cours Steve Priest in full lippy and German helmet...

Brian Eno at those wibbly Moogs for Virginia Plain...

Spandau Ballet had the kilts and bedsheets, of course. Not strictly trannies, but they looked like fools.

Boy George (of course) enraging suburban fathers up and down the land with that big arse of his. And, to a (much) lesser extent, Steve Strange and Marilyn. Ah, Marilyn...

Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive doing the goth-tranny look for You Spin Me Round, including a pair of (literally) eye-watering mirrored contact lenses....

Gurning stupidly behind Peter Powell were - PPI, Chris Hughes, Steve Berry, Rob Adey, Matthew Bullen, Ben H, Jason Witcher, David Hookham, Duncan Sutcliffe, Matthew George, Robin Miller, Alun Thomas.