I am getting myself up to date with the current pop scene by watching the Thursday and Friday evening re-runs of Top of the Pops 1983 on BBC Four. Spandau Ballet, The Police, Culture Club, and others, shine like gemstones out of the mud. Clearly, I still have a long way still to go. I need to start with everything I missed during the nineteen-eighties while immersed in university postgraduate work to the exclusion of just about everything else.
But I have begun to realise they are not showing all the programs. They are missing some out. Now and again they jump a week, and sometimes you notice a ham-fisted cut near the end just before the presenters announce who will be on the following program.
- On Thursday, 16th March, 2017, they showed the edition from Thursday, 19th May, 1983.
- On Friday, 17th March, it was from Thursday, 26th May, 1983.
- Then on Thursday, 23rd March, they showed the edition from Wednesday, 8th June (it was broadcast on Wednesday that week).
- And today, Friday, 24th March, it is from Thursday, 23rd June.
So what happened to the 2nd and 16th June 1983? You might be ahead of me here.
Another one they omitted was the 50 minute long programme of Thursday 5th May, 1983, celebrating 1000 editions of Top of the Pops since it was first transmitted on 1st January, 1964, presented by a collection of then Radio 1 DJs.
The answers are to be found in the Radio Times Archive, also known as the Genome Project. On Thursday 2nd June, 1983, Top of the Pops was presented by Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Savile. On the 16th June it was Mike Read and Dave Lee Travis. Savile and Travis would also have been in the 1000th edition. The BBC are no longer showing programs presented by either of them.
Now, I don’t doubt that Savile was a monster, and that to see him again on our screens would be distressing, but surely, couldn’t they just edit him out? They could always slot in one of the short Sounds of the Sixties programmes to make up the time.
As regards Dave Lee Travis (and some may take issue with me here), why are his appearances being treated as harshly as Savile’s? Although Travis was accused of multiple indiscretions, he was only convicted on one count of indecent assault for which he received a three-months suspended sentence. Appalling as that is, even the Judge described his offence as of a “different order” to other high profile convictions.
Travis claimed he was simply a “tactile” person. “Tactile” behaviour was rife in the mileau of the nineteen seventies and -eighties, as anyone with experience of office life at that time will testify. Every week, Top of the Pops showed (mainly) male presenters sandwiched between apparently adoring, (mainly) female fans. It seems unsurprising that things sometimes got overly “tactile”, and that unchecked, some individuals continued it for years. It doesn’t mean it was right, or that the (mainly) female recipients of the (mainly) male attention sought it. But does Travis really warrant the same restrictions as Savile? Convicted offenders of all kinds appear elsewhere on our screens.
We being prevented from seeing an important archive of popular music. As Harriet Walker wrote in the Independent, “it is part of the fabric of our slightly moth-eaten national quilt”.
Sheffield band The Human League are just one significant act to suffer collateral censorship and have retaliated by releasing a DVD of their Top of the Pops appearances with Savile and Travis chopped out. Wouldn’t it be better to be able to watch their performances in the context in which they were originally shown. If The Human League can make the edits, why can’t the BBC?