Savile scandal puts BBC in spin over old 'Top of the Pops'

Sat, Dec 1, 2012, 00:00

The BBC can never have imagined what it was getting into when it embarked on a scheme to repeat Top of the Pops episodes from one of music’s anni horribiles.

A snarky documentary made it clear that the folk at BBC4 did not view 1976 as any sort of vintage year.

Much has been made of the damage that progressive rock did to “serious” music in the mid-1970s.

But the repeats clarified that pop was in an equally wretched state. Remember Sailor’s Girls Girls Girls? Remember Laurie Lingo The Dipsticks’s Convoy GB? No? Lucky old you.

Anyway, the first run of repeats – screened weekly in chronological order throughout last year – provided old jerks like your current bore with a bit of righteous nostalgia.

My generation didn’t get to fight in a war or suffer through the Black Death. But we did eventually get to save pop from the ghastly menace that was Manuel and His Music of the Mountains. The glorious punk revolution was on the way.

The second swath of repeats, focusing on the year that the new music went above ground, started off well enough.

We all nodded knowingly when The Stranglers were compelled to play Go Buddy Go rather than Peaches.

As the year progressed, however, the series began to take on an increasingly macabre quality. It was rather as if, unnoticed all this time, Rudolf Hess and Dr Crippen had been hosting Top of the Pops. I think you know where we’re going with this.

In recent months, a class of quasi-Soviet airbrushing has been imposed on Top of the Pops 1977 (as it now is). Just as Trotsky vanished from photographs taken during the Russian Revolution, Sir Jimmy Savile OBE, KCSG, has been conspicuously erased from the hitherto charming orgy of chart pap. Making nonsense of the chronology, any episodes featuring the disgraced presenter have been quietly dropped. It would, surely, have been more honest to replace Jimmy’s segments with the old test card – that girl with the frightening clown – accompanied by soothing tunes on the xylophone.

As the weeks progressed, the situation became ever more absurd. Following the arrest of Dave Lee Travis on “suspicion of sexual offences”, the self-styled Hairy Cornflake was also deemed unsuitable for Proustian disinterment.

An alien arriving for an evening of nostalgic television could be forgiven for thinking that poor old Tony Blackburn was the only person working at the BBC during the 1970s.

Speaking at a recent lunch, Richard Klein, BBC4 controller, mused upon the dilemma.

“It is complex and it is difficult to judge,” he said. “These are judgments we are making on a case-by-case basis. It requires us to be cautious and careful without overreacting, to take into account public sensibilities and legalities, and hopefully we are going to get it right.”

He went on to acknowledge there was a very real possibility the channel would not continue with Top of the Pops 1978.

One does have some sympathy for Klein. Now that, after years of niggling at the BBC, the Daily Mail and other thugs have decided it is little more than a state-sponsored paedophile ring, any further exposure of the prime culprits would surely generate artery-bursting levels of hysteria.

It should also be acknowledged that no victim of Savile’s sordid activities wishes to turn on the television and see the monstrous old bully running through his witless catchphrases and grotesque double entendres.

They’ve suffered enough already.

The situation does, however, scare up more than a few reminders of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” Orwell’s information engines screamed, despite evidence to the contrary.

Listen here, proles. Savile did not surround himself with underage women on Top of the Pops. Pending further announcements from the Metropolitan Police and the Hairy Cornflake’s lawyers, we (for now, anyway) can declare that Dave Lee Travis never rolled his eyes while snuggled between teenage Rollers fans.

The censored version of Top of the Pops 1977 looks to be flogging a clear-eyed, innocent version of the flared decade. This is beyond fantasy.

Much of the appeal of Top of the Pops 1977 stems from its reminder of how frightful life could be then and of how much less appalling it is now.

The only BBC show that would, in the current climate, feature a character like Savile is Dr Who (and not as a companion, you understand).

We’re better off with the gruesome truth. Aside from anything else, if the avalanche of newly identified non-persons continues at this rate, the BBC will soon be unable to put a single face from the 1970s back on the telly.

Oh, apart from that of Tony Blackburn, of course.

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