Don't scrap Top of the Pops, BBC4!

While it's understandable that the BBC wants to distance itself from Jimmy Savile, it would be a great shame if classic TOTP disappeared from our screens altogether, says Tom Cole

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Don't scrap Top of the Pops, BBC4!
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Tom Cole

It was revealed on Wednesday at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch that BBC4 might end up axing its repeats of classic ‘70s Top of the Pops episodes as a result of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal.

Speaking at the event, BBC4’s controller Richard Klein said: “At the moment we actually haven't scheduled [episodes filmed in] 1978, so we'll take a view. We have only done it the last two years [beginning with 1976] so if we didn't do it again it wouldn't be the end of the world and audience figures have declined quite markedly.”

Asked if the fallout from the Savile scandal was a factor in his decision about the re-runs, Klein said: "Of course it is. How else are we supposed to respond? We have to think about this and make a judgment and hopefully we will get it right. That's all we can do."

While it’s totally understandable that the BBC would want to avoid emphasising its historic links with Savile, particularly in the current climate, I think it would be a real shame if classic Top of the Pops does end up disappearing from our screens altogether.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the BBC has one of the most impressive archives of televised musical performances in the world. For decades an appearance on Top of the Pops was something of a holy grail for pop musicians, so consequently the Beeb’s library is choc-full of amazing live (and mimed) performances from an astonishing array of artists.

However, it’s not easy to actually get to see a lot of this stuff nowadays. Apart from a 40-track 40th anniversary DVD compilation released in 2004, there are no classic TOTP performances commercially available.

And outside of BBC4’s repeats, archive TOTP performances only receive airings as part of those once-in-a-blue-moon 'Insert musical genre at the BBC' programmes or on the erratically scheduled TOTP2.

If BBC4 gets cold feet about its classic TOTP repeats, then this wealth of material will just disappear back into the archives, possibly never to be enjoyed by the public again.

Which is why I’d implore Klein to reconsider scrapping the repeats. Yes, the recent revelations about Savile have been horrific, but I think BBC4’s audience understands that these are archival shows – they are what they are – and aren’t screened as any sort of endorsement of the Jim’ll Fix It host, or the things he did during his lifetime.

By all means, move on to another Savile-free era of the show for now, but don't deprive music fans of all the wonderful musical performances in the BBC vaults forever. To paraphrase Mick Jagger, it may only be rock 'n' roll but a lot of us rather like it...

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