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‘Top of the Pops’ signs off after 42 years

Show featured everyone from the Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Top of the Pops” has hit bottom.

The 42-year-old BBC music show that featured everyone from the Beatles to Bob the Builder is going off the air, a child of the black-and-white era abandoned by a younger generation more attuned to Internet downloads and 24-hour music television.

After years of declining ratings, the BBC announced this week that the show that has aired weekly since January 1964 would count down its last singles chart on July 30.

Cue an outpouring of nostalgia from Britons — at least those over 30.

“A sad day for all of us overgrown teenagers,” noted The Daily Telegraph’s Neil McCormick, hailing “this silly, exhilarating, infuriating, inspiring, chaotic, trivial grab bag of a music program.”

“For anyone over 35, it’s the first contact they had with popular music,” said music writer and broadcaster John Aizlewood. In the days before video, he added, “seeing a pop star in the flesh was really unusual.”

At its peak in the 1970s — when Britain had only three TV channels — the weekly rundown of the nation’s best-selling acts attracted more than 15 million viewers. The format was exported to several European countries and even to the U.S., where a short-lived version ran in 1987.

“Top of the Pops” lasted longer than U.S. television staple “American Bandstand,” another show to feature big-name acts performing for a live teenage audience, which ran for 30 consecutive years on ABC between 1957 and 1987.

The Sex Pistols and Bread on the same showSince the BBC’s announcement, fans have reminisced about the glory days before music videos, when in-house dance troupe Pan’s People — later replaced by Legs & Co. — would execute interpretive dance routines to songs if the performers were not available.

There was the legendary 1982 incident in which Dexy’s Midnight Runners performed “Jackie Wilson Said” in front of a picture of darts player Jocky Wilson (a deliberate joke, the band said). Or the day in 1975 when the Who’s roadies hurled wigs onstage as Cliff Richard sang.

Staunchly middle-of-the-road crooner Richard has appeared on the show more than 150 times, including the first-ever episode on Jan. 1, 1964, alongside the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and the Swinging Blue Jeans. Commissioned for an initial six shows, “Top of the Pops” racked up more than 2,000 episodes.

Despite appearances by iconic acts from Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana, the show’s formula hardly epitomized artistic credibility. The sets were wobbly, the hosts unnervingly perky and almost all the performers lip-synched.

Aizlewood attributed the program’s success partly to its eclectic mix.

“The artists on it were selected solely by that week’s singles sales, so you could see the Sex Pistols literally next to Bread,” he said.

But from younger Britons, the passing of a rock era has been met with stony silence.

“I don’t watch it and I don’t know that any of my friends do,” said 20-year-old Londoner Kaare Stark, who keeps up with music through digital radio, TV and the Internet. “It’s easy enough to find out what’s hot without watching ‘Top of the Pops.”’

The show has suffered flagging ratings in recent years, and last year was moved from the main BBC1 channel to BBC2, which attracts a smaller audience.

In a statement, the BBC said that “in a rapidly changing musical landscape ‘Top of the Pops’ no longer occupies the central role it once did.”