On BBC TV on this day in the 1980s

TwitterIn the absence of any relevant release anniversaries today, If You Were There takes a look at BBC television’s contribution to the promotion of pop music during the 1980s. The BBC was responsible for two of the four terrestrial channels and so had a big influence on what people were able to hear and see; here’s what was being broadcast on this day throughout the decade…

1980 (Wednesday)
‘Lena’s Music’ (BBC1, 19:40) – the idea of the BBC giving up a prime-time slot to an MOR artist like Lena Martell today is unthinkable, but for nearly ten years she had regularly had her own shows, starting with 1971’s ‘Presenting Lena Martell’. Ten years before that, she had released her first single, having come to public attention by winning the TV talent show ‘Find The Singer’ in the 1950s. By the mid-60s she was starting to become a regular guest on many other music and light entertainment shows, so she was a recognizable face before she got her own series. She was particularly popular in her native Scotland and was a successful live draw, despite not one of her 26 singles issued up to 1978 (the majority for Pye records) troubling the charts. One of those singles, a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s One Day At A Time, was reissued in 1979 and was a surprise hit: it went to #1 at the end of the year. (She is an official “one hit wonder”.) In some respects, then, she was at the peak of her popularity as this show aired, with three of her LPs appeared on the album chart during 1980 in the wake of her hit single. Pye folded weeks before this edition of ‘Lena’s Music’, and although PRT picked up her contract only a couple more singles were released. Thereafter, her albums were released on budget labels like Pickwick and she went into semi-retirement in the early 90s.

‘XTC at The Manor’ (BBC2, 20:00) – a documentary from the Bristol Arts Unit, focusing on the Swindon rock group’s multi-track recording of their single Towers of London with producer Steve Lillywhite in August. The single was released in the week the programme aired.

‘Rock Week Concert’ (BBC2, 22:20) – strand presenting archive live footage. This edition featured the farewell gig from Cream.

1981 (Thursday)
‘Top Of The Pops’ (BBC1, 19:20) – the BBC’s flagship pop music show; more details can be found in this article. This edition featured performances from Madness and The Human League , repeated footage from the show two weeks earlier from Japan and Depeche Mode and an airing of the promotional clip for Adam And The AntsPrince Charming, amongst other songs.

‘Futurama Rock 80’ (BBC2, 23:35) – the Futurama Rock Festival was first held in September 1979 and was an annual event throughout the 1980s; this programme was one of a short series covering the second festival of 1980. Featured among the acts on the edition tonight were Echo And The Bunnymen.

1982 (Friday)
‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ (BBC2, 23:45) – if ‘Top Of The Pops’ was the Smash Hits of the television schedules, ‘Whistle Test’ (as it was usually abbreviated to) was the NME, as it concentrated on “serious” popular music. (Ironic, then, that it should have among its presenters one Mark Ellen, Smash Hits editor.) Although a great many acts appeared on both programmes, a large number of ‘Top Of The Pops’ guests would never have made it on to ‘Whistle Test’; the reverse was also true, as “album artists” would often feature on the ‘Whistle Test’, groups that would never have a hit with a single (or perhaps didn’t issue singles at all), and therefore would never make it on to ‘Top Of The Pops’. While ‘Top Of The Pops’ was BBC1, bright, energetic hi-fi, ‘Whistle Test’ was BBC2, dour low-fi. The bare, stark studio would host live performances from the likes of Bauhaus, who were on this edition. At the poppier end of the indie spectrum, they shared tonight’s bill with Edwyn Collins’ Orange Juice.

1983 (Saturday)
The dedicated music show on the bill today was a performance of The Marriage of Figaro on ‘Opera Night’. For pop music, the best place to go was the live children’s morning show ‘Saturday Superstore’, the guests for which on this occasion included Wham!.

1984 (Monday)
The was no dedicated music show in the BBC television schedules at all on 8 October 1984, but the chat show ‘Harty’ featured Spandau Ballet on its guest list.

1985 (Tuesday)
‘Whistle Test’ (BBC2, 19:00) – it would seem that ‘Whistle Test’ had lightened up considerably by the mid-80s. This edition of the show – in a prime time slot – included an exclusive interview with Kate Bush and news from Duran Duran ‘s Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes about their new group, Arcadia.

1986 (Wednesday)
Again, there was no dedicated music show included on the BBC’s schedules today in 1986, but the early evening light entertainment show ‘The Muppet Show’ often included a musician as its special guest. The one shown tonight was a repeat of the 26 March 1978 edition, which featured singer-songwriter Leo Sayer. Sayer was at the height of his fame when the show originally went out, but had had few hits for several years at the time of this repeat. His most successful single of the 1980s was More Than I Can Say, a #2 hit in 1980 in both America and Britain. He had one more Top 10 hit here in 1982 and thereafter only modest chart placings.

1987 (Thursday)
‘Top Of The Pops’ (BBC1, 19:00) – this edition was presented by Radio 1 DJs Gary Davies and Mike Smith.

1988 (Saturday)
Morning kids shows were (as usual for a Saturday) the place to find pop stars on BBC TV. A new series started today in 1988, presented by Bucks Fizz member Cheryl Baker; appropriately enough for an early morning show, it was titled ‘Eggs N’ Baker’. It featured recipes and pop star guests, the first of the latter being Sinitta. Following this, the replacement for ‘Saturday Superstore’ aired. Titled ‘Going Live’, this new show retained presenter Sarah Greene from its predecessor and paired her with Philip Schofield, himself a Smash Hits cover star. Guests on this edition of ‘Going Live’ included Kylie Minogue and Carol Decker of T’Pau.

1989 (Sunday)
There was no dedicated music show in the BBC1 listings today in 1989, although the theme tune to the prime-time fashion programme ‘The Clothes Show’ was a version of the track In The Night by Pet Shop Boys. The original version of the song had appeared on the B-side of the first issue of their single Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) in 1985. Meanwhile, over on BBC2 there was a wealth of music shows. As well as a repeat of a documentary about Presley’s so-called comeback tour of the late 60s, ‘Elvis – That’s The Way It Is’, the following contemporary shows aired:

‘Boxpops’ (BBC2, 11:10) – a clips show that often featured archive footage of bands performing on BBC shows of years gone by. Aimed at a teen audience, it wasn’t just music based, covering other popular culture items of interest.

‘The O Zone’ (BBC2, 11:50) – this was a short ‘filler’ programme, which had started earlier in the same year in the summer holidays. Then, it went out between other shows on weekday mornings for ten minutes at a time; when it returned as part of the weekend line-up, it was extended to 15 minutes. This episode featured Sonia. It went on to run throughout the 1990s was in the main was presented by former continuity announcers from Children’s BBC.

‘Juke Box Jury’ (BBC2, 18:40) – a revival of a record review show first shown in the UK in 1959, which borrowed its format from an American show with a similar name. ‘Juke Box Jury’ was revived twice: after the original run ended in the late 1960s, it returned for one unsuccessful series in 1979 before returning for this present series in 1989 (supposedly the centenary of the launch of the jukebox). Jools Holland from new-wavers Squeeze presented this time, and his panel of critics – voting on whether they thought new release singles would be ‘hits’ or ‘misses’ – were comedians Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, Francis Rossi of Status Quo, and singer-songwriter and former Mari Wilson backing singer Julia Fordham.

‘Rapido’ (BBC2, 23:20) – an entertainment magazine that featured up-and-coming bands and which introduced British audiences to the idiosyncratic delivery style of presenter Antoine De Caunes. Standing against a white background, with the letters of the show’s logo superimposed to his left and right on the sides of the screen, he spoke quickly with an exaggerated Gallic accent. (On French shows in the 1980s, when talking to an English-speaking guest, his speech was not nearly as heavily accented.)

NEW SINGLES on sale from Oct. 8
No release scheduled for this date.


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