A Very British Christmas Part 9: Top of the Pops

Sir Jimmy Saville, Top of the Pops presenter

So far, we’ve looked at the Christmas meal, the pudding, the collapse into a TV coma afterwards and everything that happens on Boxing Day, but what of Christmas morning itself? What of that precious time where the children of the house get to burrow into a big pile of presents under a tree, eat a leg-weight in chocolate and explode into an overstimulated tantrum before they have even got dressed? Is that the same over here as it is over there?

Well yes. But there is one tradition which is unique to the British Christmas mid-morning, and that is the festive Top of the Pops.

Top of the Pops was the biggest, and longest-running music show in British TV history. It ran from 1964 to 2006, focussing entirely on the hottest songs of the moment and pretty much everyone who was anyone during that period made at least one appearance on the show (except for Elvis, and the Clash and Arctic Monkeys). The Christmas special appeared during the crucial mid-morning lull after presents, when a distraction is needed while batteries are found for new toys.

And this is the distraction we got:

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would go back to their presents after such a delight.

When the weekly TOTP was cancelled in 2006, there was an outcry from fans and artists and music biz veterans alike. And one of the concessions the BBC made was a pledge to keep the Christmas TOTP going. So, instead of performances of the biggest songs of the week, we’re now treated to the biggest songs of the year, only extra special, because they’re also covered in tinsel and fake snow. And, just like the show always did, it ends with the song which is No.1 on Christmas Day.

This is usually fine, especially as the X Factor is geared up to dominate the Christmas No.1 as if that makes them better or more important or something. However, the year before last, there was a concerted campaign to get “Killing In The Name” by Rage Against The Machine to the top spot, as a protest against Simon Cowell. It worked too. So, rather than being soothed into calmness by Joe McElderry, the kids were hyped into a rage by Rage, and started smashing their toys to shreds.

Well that’s what I would’ve done, anyway.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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