Jarvis Cocker’s TV Pop Rules, Channel 4

by | Jun 16, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it?

The pop genius frontman of Pulp gives his expert opinion on what makes the perfect TV pop show.

What to say if you didn’t like it?

Kitten from Big Brother 5’s long lost twin brother (wasn’t he in some band that was big in the 90s?) trawls through ancient archives of TV pop shows and wastes time trying to say what makes a “perfect” pop show based on nothing more than his arbitrary opinions.

What was good about it?

• Some excellent performances of great songs were included: Jumping Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones, Is Vic There? by Department S, Supersonic by Oasis, Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie And The Banshees, Shadowplay by Joy Division and Dry Your Eyes by The Streets.

• The clip of The Clangers discovering pop TV. The Soup Dragon dances to it, but The Clangers themselves hated it so much they sent it back into orbit.

• Jack Good, the bushy bearded producer of 1950s pop shows Six Five Special and Oh Boy!. He was credited as the “founder of TV pop”. His shows were considered anarchic back then, being the first on British TV to show rock’n’roll music (even though it was only Cliff Richard). He broke the rules by getting the teenage studio audience to dance in front of the camera and his shows got huge ratings even though the TV bosses hated them. If they made a film of Good’s life, Brian Blessed would be perfect for the role.

• Footage of Good as he is now. He quit his job as a TV producer to live as a monk and he melodramatically yelled through his bristles: “What have I done? I’ve corrupted the youth of this country. I’ve corrupted myself!” before warning the viewers to switch off. “You should have switched off at the beginning of the programme!”

• The fantastic performance of Hey Joe by The Jimi Hendrix Experience on, ahem Happening For Lulu in 1969. It was broadcast live so when he decided “We’re going to stop playing this rubbish and dedicate this song to Cream”, the producers couldn’t stop him going into a marvellous cover of Sunshine Of Your Love – and extending his three-minute allocation to more than seven minutes.

• Cocker’s best “rule” for the perfect pop show was Keep Music Live. How we agree. The best bands are always better live than they are on record, and we agree that it is better value to see a televised live performance by your favourite band rather than a mimed one which makes it more clear that a TV performance is just another part of promotion and marketing. If nothing else, at least Rachel Stevens would be unable to appear on any pop show ever again.

• Pan’s People, the prototype for the girls in the Eric Prydz – Call On Me video. It was great seeing their sexy dancing and their weird outfits, ranging from leather jumpsuits, glittery silver foil “futuristic” clothes, hot pants, mini skirts, stuff that made them look like toilet roll covers and the occasional alien or gorilla costume. Plus their incredibly stupid dance routines, which involved them telling off live dogs or pretending to drink coffee. Barbara Powell, who is now very prim and proper, admitted: “We did some pretty horrendous stuff which we’d rather not have done”.

• The hilarious cartoon made by the 1958 show Cool For Cats to illustrate Tom Steele’s I Put The Lightie On, featuring a man who can’t sleep discovering a small man sleeping in his fridge.

• The clips of Revolver, a punk music show from the late 1970s with Peter Cook playing a grumpy nightclub owner who hated the music and the kids. The audience looked cool as well, and the performance of Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie And The Banshees was spectacular. But best of all was the shot of a sullen heavily-made-up punk kid when Cocker’s narration said the audience “generally looked like they were having a good time”.

• So It Goes, a regional pop show which has a fantastic claim to fame – it was the first televised performance of The Sex Pistols. The man responsible for this was one Anthony H Wilson who founded the Hacienda night club and helped set up Factory Records.

– The embarrassing clip of Bryan Ferry – now better known as the father of a spoilt toffee-nosed fox murdering little twat – duetting with Twiggy on What A Wonderful World in a mock classroom on a programme called Show Of The Week (the rest of the shows must have been hellish).

• Jarvis Cocker saying: “Nostalgia is a mug’s game”. An excellent point that is all too often ignored.

• The title sequence to So It Goes, featuring cartoon snails with headphones and a caterpillar eating an apple.

• Jordan, not the silicone titted D list celebrity, but a punk girl in the 70s who took it upon herself to wear the most outrageous punk outfits possible. On So It Goes, producer Anthony H Wilson had to put gaffer tape to cover up her swastika armband. Rather incongruously, she announced to the audience: “The Sex Pistols are, if possible, even better than the lovely Joni Mitchell”.

• Cocker pointed out that a great pop song or moment is down to how it makes you feel rather than any alleged “merit”. On the Stones: “These words didn’t matter as much as the way they were sung.” And he hit the nail on the head about the Sex Pistols. “Sound wasn’t good. They probably weren’t even in tune. But they changed the world”.

• Jimmy Saville’s pearls of wisdom about being a TV presenter, “Don’t try to make them like you, but make sure they don’t dislike you”, and his opinion of modern TV presenters, “zombie-type people who deliver an announcement like a weather forecast”.

• The ridiculous clips of Alvin Stardust and Les Gray from Mud teaching gormless kids the green cross code.

• Play Guitar With Ulf Goran, a 1976 programme that tried to teach parents and grandparents how to play the guitar. The old fogies looked bewildered and disgusted at the guitars, as if someone had offered them a vibrating dildo.

What was bad about it?

• Despite Cocker saying “This is a history lesson, not a nostalgia trip”, a nostalgia trip is exactly what it was. The programme was littered with old board games and more 1970s memorabilia than Ivan Dobsky The Meat Safe Murderer from Monkey Dust would own.

• The bizarre anti-music video stance the programme took towards the end. It didn’t do itself any favours by showing some great clips from music videos such as Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles, Paul Hardcastle’s 19, I Don’t Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats, David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes and The Cure’s In Between Days. “It sounded the death knell of the golden years of pop TV”. Yes, that’s just what Norma Desmond said in Sunset Boulevard about the superiority of silent movies to “talkies”.

• The revolting cover of David Bowie’s Golden Years by Peter Glaze and Jan Hunt on Crackerjack in 1974. Pure torture.

• The sadness that a lot of BBC archives from the ’60s and ’70s have been wiped – that there are only three complete editions of Top Of The Pops from 1964-1969 left. There was a practical reason: video tapes were expensive and reusing old tapes saved time and money. Luckily Nick Maingay, a BBC videotape engineer, decided to make copies of stuff for himself and he eventually had so many he had to store them in the BBC airvents. A lot of his copies are still been shown today.

• The clips from a 1962 episode of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On where they encouraged the teenage studio audience to dance. While the intention was to show this as an example of the audience being moved by music in a spontaneous and wild live TV event, the audience themselves looked not much different from a modern CD:UK audience – bored and dancing and cheering just because they’ve been told to.

• While we’re certainly not bothered about such an artificial concept as genre, none of the acts on here were “pop” any more than Madonna and Michael Jackson are “rock”.

• The utterly pointless interviews with Cliff Richard and Andi Peters.

• Jimmy Saville’s hideous clothes he insisted on showing – a zebra print jacket, a superman suit that looked like it was made from a kid’s duvet cover – not to mention the awful newspaper print jacket he was wearing when Cocker interviewed him. Also, he wanted to show all the boring memorabilia he has collected over the years. It was a bit like visiting a lonely old relative who doesn’t get out much.

• Status Quo changed their image from foppish smartly dressed clean cut boys in the late 60s to a tough guy ripped jeans and leather jacket look in the 70s. They failed to mention however that both these images were equally contrived. Plus their “walking into the drumkit” stunt was funny, but they needn’t have bothered revealing that it was set up, as it was obvious anyway.

• The Lords, a German band from 1966 on a show called Beat Box. They had a weird can-can type dance and looked like a cross between Austin Powers and the snivelling, slimy incarnation of Edmund Blackadder from the first, and worst, series of Blackadder.

• Dave Berry’s rather pompous microphone technique during his 1975 performance of The Crying Game from 1975, and the praise Cocker gave to it.

• The terrible graphics in the background of Suzi Quatro’s performance of Devilgate Drive on Top Of The Pops in 1974.

• Some comments may have been taken out of context to suit the message of the programme, such as “today’s people have 24 hours to look and listen to pop music on about seven different channels. It’s not the same, you don’t have to wait seven days for your musical fix” and “you can download albums before they even come out”. But these comments were presented in a negative light. How is easier access to music a bad thing if you’re a music fan?

• Cocker’s closing comment. “Is pop TV dead? Top Of The Pops is being put out to pasture on a Sunday night. All we’ve left is mainly specialist TV channels showing promos”. These were good points, but conveniently forgot to mention CD:UK (which seems to have taken Top Of The Pops place as the show pop acts feel they’ve “made it” if they get to perform there), Popworld, Later With Jools Holland or 4 Music. They’re all TV pop shows that don’t specialise in music videos, and are all on terrestrial TV, despite him saying that there are none on daytime terrestrial TV any more.

He also said his dream pop show wouldn’t get commissioned nowadays. Would anyone’s dream TV pop show ever get commissioned? They’ve never been about one man’s personal jukebox – which incidentally modern technology pretty much allows you to do – pop shows are about musicians trying to advertise their product and about TV companies trying to attract ratings. There’s no real point in a TV pop show if it doesn’t move with the times and isn’t targeted at the demographic which consume the most pop music – teenagers to young adults – rather than men heading for middle age. Which perhaps illustrates why there wasn’t really any point in this programme.

• A general problem for all these type of programmes – the 60s and the 70s take up 95 per cent of the programme and the past 30 years are haphazardly slotted in with one blink-and-you’ll miss it clip each. Perhaps its because they are made by people who grew up in the 60s and 70s and so consider that to be the “golden age” rather than the later decades where they became adults, gained responsibilities and lost interest in pop music and slipped behind as far as trends are concerned.

There are already people who grew up in the 80s who look back at it with nostalgia, and there will probably be people who grew up in the 90s and the current decade who will say similar things. Peter Kay perhaps put it best: “It’ll happen to us you know! Stick a bit of Smack My Bitch Up on!”

• While it’s a given that young people don’t seem to like or trust anyone over 30, it seems the older generation don’t like or trust anything that was produced after 1979.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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