When I was a lad I waited all week for Top Of The Tops on Thursday nights. There weren't video recorders or repeats so you just had to watch it. It was so popular it courted viewing figures of 15 million and lasted for 42 years. It first aired on New Year's Day in 1964 from a disused church in Manchester. Here I am at its former location. There's scant evidence of the big Wesleyan church now - just a plaque on a gable end wall.
The BBC knew it as "Studio A" and it was on Dickenson Road in Longsight just outside central Manchester. The regular host was Jimmy Savile who claimed the BBC were lukewarm about the programís prospects, saying, "The BBC had a studio in Manchester which was a disused church and, anything they didnít want to do in London, they slung up into this old church.Ē The show was intended to run for 6 shows but it lasted until 2006 and there 2213 episodes were made.
I can remember the "usuals" appearing on the show - Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust, The Sweet, Wizard, David Essex, Mud, Bay City Rollers. I can even remember Madonna, Queen and Bon Jovi. In the seventies some big names didn't appear as it was the decade of high tax and they'd moved abroad. When a song did well but the artist wasn't available a dance troop often performed instead. Originally it was The Go-Jos but they were succeeded in 1968 by the very-popular Panís People who performed until 1976. Later there was an all-female troupe called Legs and Co and then Zoo. In the early years of filming anyone could turn up at the church to gain entry. All the performers mimed, every show was live and most guests turned up in a van and parked in front of the church.
I can remember TOTP being on Thursday nights for years but it was later moved to the ďdeath slotĒ against ITVís Coronation Street and after many changes of format, schedules and presenters it was cancelled. It made its final regular appearance on 30th July 2006.
I walked up and down Dickenson Road in the hot sun. There's nothing of the former church there now - not a memorial stone or former wall, nothing - not a sausage. In 1954 the church was the BBC's first purchase of a television studio outside London. Its size was its advantage, also Mancunian Films had used it and converted the void into a studio. The BBC bought it and used it until 1973. In 1975 it had been demolished. Other programmes were filmed there - Itís a Knockout, Grandstand and A Question Of Sport.
As I stood there on the pavement it was difficult to imagine that in January 1964 a show was made featuring The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies and The Beatles. I sat in the car and had a coffee. Over fifteen minutes nobody who passed the plaque looked up at it. I did a salute and left.