Absence and Presence: Top of the Pops and the demand for music videos in the 1960s




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Edinburgh University Press



Peer reviewed



Whilst there is a surprising critical consensus underpinning the myth that British music video began in the mid-1970s with Queen’s video for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, few scholars have pursued Mundy’s (1999) lead in locating its origins a decade earlier. Although the relationship between film and the popular song has a much longer history, this article seeks to establish that the international success of British beat groups in the first half of the 1960s encouraged television broadcasters to target the youth audience with new shows that presented their idols performing their latest hits (which normally meant miming to recorded playback). In the UK, from 1964, the BBC’s Top of the Pops created an enduring format specifically harnessed to popular music chart rankings. The argument follows that this format created a demand for the top British artists’ regular studio presence which their busy touring schedules could seldom accommodate; American artists achieving British pop chart success rarely appeared on the show in person. This frequent absence then, coupled with the desire by broadcasters elsewhere in Europe and America to present popular British acts, created a demand for pre-recorded or filmed inserts to be produced and shown in lieu of artists’ appearance. Drawing on records held at the BBC’s Written Archives and elsewhere, and interviews with a number of 1960s music video directors, this article evidences TV’s demand-driver and illustrates how the ‘pop promo’, in the hands of some, became a creative enterprise which exceeded television’s requirement to cover for an artist’s studio absence.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version.


music video, Top of the Pops


Smith, J. (2019) Absence and Presence: Top of the Pops and the demand for music videos in the 1960s. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 16 (4), pp. 492-544


Research Institute

Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI)