15 must-see pop TV moments
By Steve O'Brien | January 10, 2022
Must-see TV moments. They’re those precious times in telly-land where we can’t quite believe what’s in front of our eyes, either because it’s sky-scrapingly brilliant or jaw-droppingly terrible. They’re often times where whatever show it is we’re watching goes heroically, gloriously off-script. Would we still be talking about The Stone Roses on The Late Show had they completed that performance of Made Of Stone? Would we remember the Sex Pistols on the Bill Grundy programme if they’d been good little boys that day? Would All About Eve be on this list if the Top Of The Pops sound department hadn’t ballsed up?
Sometimes, though, it’s just about a great idea. Whoever managed to book Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet for that era-defining episode of Pop Quiz deserves a medal. And a high five to Kylie for being game enough to join Trevor and Simon in the Singing Corner back in 1988…
Here then are some of the clips that had us all exclaiming round the water cooler the next day, “Did you see THAT?!”
15. Duran Duran v Spandau Ballet on Pop Quiz
Presented by Mike Read, Pop Quiz ran for three years on BBC1 in the early 80s. It was never short on A-list talent, but their biggest coup was on 1984’s Christmas special, where the twin titans of New Romanticism, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, competed against each other. Their good-natured rivalry is a joy to watch, if you can stomach the audience’s feverish screeching.
14. The Sex Pistols on the Today show
Anyone at the time watching the Sex Pistols cuss their way through this closing segment of ITV’s teatime news show Today in 1976 would have thought, right, that’s their career kaput. But it was actually host Bill Grundy’s job that was terminated in the aftermath of this legendary car-crash interview, while the Pistols became, well, one of the most famous bands in the country. It doesn’t seem half so shocking today, but remember this was at a time when the f-word was barely heard on television (it had only been uttered for the first time on TV 11 years previously when critic Kenneth Tynan said it live on the show BBC3, resulting in four motions being tabled in parliament).
13. Jarvis Cocker invades the stage at the BRITs
When Michael Jackson took to the stage on 19 February 1996 to perform an almost comically grandiose version of Earth Song, casting himself as a Messiah-like figure alongside a cast of star-struck and overacting extras, it was clear he hadn’t ‘read the room’. This was the year of Britpop and most of the pop stars there that day weren’t about this kind of extravagant performance. So it was that Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker sauntered up to the stage and proceeded to mock Jackson, by sticking his bum out and wafting his hands and looking vaguely quizzical, before being chased off by one of Jacko’s dancers. “I was just sat there and watching it and feeling a bit ill, ’cause he’s there doing his Jesus act,” said Cocker. “It seemed to me there was a lot of other people who kind of found it distasteful as well, and I just thought: ‘The stage is there, I’m here and you can actually just do something about it and say this is a load of rubbish if you wanted.'”
12. Matt Bianco are insulted on Saturday Superstore
Saturday Superstore regularly featured phone-ins allowing fans to ask their favourite pop stars important questions like, “What’s your favourite breakfast cereal?” and “Do you like whelks?” So Matt Bianco were probably expecting an easy ride when they appeared on the show in 1984, except one caller hadn’t been properly screened and instead of asking them, “What was the inspiration behind Get Out of Your Lazy Bed?”, instead called them a bunch of… well, let’s just say it’s not very nice.
11. Shakin’ Stevens jumps on Richard Madeley
Shakin’ Stevens appeared a little defensive when future This Morning punchline Richard Madeley described the singer’s music as “old-style rock’n’roll” on this TV show from the early 80s. Growing increasing agitated by Madeley’s perfectly innocent line of questioning the Welsh rocker suddenly jumped on the presenter, much to the surprise of fellow guests Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt. It ends with Shaky putting Mr Judy Finnigan into a head lock. “I’d been doing endless radio and TV stuff,” the singer told The Guardian in 2016. “I’d been there since early in the morning, all the interview questions were really badly researched and I just thought, ‘This is ludicrous’ and leapt on him on the sofa. He was going: ‘Oh my watch, oh my hair!’ There’s nothing wrong with being mad. I met Richard again years later and he said what a prat I was!”
10. Five Star appear on Going Live!
It’s clear the BBC hadn’t learned any lessons from the Matt Bianco fiasco when the innocuous Five Star appeared on Saturday Superstore’s replacement Going Live!. Where Superstore’s caller had sounded almost bored when he called Mark Reilly and co “wankers”, viewer Eliot Fletcher appeared inexplicably furious when he phoned up to tell Five Star that they were “f***ing crap!” You can read a 2019 interview with the rapscallion responsible here.
9. The Stone Roses throw a strop on The Late Show
The Stone Roses were riding quite a wave when they were booked to appear on BBC2’s highbrow arts programme The Late Show in November 1989. Their latest single, the double-A side of Fool’s Gold and What The World Is Waiting For, had been out a week, but they chose not to perform either of those, instead picking a non-single album track, Made Of Stone. Playing live, it all starts off smoothly enough, until the sound cuts out. Drummer Reni starts to giggle, while singer Ian Brown simply looks irritated. Host Tracey Macleod comes on to apologise, only for Brown to bellow behind her, “Amateurs! Amateurs!” The BBC later claimed that the band had sneakily turned their amps up after rehearsals and the resulting sound had tripped a switch and cut the power. Naughty lads.
8. Kylie goes into the Swinging Corner
Trev and Simon were always the best thing about Going Live!, and in 1988, the comedy duo, in their semi-regular guise of a couple of children’s folk singers (“swing your pants!”), lured Kylie Minogue into one of their skits, introducing her as “one of The Pogues.” The pair then try to get her to join in their singalong of Frog Went A-Courtin’, before Kylie interrupts and says that she’s a pop singer, after which Trev and Simon start belting out The Locomotion as the Neighbours star storms off. Comedy gold.
7. Blur vs Nardwuar
It wasn’t exactly drummer Dave Rowntree’s proudest moment when he squared up to the harmless, if titanically irritating Canadian interviewer Nardwuar and called him “dozy bollocks”. Okay, so the presenter’s wacky interviewing style was never going to marry well with Blur’s studied cool, but what happens in the interview is uncomfortably close to bullying. Rowntree later blamed his bad behaviour on his drug addiction and wrote a lengthy apology to Nardwuar, saying, “These days I keep a clip of the interview on my phone. I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs, and if from time to time I wonder if I’m doing the right thing treading this (sometimes rather lonely) path I play it, and have the answer.”
6. All About Eve are stranded on Top Of The Pops
One of the most famous of all Top Of The Pops clips, it’s worth remembering that All About Eve did nothing wrong here. It was the BBC’s fault that the sound of their single Martha’s Harbour wasn’t pumped through to the studio the band were in waiting patiently to perform. Due to the screw up, singer Julianne Regan was left looking perplexed for nearly a minute and a half as the camera crawled around her to the sound of what was presumably silence in the studio.
5. Sinéad O’Connor rips up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live
Two years on from her biggest hit, Nothing Compares 2U, the woman born Sinéad Marie Bernadette O’Connor appeared on NBC behemoth Saturday Night Live to sing a haunting version of Bob Marley’s War when, completely unrehearsed and to the shock of the show’s producers, she pulled out a picture of Pope John Paul II and, in protest at the abuse of children in the Catholic Church, ripped it up, saying, “Fight the real enemy!” According to executive producer Lorne Michaels “the air went out the studio”, and the applause sign was abruptly turned off, leaving O’Connor to walk off the stage in agonising silence. Condemnation was swift and wide, with that week’s host, Tim Robbins, refusing to namecheck her at the end of the episode and, the week after, actor Joe Pesci telling the audience, during his opening monologue, that if it had been his show, “I would have gave her such a smack.”
4. Dexys pay tribute to Jocky Wilson
Jackie Wilson Said is one of the Dexys greats, a stomping Northern Soul-styled tribute to the legendary singer of Reet Petite. Except that’s not who some people thought the song was about. Arguably better known at the time was darts champ Jocky Wilson, and indeed it was a giant picture of him, not Jackie Wilson, that Dexys sang in front for one Top Of The Pops in 1982, leading many to believe that the TV music show had messed up. Hard as it was to swallow that the perma-scowling Kevin Rowland had a sense of humour, it later transpired it was all the band’s doing, with the singer admitting, “It was our nickname for the song in rehearsals. And I’d just got so bored with all the promotion I asked the TOTP producer for it, to amuse myself, because I thought it’d be funny.”
3. Philip Schofield is rugby-tackled by Carter USM
At the Smash Hits awards in 1991, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine performed After The Watershed, at the end of which guitarist Fruitbat kicked down the amps in an act of rock’n’roll rebellion. Philip Schofield wasn’t impressed and said, somewhat sarcastically, “Blimey, that was original!”, upon which the guitarist ran towards the host and rugby tackled him to the ground. “Phillip Schofield has passed on lots of nice messages to us over the years,” singer Jim Bob told NME in 2020, “but at the time, it was quite violent. It’s not a cheeky jump on him — he probably would have got a few punches in if he could!”
2. Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood host the BRITs
Even on paper, it looked insane. In reality the pairing of 6ft 6in rock god Mick Fleetwood with diminutive Page Three pinup Sam Fox was even worse. As hosts they had as much chemistry as an omelette has with a Duracell battery and the evening would prove a calamity from start to finish, with the presenters often talking over each other and reading from the wrong script (at one point Boy George walks on stage after they’d announced The Four Tops). “When everything started going wrong I just wanted the floor to swallow me up,” Fox said later. “Mick is a genius, but I’d look to him for help and he’d just look at me with that big vacant face; the lights were on but nobody was home.”
1 Black Grape get sweary on live TV
Shaun Ryder had already got TFI Friday into hot water when he dropped an almighty F-bomb when being interviewed by host Chris Evans, so lord knows why the show’s producers thought he was going to behave himself a second time. Maybe they believed it was safer having him perform as part of Black Grape than sitting down for an interview. WRONG! Having hired Shaun Ryder and Kermit to take part in TFI’s own take on Stars In Their Eyes, the one-time Happy Mondays frontman decided to gussy himself up as Johnny Rotten for a version of the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant. What followed was the song, amid a torrent of ad-libbed swear words, all being broadcast just before 7pm. Channel 4 demanded the show be pre-recorded after this incident and Ryder was barred from appearing live on any programme on the station. In fact, he’s the only person ever listed by name in the C4 transmission guidebook.
Steve O'BrienSteve O’Brien is a writer who specialises in music, film and TV. He has written for magazines and websites such as SFX, The Guardian, Radio Times, Esquire, The New Statesman, Digital Spy, Empire, Yours Retro, The New Statesman and MusicRadar. He’s written books about Doctor Who and Buffy The Vampire Slayer and has even featured on a BBC4 documentary about Bergerac. Apart from his work on Classic Pop, he also edits CP’s sister magazine, Vintage Rock Presents.