One of the sad things I have noticed just recently, and anyone else who has gone over to the BBC site and gotten introduced to the BBC iPlayer is that, if you have the gross misfortune of living outside the UK, you are somewhat shit-out-of-luck for being able to listen to or watch any of those BBC programs we have come to love and cherish. Why? Oh, the usual - something about "contractually not permitted outside the UK" and all that.
Why do I bring that up? Because there was a time, very long ago, when your only access to the BBC if you were outside the UK, was via their Transcription Service. The BBC would offer discs (and tapes) of programs they thought would be of interest to an audience aside from the UK. And one of the shows they offered was a weekly dose of Top Of The Pops (among others). Pressed on vinyl in somewhat limited quantities and shipped over to U.S. and other overseas radio stations who subscribed to the service.
Now, the deal with those shows was, as it was with everything in their Transcription Service, they could only be run for a certain period of time and then had to be returned to The BBC to be destroyed (oh, that contractual thing again). A lot of stations complied and the discs were sent back to meet their doom and be replaced by brand new ones to repeat the process. But most of those stations never got around to sending them back and whole series of programs sat in Radio Station libraries, or in boxes or in storage. And that's where it gets interesting.
The BBC back home, not only had a habit of destroying Transcriptions sent back to them, they also had a habit of destroying the original shows they were pressed from. Hence, full years were gone, vanished. Tapes wiped clean - history evaporated.
With the recent popularity in rock n' roll history, ever since the advent of the CD and now downloading, a lot of finger pointing has taken place over why the BBC chose to destroy so much of what is a cultural heritage that needed to be preserved.
So after much hand-wringing and embarrassment, a call went out to collectors and anyone who may have saved any airchecks (which were illegal to record off the radio in the privacy of your home in the 1950's and '60's, by the way) or Transcriptions of long-lost BBC Programs, like Top Of The Pops.
And the floodgates from American (and Australian and South American) collectors, who had the presence of mind to rummage through radio station trash cans or beg and plead with station librarians to part with those discs, opened and a tsunami of long-thought-lost BBC programs, like Top Of The Pops, Concerts, interviews, a whole host of previously thought gone programs, showed up at the BBC's doorstep.
People who had the presence of mind and the sense of historic preservation did what the networks in charge wouldn't do or didn't have the interest to do in the first place.
And now of course, the BBC is sort of doing the same thing again - only now making it possible for you not to be able to have the option of downloading and preserving any one of a number of programs (the BBC 6 Music Concert Hour is one of those you can't listen to outside the U.K.) currently available.
But in all fairness, most every network (certainly in the U.S.) has been guilty of wholesale destruction of history in the past. I suspect it is still going on to a certain degress, because contemporary history isn't all that interesting (for now since hindsight is always more interesting than the present).
At any rate - this is all a prelude to this weeks Pop Chronicles and what was probably one of the most interesting radio (and TV) programs presented in broadcasting. Top Of The Pops (much like the sister programs Saturday Club, Old Grey Whistle Test and Top Gear) presented music live or specially recorded for the series that was not commercially available, or in some cases, never recorded in any other context but for the BBC. It seems there was a long-standing ban on playing commercially pressed discs forcing an artist to either record their hit single in a version specifically for the BBC or to perform the song live.
This weeks Pop Chronicles offers a glimpse of what the treasure trove was all about. Recorded in late 1964, this program featured British Invasion acts The Animals and Unit 4+2 as well as lesser knowns (at least in the States) Dave Berry and Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers and singer Susan Maughan. The show, is hosted by the inimitable Brian Matthew and it was a weekly event. Needless to say, during this time it was required listening for anybody in the States who had any passing interest in British Invasion groups (i.e. The Beatles and Rolling Stones, who were frequent performers) but also gave a heads-up for up-and-comers to keep an eye open for in the Import bins at the local record shop.
If you've never heard the show before, here is an episode (which, like all good nutcase collectors, I conned a Station Librarian out of), and a slice of history you may have never been able to hear otherwise.
Thank a dumpster diver if you like this.
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