The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Thursday 20th April 2006 - BBC R4 Today covers Top of the Pops caught by Licensing Act

See below for a transcript of this morning's Top of the Pops licensing story covered by the BBC R4 Today programme (20 April 2006). A few points to consider before reading it:

On the Today programme of 29 June 2005, licensing minister James Purnell said the new Licensing Act would be 'much better' for live music, adding: 'Now as long as they tick the box which says we want to put on an entertainment they won't have to pay any more and it is a much much easier system.'

In fact, even if the BBC had 'ticked the box' last year they would have faced, as they probably face now, a hefty bill for a premises licence covering a very large and complex set of studio performance areas.

There are implications for every broadcaster using a studio audience, but not only for performances of music and dancing. The new legislation also applies to the 'performance of a play', a description which is likely to cover sitcoms and other dramatic works in this setting (see the Licensing Act 2003, Sch.1, para 2(1)(a) and 2(2), and para 14 'Plays').

Perhaps James Purnell, Feargal Sharkey and BBC Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt will include all this in their BBC Radio 1 'Live Music Debate' agenda on Monday. See:

There's still plenty of time to answer Feargal's call: '...if you've got an idea, no matter how big, small or outrageous, but one that you think might make it easier for you to get a gig or go see a gig that's I want to hear about.'

The BBC R1 Live Music Debate message board is at:

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Transcript of BBC R4 Today, Thursday 20 April 2006

Top of the Pops caught by new Licensing Act

JIM NAUGHTIE: It's 20 past 8. Now six months after the Licensing Act was introduced to regulate 24 hour drinking it's still causing quite a bit of confusion. According to Hammersmith & Fulham Council in London, a concert staged by Top of the Pops on Saturday fell foul of the new law because it was a public event. The council warns that the president, er the presence of a studio audience meant that the event had to be licensed, and this applies to the programme's normal weekly recordings as well, all of which could now be illegal. Nicola Stanbridge reports:

[TOTP theme fades in]

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: Top of the Pops has passed from generation to generation, even though the music has changed a little bit in 40 years. Hammersmith & Fulham Council started investigating the iconic programme when it staged a small open air concert at Television Centre by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Saturday. The council says the BBC should have applied for a licence under the new Licensing Act, and delving further now feels the BBC needs a licence for all its studios. I asked Louise Neilan from Hammersmith and Fulham if this made Sunday's Top of the Pops illegal under the new Licensing Act while a licence is sought.

LOUISE NEILAN: Yes, that could be in breach. It's all around the interpretation of whether its a private or public event, and if it's been advertised on the website and the audience has come in and is considered public. If they didn't have an audience for Top of the Pops it's our understanding that they wouldn't be in breach of the er Licensing Act. It may well have implications for other forms of entertainment as well, anything with sort of music or dancing.

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: The BBC is in discussion with the council now. No-one was available for an interview, but in a statement it said:

ACTOR READING BBC STATEMENT: The recording of live performances before a limited invited studio audience has always been treated by the BBC and the council as constituting a private event, not requiring a live performance licence. In the event that a different approach is now required the BBC will apply for the appropriate licence. [electric guitar fade in]

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: Past presenters have rallied around the longest-running British pop show, including the very first one, Sir Jimmy Saville.

SIR JIMMY SAVILE: Top of the Pops is a way of life for young people. If they say 'no Top of the Pops', young people will bounce up like corks. When I started Top of the Pops Wednesday January 1st, 1964, 6.30 in the evening, Rolling Stones first group, at Dickenson Road in Manchester in a converted church, a journalist said to me 'How long do you think this sort of thing will last?', and I said 'As long as people listen to records, because you listen to a record of course you want to see the artist, you want to see them move'. There'll always be a Top of the Pops, one way or another, dictators or no. [TOTP theme fade in - crowd roar]

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: Every week there's a studio audience of teenagers screaming and dancing. Mike Reid who's also presented the show, says the notion that the studio audience is in jeopardy is worrying.

MIKE REID: The crowd have always been an essential part of it since 1964. If you're doing it in an empty studio it's a bit like playing a football match with no crowd there. And if were Top of the Pops I'd just carry on and say 'to hell with Hammersmith Council, let's just do it and enjoy ourselves, they, they try and stop us enjoying ourselves at every turn now the nanny state - just go ahead, I'd be right behind it'.

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: Breaking the Licensing Act can lead to a £20,000 fine and six months in prison, but Hammersmith and Fulham Council says Top of the Pops has been running for many years without causing harm and it won't be seeking to stop the programme going ahead this Sunday, even though it thinks technically the programme is breaking the new Licensing Act.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: And the time is now 24 minutes past 8...


Hamish Birchall