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"Well, keep going chief…say something outrageous"

28 Nov 2011 |  James Whitmore 
James Whitmore

By far the best thing on television at the moment is "Top of the Pops". It's there, at 7.30 on Thursdays, on BBC4.

Shows from 1976 are being repeated, week-for-week, just as they were broadcast at the time. No "ironic" commentary phoned in by a jaded celebrity. No subtitles telling you what you are looking at. No Twitter feeds or opportunities to interact with the programme maker - just pure unadulterated seventies telly.

What makes it so interesting is what you know they don't know. Next week, on 1st December to be precise, the Sex Pistols will appear on ITV London's teatime news show and all hell will break loose. The inebriated host, Bill Grundy, will goad a bemused Steve Jones into proffering not one but two profanities. Live on air. The day after, the front page of the Daily Mirror will scream "The Filth and the Fury".

Hitherto, punk has been the minority pursuit of a very small clique of middle class dilettantes. A miasma of fashion, art and left-wing politics, it has yet to coalesce into the tribe of lavatory chain bedecked, bondage wearing and gobbing yobs of the popular imagination.

Here are all these ugly hippies miming cod disco to a crowd of eyebrow-less "chicks" and they haven't a clue what is just round the corner.

By late November, a well-attended punk gig would attract no more than 150 people. We're in the territory of Facebook friends. If you added up all the people in the entire country who by this time had been directly exposed to the coming storm, you would struggle to get into the very low thousands. A few things appeared in the music press, mainly as curios. You couldn't hear the songs anywhere, or buy them.

And then it all changed. Out of the blue, a seismic shock. My abiding memory of the following day was walking down a shopping street and being beaten over the head by a handbag-wielding granny. She was keen to express her opinion about "disgusting filth".

Dailly Mirror - The Filth and The Fury

This brings me to the recent MediaTel seminar on electronic trading. The gist seemed to be "what we do is far too complicated for a mere electrical method to compute". Bonnie Tyler warbles "Lost in France".  Electronic data transfer has its place; it is for administrative detail. Steve Miller blandly intones, "Keep Rockin' Me Baby". Media purchasing is byzantine in its complexity and it is unimaginable that any sort of central system might husband it. Demis Roussos sings "Forever and Ever".  No change required.

"Well, that's good", I thought. "A great venue; I'll tell them when I get back to the office."

To me, media buying has always had the faint whiff of a simple thing, complicated by experts. The evidence of the past decade is that media has been thoroughly commoditised. If this is true, then we should actively look to change the way we trade to take advantage of the efficiencies of the digital world. If it isn't true, then we really need to do a better job of showing why.

In the middle ground lies complacency, Noel Edmonds and suspect knitwear.

Perhaps it would help to imagine that we are on "Top of the Pops". Does anyone really want to look like a clueless dinosaur in thirty-five years' time?

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