Tuesday 12 November 2019

TV talent show that really was 'Tops' looks like it could return after 15 years

TOPS OF THE TOWN' or 'John Player Tops' was 'X Factor' in this country before anyone had heard of Simon Cowell. A veritable 'Ireland's Got Talent', it ran from 1962 to 1997 with its televised national finals topping the TAM ratings every year.

Founded in 1962 in Waterford where it was simply known as 'Tops Of The Town', the contest went nationwide in 1964 when company John Player provided financial support and RTE turned on their cameras.

Community groups and businesses competed to deliver variety shows in local and national finals.

A 'Tops' show offered huge variety with singers, dancers and comedians interspersed on-stage and all working together to create a breathtaking 55-minute production.

However, behind the scenes of each production lay an army of producers, directors, stagehands, set-builders, writers, costume-makers, lighting technicians, committee members and fundraisers, with thousands of people involved around the country.

Production values varied from slickly-produced shows from big companies including Aer Lingus and ESB to community groups whose costumes were sewn at the kitchen table and sets nailed together in a garage.

One old hand remembered: "None of this mattered if you had the talent on-stage. In the months coming up to the competition, groups all around the country would be rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing.

"It was worth it if you got to the national finals, which meant you had a six-month run staging shows, but if you got knocked out at a local level it might only be four performances for all that time and trouble. No one minded, though, because it was that big. It was like GAA for amateur performers."

However, the end was in sight when John Player's position as chief sponsor ended due to a ban on the advertising of cigarette products.

The last official and televised 'Tops Of The Town' final was in 1997 when Moate scooped the top prize.

Now, prompted by a Facebook group, a revival of 'Tops Of The Town' as a national variety competition is under way, masterminded by former 'Tops' producer-director Gerry Quinn of Variety Ireland with auditions around the country next year.

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