19 August 2010

1983: The Mini-Pops - Controversy On Channel 4...

For many years, little girls across the land had sought to ape their elders' fashions.

My late grandmother, born in 1910, often told me of the uproar which ensued when she sneaked off and got her hair cut in a then-fashionable "bob" when she was seven years old. The bob went on to become one of the defining hair styles of the 1920s. But little girls circa 1918 were definitely not supposed to have this "grown-up" style.

"I just wanted to be in the fashion," Gran told me. "But my parents were outraged!"

To be in fashion was a much more accepted business for little girls in the 1980s.

Raiding Mum's dressing table for make-up had long been a favourite pursuit of little Karen or little Sharon, and in 1982/1983 a lot of girls were also taking their fashion cues from the TV series Fame, with leg warmers and Fame sweat shirts.

Other fashion "musts" for the teenies back then included pixie boots, donkey jackets, hair gel, ra ra skirts, and deely boppers. Both of my little sisters (one born in 1971, the other in 1974) were heavily into these things in 1982 and 1983.

The Mini-Pops, which debuted on Channel 4 on 8 February 1983, sought to bring to the small screen the little'uns' passion for fashion and for aping their elders. The idea was that kids, boys as well as girls, should dress up as pop stars and give their own renditions of pop hits.

What lots of little kids did at home, singing along to Toyah or Bucks Fizz or dad's old Rolling Stones LP, they could now do in a studio - and share their fun via the telly screen with the whole country.

for the Mini-Pops kids there were clothes which echoed those of their pop heroes and heroines.

And there was make up, too, lashings of it, without having to make a raid on Mum's and risk a clip round the ear hole.

What's more, the parents who took their pride and joys along to the Mini-Pops auditions in the summer of 1982 seemed more than happy at the prospect of them becoming miniature Bananaramas or whoever.


Or was it?

Middle Britain threw up its hands in horror at the little girl who sang Sheena Easton's 1980 hit 9 to 5 in night attire (Sheena had at least worn a boiler suit) - "Night time is the right time, we make love..."

Disgusting! The girl in question later said that she had no idea what it meant (as an aside, I think "making love" once had a much more innocent meaning: one made love with words and poetry, but long before the 1980s it had been designated as "nookie" only).

In fact, middle Britain threw up its hands in horror at the whole spectacle of these little kids wearing glitzy and sometimes skimpy mini-versions of their pop idols' garb.

And as for the lip gloss and the eyeliner and some of the dance moves...

Disgusting to the absolute max.

And surely the show would attract every Tom, Dick and Pervy in the country? It would kill of the children's childhoods prematurely. They'd all need psychiatric help by the time they were teens...

It's wrong to generalise, and perhaps it wasn't only middle Britain that was outraged by the show, but the attitude of the working class tabloid the Daily Mirror to the first Mini-Pops show on 8 February 1983 was rather different...

There is a chance tonight to spot the stars of tomorrow. Twenty youngsters were chosen from 800 hopefuls for a place on the new series MINI POPS (Channel 4, 6pm).

Over the next six weeks they get the chance to dress up as their pop idols and sing their hit songs.

Mike Mansfield, who produced the show, says he was "amazed" at their talent.
"A few of them could become very big names," he predicts.

Some of the youngsters have already hit the charts with a Mini-Pops album.

The series was filmed at record speed. Mansfield explained: "The children are available only during school holidays. We ended up making the entire series in one week."

He believes the show will appeal to all ages.

Mansfield says: "Adults will watch because they love kids. And the kids will watch because lots of them rehearse in their bedrooms with a hairbrush for a mike while singing along to a hit record."

From the Daily Mirror TV listings, February 8, 1983:

Mini-Pops: New light entertainment series in which the entertainers are all kids aged between seven and ten. They're our future stars.

All good, innocent fun, you see?

But elsewhere, well...

From the Observer, 27 February, 1983:

Is it merely priggish to feel queasy at the sight of primary school minxes with rouged cheeks, eye make-up and full-gloss lipstick belting out songs like torch singers and waggling those places where they will eventually have places? The final act of last week's show featured a chubby blonde totlette, thigh-high to a paedophile, in a ra-ra skirt and high heels; her black knickers were extensively flashed as she bounced around singing the words "See that guy all dressed in green/He's not a man, he's a loving machine." Kiddiporn, a shop-window full of junior jailbait? And does the show thrust premature sexual awareness onto its wide-eyed performers?

One phone caller to Channel 4's Right To Reply show raged:

"Mini Pops should be called Mini Whores. Are you people out of your mind?"

A bit strong, wasn't it? After all many female (and, indeed, some male) pop stars of the 1980s put their make up on with a trowel and wore tarty garb, it was the norm, and surely these were just little children pretending to be them?

What does come across, from looking into the subject, is the innocent intentions of the show's producers and the enthusiasm of the kids involved.

But worthy folk worried about the "sexualisation" of children performing on the show.

And perverts tuning in.

And so, the show ended.

What did I think?

Did I believe that the show was going to attract evil perverts?

Did I believe that it was robbing the kiddies of their childhoods?

Did I believe that it was simply fun?

Did I think that it was.... um... well... just a teensy bit common?

Well, this is where this blog post gets really embarrassing.

I never watched it.

I always watched Crossroads instead.

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