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Pick of the Pops: Alan Freeman

Updated on April 14, 2017

Pick of the Pops: A Radio Legend

The voice of Alan Freeman is indelibly linked to the radio show Pick of the Pops. His catchphrases and speedy presentation of the week's music chart rundown will forever be remembered with affection by people of a certain age in the UK.

The show has been broadcast in various guises over the last fifty years and a version of it is still around today, currently DJ'ed by Paul Gambaccini.

However, for pop music fans, Sunday afternoons in the 1960s and 1970s will forever be associated with Alan Freeman and his unique presentation style. From his many parodied catchphrases to the instantly recognisable jingles, Alan Freeman was Pick of the Pops.

So, here's a nostalgic look back at a time when the Top 40 was called the Hit Parade and 'Fluff' Freeman ruled the waves. Not 'arf!

Image Credit

Greetings, Pop Pickers!

The Pick of the Pops Theme: At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal

One of the most instantly recognisable theme tunes to any radio show is this one that introduced Pick of the Pops. Called At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal, two versions were commissioned for the show. The one featured here was used for the programme up until 1966 and recorded by Brian Fahey and his Orchestra.

In 1970, it was replaced by a second, jazzed up and faster version by Brass Incorporated, which can still be heard to this day.

As well as introducing the show, the music was also used in the background during Alan Freeman's spoken recap of the whole chart, before playing the Number One record of the week.

The Current Pick of the Pops Theme

Pick of the Pops Alan Freeman
Pick of the Pops Alan Freeman | Source

Memories of Pick of the Pops

Britain's Hit Parade Radio Show

My first memories of listening to Pick of the Pops date back to the late 1960s. This was around the time that I had first become interested in music. The radio was usually on all the time in our house, but at the age that I was then, my choice of radio listening didn't coincide with that of my parents. The Archers, Sing Something Simple and Family Favourites were not programmes that were essential listening for a teenager, but at Sunday teatimes I sometimes managed to sneakily tune the wireless (as it was called back then) to Radio 1 to listen to what was happening on the British music charts.

I remember my Dad hated having to listen to it while we ate our evening meal, forever grumbling that all of the songs were just "thump, thump, thump" and sounding all the same. So it was with some relief that I managed to save up enough money to buy my first transistor radio. Back in those days no self-respecting teenager went anywhere without one of those!

A few months later, I was also the proud owner of a new-fangled contraption called a cassette tape recorder. Shaped like a small book, with keys that resembled those from a piano, it came with a plug-in microphone and ear piece. Now I was set. I could listen to Alan Freeman running down the chart and, like thousands of others, record all my favourite records.

Sometimes, this was more difficult than it sounded. It was an art form in itself trying to catch the beginning of a song, while any extraneous sounds such as dogs barking, mother's calling or people shouting were always caught on tape for posterity's sake. But it really didn't matter as long as there was some semblance of that latest hit that could be played to death at some later date.

Johnny, Remember Me: John Leyton : 1961: Alan Freeman's First Number One

Alan Freeman took over the presentation of Pick of the Pops in September 1961 from incumbent David Jacobs. This was the Number One song that week: Johnny, Remember Me by John Leyton.

1966: Quite Beside the Point: The Harry Roberts Sound

In 1966, Alan Freeman decided on a new signature tune for Pick of the Pops and this is the one that was chosen: Quite Beside the Point by The Harry Roberts Sound.

It lasted for four years, until it was replaced by the new version of At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal in 1970.

Disc Jockey Alan Freeman
Disc Jockey Alan Freeman

Alan Freeman: His Unique Style

Presenter of Pick of the Pops

It wasn't only the fact that you could record songs from the radio that made Pick of the Pops a memorable show. It was the unique and fast paced presentation that made it essential listening at the time.

Alan Freeman had a style all his own. In some ways, his presentation skills were minimalistic. He let the music speak for itself, yet engendered an excitement that didn't exist on other radio shows. His use of jingles, bare sentences and catchphrases allowed the marriage of disc jockey and record to flow effortlessly, reflecting a passion for what he was doing and the records he was playing.

Listen to Alan Freeman: Pick of the Pops Nostalgia

Thankfully, some of Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops shows have been preserved and snippets can be heard in these specially selected videos.

Not 'arf!

Alan Freeman's Last Number One: 1972: Mama, Weer All Crazee Now by Slade

The original run of Pick of the Pops was broadcast until September, 1972 when it was replaced by Tom Browne's Solid Gold Sixty countdown.

This was the Number One song on Alan Freeman's final show: Mama Weer All Crazee Now by Slade. However, it would not be the last that we heard of Pick of the Pops.

Disc Jockey Alan Freeman
Disc Jockey Alan Freeman

Pick of the Pops Returns

Although the original Pick of the Pops show ended in 1972, Alan Freeman would return on several occasions to present it in various formats. This usually consisted of playing a current countdown alongside one from yesteryear.

In 2000, because of health issues, he finally handed over the reins to a different presenter, Dale Winton. The format of the show changed once again, this time the programme featured just one countdown from the past.

When Winton left in 2010, Tony Blackburn became the new host, presenting two music charts from previous years.

Blackburn was replaced by Gambaccini and the show is still running today, along with the At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal signature tune. It can be heard each Saturday at 1pm UK time on BBC Radio 2. And for a nostalgia buff like me, I can still listen to Pick of the Pops online.

Alan Freeman: 1927-2006

Sadly, Alan Freeman passed away in 2006, but his legacy in radio broadcasting lives on.

Here is a brief news report produced shortly after his death.

Alright? Stay Bright!

About Your Author

With each article, Richard invites you to step into his world of music, television and entertainment. He will introduce you to British Glam Rock, share The 20 Scariest Film Scores Ever? and even give you an up close look at some classic actors such as Christopher Lee as Dracula.

For a complete list of Richard's articles, please visit Richard's profile.

Do You Have Memories of Pick of the Pops?

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      gianmaria-senia 4 years ago

      Being 44 years old I have fond memories of Pick of the Pops - Take Two on London's Capital Radio on Saturday Mornings in the early 80s and I'd also listen to his Monday Night Rock Show. loved the jingles and those snippets of classical music on both shows. One of the best radio presenters of all time.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 5 years ago from Liverpool, England

      We considered it most uncool to listen to the programme, though I suspect many of is did really :)

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hello Pop Pickers - now that brought back memories - thanks for sharing!

    • Lemming13 profile image

      Lemming13 5 years ago

      I was a kid when this show was on and I loved it - At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal brought back such memories. Great lens, blessed.

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 5 years ago

      I remember my father talking about Alan Freeman, great memories with this article :)

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      What wonderful memories you have shared! I feel like I really missed out :)

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      termit_bronx 5 years ago

      I didn't know nothing about this, now I do. Thanks for sharing! I think Alan Freeman is very cool!

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