Television: Top Of The Pops

David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars performed ‘The Jean Genie’ on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops on 3 January 1973. It was broadcast the following day.

Unusually for the time, the band played the song live in the studio. Their third take was the one shown, despite an error in the final section where Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey went into the final choruses before Bowie and Ronson were ready. “Everyone thought it was me,” Bolder later said, “but the whole band missed the cue. It was a real mess.”

We were playing a live version of the song with an extended guitar solo, which would last as long as Mick felt it should last, so eye contact was important – I knew Mick would give me a nod as he finished his solo. In the recording you can see me turning my head around to be able to see his cue.

By the time the show was broadcast we had been on our way to the Glasgow gig and never actually saw it. None of us probably thought about it much again.

Woody Woodmansey
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie

In his dressing room RCA presented Bowie with a gold disc for selling 100,000 copies of the Ziggy Stardust album. He was also interviewed by DJ Nicky Horne for BBC Radio 1’s Scene & Heard.

The TOTP footage was wiped by the BBC, and for decades was believed lost. However, a copy had been made by cameraman John Henshall, who was operating a fisheye lens during the shoot.

First I went with Richard Turley, a producer from the BBC, to Westpoint Television, a company which specialises in playing and copying very old broadcast video tapes. It was an amazing spine-tingling experience when David Bowie performing ‘The Jean Genie’ live on ‘Top of the Pops’ in January 1973 came up on screen in superb broadcast quality. It was the first time the tape has been played for over 38 years. It is ‘rarer than rare’ to quote Ray Langstone, who heard me mention that I have the recording when I was on BBC Radio 2’s ‘Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the Seventies’ a couple of months ago.

It seems that people have been searching for this recording, on which Bowie played live, for years without success. Until now! The BBC wiped their tape after the original broadcast and there is no other version. Why do I have it? Well I was a young cameraman at the time and used one of my Telefex Fisheye lenses on my camera. I’m even in shot myself! So I went down to VTR and asked them to make me a copy – on 2-inch broadcast videotape. No VHS in those days.

John Henshall, 27 November 2011

Henshall’s tape was restored by the British Film Institute, and premiered by them during a Missing Believed Wiped event on 11 December 2011. Ten days later it was shown as part of a Top Of The Pops 2 Christmas special.

The audio of the TOTP performance was the b-side of a 7″ picture disc of ‘The Jean Genie’ in 2012.

It felt odd that this moment had been sitting in a drawer somewhere, one song from so many that we played together over those years. We didn’t know then what those songs would come to mean to people all over the world. I had no idea that more than four decades later, people would still come up to me and tell me that watching us changed their life, made them think differently. We were just up there, playing the best we could.
Woody Woodmansey
Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie
Last updated: 4 May 2023
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