A spotlight on the Sunderland man who spearheaded Top of the Pops

'I miss the football team, the beer, the people and the welcome'
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One of Sunderland's finest has looked back on his time as the man in charge of Top of the Pops.

The iconic music show has reached the 60th anniversary of its first ever programme, in 1964.

'I am the son of a Durham miner'

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Ryhope born and bred, Chris Cowey was one of the people who gave it one of its finest eras in the late 1990s, calling it the show's 'Indian summer'.

Chris Cowey who has reflected on his days at Top of the Pops.Chris Cowey who has reflected on his days at Top of the Pops.
Chris Cowey who has reflected on his days at Top of the Pops.

He looked back on his time with the programme and how he worked with some of the biggest stars in the business.

Chris Cowey who has looked back on his time on Top of the Pops.Chris Cowey who has looked back on his time on Top of the Pops.
Chris Cowey who has looked back on his time on Top of the Pops.

The former Ryhope School pupil transformed it from a show with falling viewer figures to doubling its following.

'I am the son of a Durham miner from Ryhope, he said. "You don't think you will have a career on TV let alone do the BBC's flagship music show.

"I was in the right place at the right time."

'They were six fantastic years'

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Chris took over the show in 1997, fresh from his TV successes such as The White Room and The Tube.

Ryhope pit in 1972. Chris was raised in Ryhope and is the son of a miner.Ryhope pit in 1972. Chris was raised in Ryhope and is the son of a miner.
Ryhope pit in 1972. Chris was raised in Ryhope and is the son of a miner.

He'd gone freelance by then but when the BBC came calling, it took him 'all of three seconds' to say yes, he said.

The show's audience was down to two million viewers but Chris, who now lives in London, said: "I took it by the scruff of the neck and got it to five and a half million. They were six fantastic years."

He added: "There wasn't any one fact why it worked. It was a million and one tiny fixes.

How Top of the Pops almost came to Sunderland

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"One of them was that I got as many people as possible to play live music on the show."

He got to work with the likes of Oasis, Prince, David Bowie and The Spice Girls.

Another of his 'tiny fixes' was to get other nations to show Top of the Pops. It soon reached 126 countries.

In 1999, Chris took Top of the Pops on the road and explained how the show almost came to Sunderland.

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"I was really keen to do the show there but at that time, there was no Mecca. We really tried to get a place in Sunderland."

The problem was, there was nowhere big enough in town to host the show.

'Beats working for a living'

Chris's CV of achievements includes producing The Brit Awards for ITV; Glastonbury for Channel 4 and BBC 1 and 2; the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2016; and the Professional Footballers Association Awards in 2017.

'When you look at it all, you think it must have been someone else," said Chris. "It beats working for a living."

In the last few years, Chris has;

Produced video games;

Made his directorial debut in the West End;

Done numerous concerts;

Produced a Gospel Christmas show for Sky Arts;

'Life in the old dog yet'

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He's teaming up with production company 1185 Films on new productions and said he has 'a raft of ideas'. 'There's life in the old dog yet', he said.

But he's still a Mackem at heart and said: "I keep myself either happy or miserable by watching Sunderland. I get to more away games than anything else."

He still gets back to Wearside a couple of times a year and said: "I come to Sunderland to have a mooch and sometimes go to Ryhope.

"I miss the football team, I miss the beer, I miss the people most of all.

"Compared to London, it is very warm and friendly and relaxing. Sunderland is like a pilgrimage."

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