On 30 April this year, an extraordinary exhibition was launched in the V&A with remarkably little fanfare. The exhibition, nestled in the seldom-visited Theatre & Performance Gallery on the museum’s first floor, is called “My Generation: The Glory Days of British Rock”, and is an anthology of photographs taken behind the scenes of the music chart-show Top of The Pops from 1964 to 1973. The photographer was the then relatively unknown Harry Goodwin who, over the course of a decade, would go on to produce some of the most iconic pop images of a generation.
Top of The Pops burst onto our screens on New Years Day, 1964. The show, which was initially broadcast live, featured the pop and rock acts with songs in the British charts. The very first show included performances by The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Dusty Springfield and The Hollies. Originally scheduled for only a few episodes, TOTP enjoyed instant success. Defying all expectations, the weekly show would continue for another 42 years, its run only coming to an end in 2006.
Harry was already in his forties when he was employed by the BBC as resident stills photographer on the fledgling music show. In the beginning he was paid only £30 per week, although he would eventually go on to receive a pay-rise and a mention in the closing credits as the show grew in popularity. His shots of the often reluctant stars would be used as background stills when the acts were unable to perform on the show.
The exhibition, made up of 200 images, is a veritable who’s who of 1960’s and 70’s rock and pop. The list of subjects is as impressive as it is expansive - from a youthful Paul McCartney and Keith Richards, pictured drinking tea and Coca-Cola respectively, to Sony and Cher, Ike and Tina, the Jackson 5 and John Lennon. Glam rock features heavily, with candid shots of Elton John, Rod Stewart, Marc Bolan, The Who and The Alice Cooper Band. The image of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar with his teeth is now famous in it’s own right (the shot was, apparently, improvised by Hendrix himself, without any input from the photographer).
Perhaps the most interesting image is of the famously camera-shy Bob Dylan. Grumpy and un-cooperative, Dylan was proving a difficult subject. Harry overcame this reticence, and extracted a little revenge, by temporarily blinding Dylan with the camera flash – the resulting image of a petulant Dylan speaks volumes.
For anybody interested in photography or pop history, this exhibition is not to be missed!
Incidentally, while you are there, make sure to pop next door to the Paintings & Drawings Gallery, where prints and sketches from Picasso (including “The Frugal Repast”) can be found in glorious juxtaposition with Warhol’s famous Marilyn Monroe prints, among many others.
My Generation - The Glory Years of British Rock
Victoria & Albert Museum
30 April - 24 October 2010