Hot Gossip’s Naughty Bits

The rise and fall of British TV’s most notoriously raunchy dance troupe and brief pop music sensations.

There’s a curious contradiction about Hot Gossip when seen now. on the one hand, you have to wonder how this dance troupe ever managed to be seen as eroticism personified in the UK, given how tame their routines now seem; on the other, there is no doubt that if Hot Gossip were to be featured on an early evening TV show now, there would be apoplectic rage from moralising tabloids and their readers.

Hot Gossip were formed by choreographer Arlene Phillips in 1974, but only found fame in 1978, when they had the double-whammy success of a regular slot on the hugely popular Kenny Everett Video Show – then seen as the most anarchic comedy on television, shown on ITV at 7pm – and the hit single I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper, a disco cash-in on sci-fi mania fronted by Sarah Brightman, then one of the troupe’s performers and later, of course, to be the wife of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and star of West End musicals (the two things perhaps not being entirely coincidental). As her fame rose, so the mention of Hot Gossip on editions of the single diminished. It is, in any case, the creative high point of her career, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Hot Gossip were essentially a dance group in the style of Pan’s People or Legs & Co., a performance interlude in the comedy show. But Everett’s hyping of their appearances as “the naughty bits” and combination of big-haired pouting girls and sexually ambiguous boys – all very much of its time and so seemingly much more daring than the staid Top of the Pops rivals, even though the routines of those acts were in fact often just as provocatively sexy – made Hot Gossip the talk of the town. In an era of Page 3 girls and Benny Hill on TV, their sexy routines were, while certain to get the dads (and the mums, for that matter) hot under the collar, widely considered harmless. The kind of parents that might have disapproved of Hot Gossip’s gyrations were the same parents that probably found Everett’s show bafflingly stupid, and so were not tuning in anyway.

Hot Gossip stayed with the Kenny Everett show until 1981, when he was poached by the BBC. The dance troupe were surplus to requirements at the more staid BBC, at least until the final series of the show in 1986. Freed to do their own thing and no longer restrained by an early evening time slot, Hot Gossip stepped out on their own. 1981 saw an album, Geisha Boys and Temple Girls, produced by Martyn Ware of Heaven 17 with songs by him and Phil Oakey of The Human League amongst others. It was, predictably, absolutely awful and sold bugger all. No one cared about listening to Hot Gossip, it turned out – what a surprise.

The album provided the soundtrack to their self-titled 1982 video album, released by Thorn-EMI on VHS. This was one of the pioneering music video releases, available as a pre-sell-thru ‘affordable’ title (around £20) by 1983. At 34 minutes long, how much value for money that represented depends on how much of a fan you were. But viewers hoping for something a bit more daring than they had seen on television were probably disappointed, as this jumps from being a poor man’s Cabaret to highlighting bland performances in crappy discotheques and loud studio sets. Viewers looking for sexy thrills might have been better off spending their cash on an Electric Blue video.

Possibly to the irritation of the people who did fork out to buy the tape, 1982 also saw Channel 4 broadcasting The Very Hot Gossip Show, which was essentially much the same sort of thing, but ten minutes longer and arguably a bit sexier – at least if you liked butt close-ups. Shot at the Lyceum in London, the special was one of Channel 4’s highest-rated shows of 1982, but we should put that into context – the channel was only broadcasting for the last two months of the year, and this was a time when many of its shows were, to the glee of the tabloids, rated as having zero viewers. This special was shown on November 27th, 25 days after the channel launched (beady-eyed viewers will see them on the cover of the TV Times celebrating the new channel).

Hot Gossip had a mind-boggling number of members over the years – including actress Debbie Ash, pop star Sinitta and Bunty Bailey from that A-ha video, none of whom seem very edgy. 1982 would prove to be the high point for the troupe, and as time went on, further TV specials or record deals became notable by their absence. Phillips finally brought it to an end in 1986 and went on to a career of some dreadfulness, including Lord of the Dance and being a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. The mildly erotic thrills of Hot Gossip seem a long way in her past.

Indeed, the whole era of Hot Gossip seems a very long time ago. While the troupe might be able to avoid claims of objectification by being mixed gender, it’s hard to imagine a peak-time show where their gyrations would be seen as acceptable now. But everything about these performances – the fashion, the hair, the set design and the music – now seems so much a snapshot of the time that they ought to be placed in a museum for posterity.

DAVID FLINT

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