Ready Steady Go

Ready Steady Go

ITV network, Associated-Rediffusion

Friday 9 August 1963 to 23 December 1966

Ready Steady Go: VHS video compilation

Ready Steady, Go is probably the first television programme which has genuinely and almost completely been taken over by teenagers. The very first number on the show was performed by a London beat group at that time very little known … Brian Poole and The Tremeloes. As TWIST AND SHOUT echoed around Studio 9 at Television House in the Kingsway, the fifty dancers we had chosen from the clubs exploded into life. And popular though tyhe number was, what made people all over Britain in front of their television screens sit up and take notice were these dancers.
Francis Clifford, Producer, sleeve notes to the Decca LP compilation

Ready Steady Go : Various Artists, Decca LP compilation 1964
‘The best sounds of 1963’

I bought ten of the album’s tracks as singles on release.

This lion of pop music programmes burst on to British television in the summer of 1963. And on a Friday rather than a Saturday night. “The Weekend Starts Here!” became the call sign of the Associated-Rediffusion show whose life cycle caught the tail end of Merseybeat and the full force of the Mod boom of the mid-Sixties

Because of this opportune timing Ready Steady Go! has retained an almost majestic status in the history of pop music on television. It contained much of the vital adolescence of British Rock in its Rhythm and Blues phase, with early performances from some of the greatest names in Rock and Soul from both sides of the Atlantic. 

The whole thing was immediate and direct; a countdown to the weekend against Pop Art backdrops as the 5-4-3-2-1 theme-tune by Manfred Mann spiralled out of suburban living-room screens (The earlier shows used The Surfaris’ Wipe Out). They also used Manfred Mann’s Hubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble and The Rolling Stones Going Home. In 1965, they switched to Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere by The Who.

At around 6 or 7pm on a Friday night (the time differed slightly throughout its run) it was early enough to catch the teen-and-twenty population of the Sixties before they outwardly dispersed to dance or party. It was a rocket launch to the anticipation of a great weekend 

My Generation

Dave Clark (of the Dave Clark 5) later purchased the few tapes that could be found of these shows and acquired the rights to show them subsequently. These edited versions would make later viewers gasp to see fledgling world superstars like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones milling with a studio audience and seeming to be talked down to by some of the original older comperes. But the golden era of RSG, as most would remember it, was in its latter half when a presenter of the same age, fashion and wavelength as the viewing audience was finally given sole command. The void of the generation gap is well illustrated in the way that the young Cathy McGowan came to be part of the show. Early on Keith Fordyce was the presenter, with an ‘everybody’s favourite teacher’ style that had early teens whispering ‘I wish he taught at our school.’ Dusty Springfield presented early shows with him.

Cilla Black and Typical Teenager Cathy McGowan

Concerned about keeping In with their perceived audience Ready Steady Go had placed an advertisement for a ‘typical teenager’, as if this was some kind of specialist trade, to help in the capacity of an advisor, and Cathy got the job. Her initial role was vetting the dancers for ability and sharp clothes. Gradually she found herself more in front of the camera than on its sidelines, until inevitably she became the show’s main face. At roughly the same time the old practice of artists miming to records gave way to a totally live music show.

Cathy MvGowan interviews Paul McCartney
press photo, all the shows were black and white.

It has to be said that Ready Steady Go was never a particularly polished affair. A whole hour to fill was a long time especially in those early days when pop records barely lasted three minutes. On Ready Steady Go though, bands were allowed to play full versions, rater than the 45 edit. To pass the rest of the time the show employed traditional ideas like dance competitions and fashion parades, and because teenage styles were changing faster than at any previous time in history, it was all unexpectedly meaningful to the younger viewer. Virtually without trying, the show gained a reputation for showcasing the almost-weekly transformations in London fashion. British television (and other media) learnt through Ready Steady Go that Youth could no longer be dictated to, and that the best policy was to follow them.

Around The Beatles

The Beatles with Keith Fordyce, Helen Shapiro, Dusty Springfield, Eden Kane

The Beatles clips have survived and been bootlegged from Japanese copies of shows. In retrospect you can see how they were continually manipulated on their way to fame. In 1963, Paul has to judge a miming contest (four girls doing Let’s Jump The Broomstick), they all have to pose (like the dog Elvis once had to sing Hound Dog to) while Helen Shapiro sings her latest release to them; they have to do endlessly jokey interviews; they judge a Beatles painting contest; they have to dance with the audience (or later Cathy McGowan) while others perform. Only Lennon breaks through the pap, mentioning scabs on his ears from listening, then asking if he can see Dusty Springfield’s scabs (very rude in the day).

On 6th May 1964, they broadcast an RSG Beatles special, Around The Beatles, and changed the format. It’s lightning fast with no gaps between songs, and songs are truncated versions so that it’s a series of medleys, all backed by Sounds Incorporated. It’s either live or mimed to a specially-recorded track. Guests include P.J. Proby, Long John Baldry, Cilla Black, Millie, and The Vernons Girls, with The Beatles grooving to all proceedings from a balcony. The dancers (two girls and a boy) are frantic and electric, and way, way above later Top of The Pops standard, probably because they’re not choreographed to “illustrate” the song. The only intro is done by Murray the K before The Beatles, revealing the “guys and gals” line that became Jimmy Saville’s stock in trade. Then The Beatles launch into a rock medley of four songs, one each, follow it with a medley of all their hits in sequence from Love Me Do to Can’t Buy Me Love, and finish with an otherwise unavailable version of Shout! The show stands up in time. At the end the producer credit reads Jack Good.

The Rolling Stones rehearsing for Ready Steady, Go, 1965

In 1965, Dusty Springfield devised and presented the RSG Motown Special with The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Martha & The Vandellas and The Supremes. The Stop! In The Name of Love dance routine debuted on the show, and the special was issued on VHS video in the 1980s.

Through the tinny speakers of a mid-60s’ television set live rock did not always come across so well and some artists fared better then others. Facing a live studio audience of discerning young Londoners could be a daunting prospect for a lightweight band, so it was often the visiting American soul artists who enjoyed the greater prestige. The surprise shown by some of these black artists at being venerated as mod gods by a sea of young white faces was often apparent and was a new experience for all concerned. When James Brown visited Britain in early 1966 the entire show was given over to him.

Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag: James Brown Polydor 70s reissue commemorating his appearance on RSG in early 1966. Brown introduced himself with “In 65 the sound was …”

If the programme had some rough edges, it became even more ad lib when the music went live in April 1965 with a name change to Ready Steady Go Live! They reverted to the original title after nine weeks.

Otis Redding: Ready Steady Go Special, 1966.
Pioneer Laser Disc release 1991

On 16 September 1966 one of the great recorded TV appearances ever was the Otis Redding Special which featured Eric Burdon and Chris Farlowe, both obviously in awe of their hero. The whole show is on YouTube. Eric Burdon and Chris Farlowe got to sing Shake and Land of 1000 Dances with Otis.

5-4-3-2-1: Manfred Mann, on the Cock-A-Hoop EP

The Mod Ball

Ready Steady Go! was the Mod programme of all time. The programme didn’t invent Mods but it exhibited their style and spread their message. RSG’s most famous outside event was the 1964 Mod Ball held on 8th April in London at the Empire Pool, Wembley. Over 25,000 hopefuls applied for tickets to attend this typically big and prestigious happening. In effect only 8000 could be accommodated while thousands (if not millions) watched at home on their television screens. The Rolling Stones headed an army of pop talent and the entire audience was required to dress in “bizarre mod fashions”. 

Ready Steady Gone

Ready Steady Go had come in like a lion and it was determined to go out like one. The last ever show on the Friday before Christmas 1966 was called Ready Steady Goes! and had as legendary a line-up as any in its history: the Who, the Yardbirds, the Spencer Davis Group, Eric Burdon, Donovan…

 Chris Farlowe and Mick Jagger sang Out Of Time, and how apt the tune. (“You’re obsolete my baby…”). A little known singer called Marc Bolan made an appearance and a new band called The Jimi Hendrix Experience enjoyed a television debut.

In retrospect the arrival of Hendrix could be seen as pivotal to the changing times. Mods male and female were set to exchange parka coats and perforated mini-shifts for the flowing paisley robes of Flower Children as 1966 would transform into 1967. But Ready Steady Go had run its course. It was never a hippie, it was ever a mod child and preferred to die before it got old. It would always be the symbol of a target logo and the face of Cathy McGowan with mic in hand and fringe in eyes. It was not just the Weekend that Started Here but part of the reforming world-view of a generation.

Ready Steady Go: The Weekend Starts Here: Various Artists.
Box Set of 10 x 7″ singles, Rough Trade September 2020

Paul F. Newman (some added material Peter Viney)