"The weekend starts here"
A vague announcement about a new show had been made in British weekly pop music magazine
Disc in late March 1963, "big new AR-
The show's genesis was Keith Fordyce's radio show Pop Inn, in which pop stars would
come in for an informal chat and maybe play an unrehearsed song. Elkan Allan heard
the show and thought of its possibilities as a TV series. He toured clubs to see
how the kids danced and behaved and realised that they would probably just as much
an attraction as the singers and groups. He rightly reckoned that the home audience
wanted to see how teens dressed and danced differently to each song, and that audience
would be between 13 -
In summer 1963 TV Times writer John Gough had mentioned that a new youth aimed TV
show was being prepared and would any teenagers be prepared to turn up and participate
in the pilot edition. "NEWS for teenagers: Associated-
AR commissioned five shows with a further run if it proved successful. The idea was
to hold the main bulk of the broadcast in Rediffusion's basement studio in Kingsway
hosted by radio DJ Keith Fordyce with an audience of 150, while Canadian co-
TV Times described the debut show in August 1963; “Keith Fordyce invites you to join him and David Gell to meet a host of guest stars from all sides of entertainment including Billy Fury, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, listen to hit discs, see a scene from a recent movie, dance with the teenagers in the studio, find out what's swinging this weekend.” This gave the impression of the show as some sort of youth club with elders keeping an eye on the audience. Joe Loss was the judge of a dance contest on the first show which was won by someone doing the twist. This wouldn't last long, it couldn’t. The debut show was given a two page spread in that weeks' TV Times, so the ITV network must have had some expectations of success for the show.
Despite the inclusion of Billy Fury and others from the Larry Parnes fifties era
of British rock and roll the show suspected other things were about to happen, and
as to underline this The Springfields, a trio of home counties pop-
The early shows were pre-
The show initially relied on British acts, but the word got around to agents of visiting American acts that this was the show to do. Keith Fordyce, although a reliable host, found it tough interviewing the guests, occasionally fluffing it (a notable example being PJ Proby), so it was left to Cathy McGowan (effectively Dusty Springfield's replacement) to chat to the acts, despite an irritating tendency to say “amazin'” about anything or anyone, so much so that it wasn’t long before people were imitating and spoofing her, but not only her voice and mannerisms. Her dress sense became the standard that girls followed and not long after she found herself advertising clothes and cosmetics. Through her the show was now making a welcome move into the mod scene.
The original producer Francis Hitching and his production team chose an open set
which was a popular concept on British television at the time. The whole studio was
exposed to an aerial camera which the show usually started with. A typical opening
scene would have the aerial camera staring down on the dancing audience then it would
cut to a ground level camera which would be on Keith Fordyce in time for his opening
line “well, hi there!” Cameras would be in full view most of the time, particularly
if they were ploughing through a crowd of mods to get nearer the stage. The open
studio set was first used by AR-
The show was a success, but Rediffusion quickly moved it from its prime time hogging
Some shows were broadcast live and on one occasion singer Dion took offence at something
(it's not known what it was) and walked out of the studio after just one song, while
The show's producers advertised for the post of 'teenage adviser' in a national newspaper in autumn 1963. A £10 a week secretary from Streatham called Cathy McGowan replied and after a series of interviews and camera tests she was offered the job. Talking to Disc magazine about the job in August 1965 McGowan said "I was working as a secretary on a magazine. Then I saw the ad in all the musical papers for an interviewer for a pop TV show. I said to my mum 'It must be a joke', but I went along, as I've always wanted to be a journalist." Both McGowan and Michael Aldred were given 'assistant' credits on the show in the TV Times for the 15th November 1963 edition, so (presumably) on the show's closing credits too. The TV Times for 1st December 1963 featured McGowan in a two page article in which she explained not only her 'teenage adviser' role, but explaining the factions of mods and rockers. Mods had their own dances as well as fashion, and one of those dances was the Hitler, which according to the article "you cavort with with the right arm held in Hitler like salute." She might have not actually appeared on the show until the following week.
With RSG! pop music finally had its own outlet. For the first time pop music had broken free from its variety show status into an identifiable slot of its own. No more Arthur Haynes introducing The Rolling Stones, but people who were either knowledgeable or at least used to introducing pop music for a living. The show was NOW.
The show had become very popular quite quickly and anyone within Underground or bus reach could go along and try to get in or at least hang around outside. However, Rediffusion told the TV Times in October 1963 "Please tell your readers our waiting list is now so long we cannot accept any more applications."
The mods made the show their own, but no Parker-
On 10th January 1964 Keith Forsyth quite innocently requested that anyone who wanted to be on the following weeks' show should turn up at Kingsway next Monday for an audition to be in the audience. Fifteen hundred turned up, leading to injuries, arrests and the following day's newspaper headlines.
The show not only made stars of pop singers and bands, but also those behind the
camera. One of the regular directors was Michael Lindsay-
The show’s opening titles used the catch-
So successful was the concept that the BBC tried to counter RSG! with its own completely networked alternative Top Of The Pops at the beginning of 1964 and The Beat Room on BBC2.
The show even had its own "chat area for star" where each act would be interviewed.
Producers decided to extend the RSG empire to radio with the Radio Luxembourg hosted
Ready Steady Radio, featuring many of the acts who would appear on the TV show, while
in March 1964 a spin-
On April 3rd 1964 the show was extended, albeit by five minutes, now beginning at
6.10 pm. Manfred Mann's ‘Hubble Bubble’ became the theme in mid-
The producers would be given the chance to make one-
In May 1964 acts were allowed to perform live for the first time. Talking to Disc Francis Hitching, the show's editor said "This will bring more atmosphere into the studio, and give the fans a chance to hear some of the group's regular repertoire, instead of just their latest hit. The immediate problem is to find enough rehearsal time." Among those playing live were rockers Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, proving the show wasn't just a bunker for mods.
All the faces in the business appeared on the show, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Yardbirds, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Donovan, plus any visiting American act sometimes performing live with their own band, or a band provided by RSG.
A complimentary Battle of the Bands contest Ready, Steady, Win! appeared in the summer
of 1964 and offered a first prize of £1000 of equipment, with a second prize of a
£750 van, a third prize of £350 of clothes. The winning band would also be given
a place on the regular show. Initially nearly 5000 applications were made, so to
separate the serious competitors from the chancers each group had to send in a demo'
disc of which one song had to be an original. Only less than a thousand entrants
managed to do this. Show Editor Barry Cawtheray explained to TV Times about asking
for discs "We decided against tapes. For one thing they break and then on a tape
you can have things like 'Mum' coming in at the beginning and apologising for 'Rover'
barking a bit in the background. With so many contestants we could only spare the
time to listen to the actual music." Talking about the groups' clothes he claimed
"One group was dressed in ultra-
cloaks and eye patches and crutches -
Writing for Pop Weekly in mid 1964 editor Francis Hitching made note of the ballads which were now becoming more commonplace and since the RSG studio was meant to represent a night club which played dance music it was having issues with this new trend. Dancers had no option but to find a partner or sit this one out, difficult for what was meant to be a dance show.
Many guests who had made previous appearances were invited back for the first anniversary show on 7th August 1964 which was seen by fourteen million viewers. Francis Hitching told Disc magazine at the time that the show had a seven year waiting list for audience members.
In September 1964 at a Variety Club luncheon Elkan Allen head of Rediffusion Light Entertainment said "When we started 'Ready Steady Go!' a year ago our's was the only programme with kids dancing on it. Now there's one every night. BBC has two copies on. If they'll take theirs off, I'll promise not to run any more beat shows." Tom Sloan of the BBC responded by saying "These remarks suggest that the BBC has deliberately followed the course set by Rediffusion. In fact, BBC began this type of programme with '6.5 Special' in 1957. This was the first show, which had youngsters dancing in the studio, and set the pattern for all its successors. Any suggestion that the BBC has copied Rediffusion's programme, is not only wrong but impertinent."
The viewing figures for the 1963 into 1964 New Year's Eve show was the largest late night viewing figure ever, apart from the General Election results, so it was inevitable that another new year show would follow. Talking about the new show to TV Times Francis Hitching said "This is a programme that wasn't really designed to be watched. We don't care whether they look in or not, so long as their sets are switched on. We hope people once again will use our programme to get their own New Year parties swinging."
The show only intended to play new record releases, but in early 1965 they give several
slots to a young singer-
In the Spring of 1965 executive producer Elkan Allan decided to change the shows' format by having all the performers sing and play live. With the change of format came a change of location from Kingsway to the larger facilities of Wembley. Along with the facelift from the 2nd April 1965 the show was given a new name, Ready Steady Goes Live! Talking to the TV Times Allen claimed 'Ready Steady Go was starting to go sour on us about six months ago.' The boss of EMI Records Sir Joseph Lockwood was said to be "horrified" by the proposition of his artists performing live and met with Elkan Allen to discuss his concerns. Acts had performed live on the show many times over the previous few months, but the decision was probably agreed to beforehand rather than imposed on them. As Elkan Allen explained to The Stage and Television Today in March 1965 "Because of my own background of working on documentaries, I am personally happier with a show in which the performances are as authentic as possible. But I am the first to recognise that show business is founded on illusion and I have no objection to miming if it is necessary to create that illusion." Record companies had agreed to let Rediffusion have copies of arrangements of each song so it could be replicated live using the studio's musical director. Talking to Rave magazine Elkan Allan said "RSG was becoming a bit samey. Bad mimers positively embarrassed me and it was clear fans felt that mime's a cheat." The magazine held a postal vote to see which the fans preferred live or mimed, but as I've not seen that edition of the magazine the outcome of reader's preference is unknown. Not only would the fans now have to travel to the outskirts of London to see the show produced, but artists would now have to be in attendance from 10.00 am until the live broadcast for rehearsals.
Talking to the NME in February 1965 about artists playing live Vicki Wickham claimed
"We would like to have more artists performing live as as you have probably noticed,
we have lately been trying to put this into effect. But our main problem is inadequate
studio space. Even so, artists who actually perform on RSG only receive the same
fee as those who mime." Like Thank Your Lucky Stars and Top Of The Pops Ready, Steady,
Go! was a 'Special Fee' show, which meant that artists accepted a lower than normal
fee in order to come on and plug their new record. Lower than, for example, the London
Palladium show where they always would be expected to play live. However, the move
to Wembley had to be approved, and to that end a new pilot show was made. It was
also assumed that Cathy McGowan would now have her own male on-
Cathy McGowan picks up another presenting job as she begins to host Pye Records' show on Radio Luxemburg, Spin In The New, which begins 23rd March 1965.
The decision to move to Wembley was a gamble and to many it took away the intimacy
of the previous location, but as Elkan explained to The Stage "I have felt recently
that the audience was getting predictable and boring where once it was bizarre and
compelling, so I decided that particular argument against moving to Wembley had gone.”
A new dance troupe was employed with the audience now confined to seating (with limited
room for dancing) on scaffolding to the right, but there would now be room for 250
members of the audience instead of the comparative airing cupboard studio at Kingsway.
A new RSG! Club was formed at this time with around 2000 members from which the audience
would be chosen to appear on the show. Talking to TV Times McGowan said "If they
don't arrive at the studio looking smart and up-
The change also saw Keith Fordyce leave the show with Cathy McGowan now co-
Despite the intent to reinvigorate the show several ITV channels decided to drop
it before the change, leading to a loss of viewers, while others would transmit it
on different days. By early March 1965 the programme's makers Rediffusion were the
only channel showing it at the intended time slot, with Ulster, Southern, Scottish,
Anglia and Grampian playing it on a Sunday. So much for 'The Weekend Starts Here'.
TWW ended up showing the more established Thank Your Lucky Stars instead of RSG!
in this time slot, while ATV showed an edited thirty-
In April 1965 the producers try to find another Donovan by hiring Dana Gillespie to appear on several shows.
Despite indifference from home broadcasters the trend-
By summer 1965 Les Reed was the musical director for both ITV's Ready Steady Go and the BBC's Gadzooks.
P J Proby, who had been banned by some TV broadcasters in the UK after his on-
Explaining the decision making process about who to include on the show Vicki Wickham
told Disc magazine "As far as The Who, Stones, Animals and Dusty are concerned, we
feel they made their names on our programme. It's great the way they phone up and
say 'When are we doing another show?' Other artists are picked either by hearing
a great record and auditioning the group that made it, or by going to clubs and ballrooms
hearing a good artist and waiting for the record to come out then booking them. I
pick records with a view to either dancing or to the chart. There's nothing clever
about tipping records for chart success that are obvious -
Talking to The Stage in August 1965 about the hostess / commere Francis Hitching
explained "Cathy doesn't have a regular partner because we like to use a guest star
each week. We searched for a long time for the right partner -
Elkan Allan announced at the Variety Club luncheon that the show was to be replaced by something "much broader". He explained that "I am taking it off while it is still on top". He said this as he was receiving and award for the show from the Variety Club presented to him by former host Keith Fordyce. The show had also just won the Best TV Show category by readers of the Melody Maker for the second year running.
In September 1965 Disc magazine carried a headline "Ready Steady GOES!" Elkan Allan
talking to Disc claimed "I want to see Ready Steady Go finish while it is still at
the top. I should hate to see the programme become stale and lose its popularity,
and be forced to go because of that." However, only a few weeks before he told Melody
Maker "Pop is, an will remain, an important part of every television company's schedules,
and there is no question of our dropping the pop shows. Certainly RSG will go on,
and it will develop. It may not get the embarrassingly high ratings it got for a
period, but it will remain an important part of our programming and an important
part of the lives of teenagers of all ages." It was also announced that theatre producer
Michael White (later to work with Monty Python and The Comic Strip) will help stage
a Christmas show based along the lines of RSG. Working with him will be Elkan Allan,
In the 9th October 1965 edition of the TV Times Elkan Allan was asking readers to
come up with ideas for a replacement show which would begin in the new year. Letters
were to sent to 'New Ready Steady Go' via the TV Times address. The public response
was swift. From the Daily Mirror. "Don't drop RSG plead fans. Hundreds of teenagers
throughout Britain have been protesting since it was announced that the 'Ready, Steady,
Go!' show is to be dropped in December (writes Ken Irwin)." "We have simply been
snowed under with complaints said a Rediffusion TV spokesman. But, we are not relenting
because we think we have a much better show to take the place of RSG, Elkan Allan,
Rediffusion's head of entertainment has been telling us about the plans for the new
show." “It’s going to be the swingingest thing on the screen” he said confidently
"the new show will make more use of film -
By late 1965 it was still being reported that the show was on its way out. In a statement
in late November Elkan Allen, head of Light Entertainment at Rediffusion claimed
"The fact is that we are recording pilot programmes of several possible successors
during the next fortnight and will decide our final plans when we have considered
all these". The pilot of a potential replacement 'One-
On Tuesday 16th December 1965 Rediffusion call a press conference to announce that the show will now not end at the end of the year, but will be extended until February 1966, but it will be cut to 27 minutes. Elkan Allan would be replaced by American musical director Buddy Bregman, who until recently was working with the BBC. The three pilots that had been commissioned were not to Reduiffusion's taste, so the show was given a reprieve.
With the axe hovering over their heads now put to one side for the time being the
show celebrated Christmas 1965 in true Crackerjack fashion with a pantomime, 'Cinderella'
with Cathy McGowan in the lead role and Herman (Peter Noone) as the Prince trying
to save her from the wicked Stepmother, played by Pete Townshend and the ugly sisters
played by Hilton Valentine of The Animals and Ray Davies. During rehearsals Mick
Avory trips up the pantomime horse sending it crashing into a kitchen unit on set,
while Keith Moon falls through scenery. The glass from an arc lamp explodes, showering
everyone in glass, while Pete Quaife shoots ball bearings from a toy gun at the cast.
The New Year's Eve show saw the show return to Kingsway along with guest host Keith
Fordyce. Interview clips with some of the stars were played between the programmes
on ITV all evening. The show's producers used 'vidicons', shoebox-
In the new year the show was cut down to under half an hour to make way for popular,
but terrible soap opera Crossroads, and also possibly to make the show more attractive
to other ITV channels. Another possible attraction for the network was Sandy Sarjeant,
the show's first cage dancer who arrived in March. An excursion to France in April
might have been used to encourage exports by Global TV, Rediffusion's international
sales division. Although it's unlikely the show itself was sold abroad clips from
the show were used to bulk out local pop shows in West Germany. The truth was that
Rediffusion in London was the only ITV channel showing it at the appointed time of
Friday evening, with viewers in the north and north-
Discussing the idea that pop television had become stale Francis Hitching told Melody Maker in January 1966 "RSG is not unimaginative, because it is a live programme it gives more chance to artists to do something out of the ordinary, not bound by what's happening in the Pop Fifty or what the record companies decide what's best for them. It's a programme doing its best to recreate the best of what happens in a club. For example, we have had numbers that last six minutes which you never get on a single." When asked about the audience participation in the show he replied "Regarding audience participation you can do a show and put on artists in a dramatic way, with lights and scenery, presenting the artist visually with no other element. You can do that for a number of weeks, but the whole spectrum of these dramatic pop shows can't develop. On our show there are no sets and very little scenery, and week by week it changes, because the kids change. RSG now, compared to two years ago is unrecognisable."
Even though the show had responded to the threat of Top Of The Pops by having the
artists perform live, miming and lip-
In Spring 1966 the show was on the move again. A Rediffusion spokesman talking to
Record Mirror claimed "On March 25, the programme moves to the new time of 7-
By this time the deal that ITV had with the Performing Rights Society meant that
any songwriter who had a song performed on RSG or any other networked show would
receive £50 per song, compared to £17 per song for the non-
On 1st April 1966 the show was broadcast from Paris, featuring many names from the French chart. Among the local audience were a British couple "representing the best British dress and dance trends" according to Record Mirror, while Cathy McGowan had been taking French lessons especially for the show. A French technical crew were on hand as the usual UK crew were back home working on the general election coverage. After the broadcast the Yardbirds played a live show at the Locomotion.
Despite the noose of cancellation hanging over them the show's producers continue
to strive to bring the best new talent to a wider audience. This often meant listening
to all new releases sent to them by the record companies. Talking to Beat Instrumental
in June 1966 Vicki Wickham claimed "There's an awful lot of listening in fact, between
60 and 70 new releases every week. Everyone involved with the programme gets together
to decide which are the best and we spend the rest of the time including weekends
putting the show together. We often listen to B sides too, so there are quite a few
hours of playing time before we actually get down to the show. We get millions of
pluggers coming along with piles of records but we always listen -
In order to continue to attract big names to the show several shows throughout 1966 were given over to special guests, performing live sets and introducing the other acts themselves. These included the Troggs, The Who, Otis Redding, The Walker Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner.
In June 1966 they show received a strange accolade as the German-
RSG continued throughout 1966 including a re-
The Musicians Union imposed miming ban came into effect on 1st August 1966, but RSG
were ahead of the game with many singers already performing live, albeit with pre-
Despite a prestigious time slot the falling audiences meant that its days were numbered,
and after re-
However, no one had told Vicki Wickham. During the Ike & Tina Turner show, recorded
late September, she told Penny Valentine of Disc Weekly "Despite rumours to the contrary
'RSG' will not fold at the end of the year. It has been scheduled for next year,
so we are working on plans to turn it into a different sort of show, rounder. Not
just one artist after the next." Referring to the live show that had just finished
she said "We're going to concentrate on these sort of shows when the artists are
good enough. Giving over the entire second half to them. This is the coming thing
as far as we're concerned -
The producers weren't exactly making themselves popular either when on the 28th October 1966 they decided to give The Dave Clark Five top billing over The Hollies, leading to a walk out by The Hollies. Talking to the New Musical Express in late October Manfred Mann told them "We don't want to offend anyone, but that business with Dave Clark topping The Hollies really got me. I don't wonder why The Hollies walked out... Knowing how aware the RSG team is, I just can't understand how it arrived at this decision."
The show had its own secrets, like legendary guitarist Vic Flick from The John Barry Seven, who played on practically every show. Flick had played the guitar on The James Bond Theme, the Juke Box Jury theme among others.
Rediffusion were keen to keep Cathy McGowan happy by giving her a new show, but despite offers it never materialised. Talking to Disc Weekly about the upcoming demise of RSG she claimed "I'm not really sorry RSG is ending. It is the end of a way of life. It is better to end this way rather than just run down." From a business standpoint McGowan shouldn't have been bothered by the show's demise. By this time she was promoting her line of Dansette record players and had her own cosmetics line which was to be sold in Macy's and Gimbel's stores in the USA, as well as other advertising opportunities during the show's run.
The truth was that The Beatles had stopped coming to the show, but would happily appear on Top Of The Pops, and if the show had continued into 1967 the Stones would stop coming too, and then the Yardbirds, and then The Who and on and on. It had to stop. The party was over.
Even though the TV show was over Ready Steady Radio continued on Sundays until the
end of January 1967, while about the same time Elkan Allan was spilling the beans
about the show in a series of articles for The People. In the summer months of 1967
Vicki Wickham became producer for a series of Sunday evening shows at The Saville
Theatre in London before taking a job at EMI Records and running the indie label
Toast Records in 1968, and writing for Melody Maker in 1972 as their New York correspondent.
She would become a regular feature of pop archive shows and documentaries throughout
the 2000's, and in 2014 conducted one of the last interviews given by George Michael.
Polly Perkins had a brief singing career in 1968 with Smith -
As the show was finishing Rediffusion's in-
The famous catch-
In autumn 2020 the book Ready, Steady, Go! The Weekend Starts Here: The Definitive Story of the Show That Changed Pop TV by Andy Neill, told the full story and is thoroughly recommended.
The show would be best remembered for breaking new acts like The Animals, Them, Lulu, The Who, The Rolling Stones, among others, and was without a doubt the most important and influential British pop music show of all time.