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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

A vague announcement about a new show had been made in British weekly pop music magazine Disc in late March 1963, "big new AR-TV show planned for pop fans." Devised by London-based ITV franchise Associated-Rediffusion in the Summer of 1963 to capitalise on the emerging British Beat Boom, the show would represent everything that was great about British pop in the sixties. Elkan Allan, head of Light Entertainment for Rediffusion commissioned the show and even coined its catchphrase 'the weekend starts here.' However, it would be the pool of young talent, with not much if any experience in television that assembled the show, and one of those, Vikki Wickham, was fresh from her placement with BBC radio.

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 studio in Kingsway, and hosted by radio DJ Keith Fordyce with an audience of 150, while Canadian co-host David Gell would be in the lobby talking to the audience about their current music favourites. A member of the audience would get to play disc jockey and given a pile of new releases to take home to listen to and return the following week with their choices and predictions, while another would have a chance of winning that week’s top fifty singles. Another idea was to blindfold three members of the audience and get them to identify a current chart hit, while the title and artist was displayed on a monitor, but the idea was quickly dropped, as was a weekly piece on showbiz news. There was a movie spot introduced by actress Polly Perkins, but this too only lasted a few weeks. Perkins then co-hosted for a few weeks before retuning to acting. Dusty Springfield also helped to co-host the show (a commere) for the first few weeks, but the demands of her new solo singing career meant that was always going to be a temporary post.

A trial show (it’s not known if this was a taped / filmed pilot) was held at The Royal in Tottenham and featured The Springfields. The pilot would give the production team an idea of what to expect when the show debuted. However, the audience had no idea what to expect as the first broadcast show not only featured Billy Fury and Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, but also featured Joyce Blair, Joe Loss, Burl Ives and Pat Boone, not exactly a way to start any weekend.

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 early shows were pre-recorded in studio nine at Rediffusion’s studio at Kingsway, London. Vikki Wickham was the series’ editor, while Radio Luxembourg DJ Keith Fordyce hosted the show for it’s first year or so along with his co-hosts David Gell, Cathy McGowan and Michael Aldred, later joined by Gay Shingleton. It was felt by many that Fordyce was probably too old even then to host a show so obviously targeted at teenagers, but the station argued that the show needed experience and Fordyce had hosted Jack Good's Wham! back in 1960 so was considered a safe pair of hands. 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 an ex-boyfriend of presenter Polly Perkins leapt in front of the camera to express that he still loved her. They also held a Beatles lookalike contest which resulted in 200 look-a-likes infesting the studio for auditions.

A post of 'teenage adviser' was then advertised in a national newspaper in autumn 1963 and a secretary from Streatham called Cathy McGowan replied and after a series of interviews and camera tests was accepted.

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 DJ, 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 “amazing” about anything or anyone, so much so that it wasn’t long before people were imitating and spoofing her, but not only the voice. Her dress sense became the standard that girls followed and not long after she found herself advertising clothes and cosmetics, a far cry from her previous employment, earning £10 a week as a secretary in Streatham. Through her show was making a welcome move into the mod scene.

The original producer Francis Hitching and the production team chose the open set which was a popular concept 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!” At one time or another cameras would be in full view. The open studio set was first used by AR-TV’s comedy series A Show Called Fred, starring Spike Milligan and directed by Richard Lester. The style was also adopted and adapted by BBC’s That Was The Week That Was in 1962.

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 mods made the show their own, but no Parker-bearing slob was ever seen, only well-groomed sharp lookers with in their twin-vents or sweaters. For the first time a young audience was seen to be participating, crowding the floor-space by dancing around the edge of the stage or podiums, whereas before the audience was restricted to the seats well behind the cameras. Everyone was a star, the audience as important as the stars on the stage. Despite the usual racially motivated complaints it wasn't unusual to see black dancers in the audience as they were on Top Of The Pops and The Beat Room. Top Of The Pops would later used professional dance troupes like The Go-Jos and Pan’s People to do a weekly routine, RSG! had two professional dancers, Patrick Kerr and Theresa Confrey who would create a new series of steps for whatever record was chosen that week. Once the step was demonstrated he would then rope in members of the audience to dance along on the stage. The stage itself was be so small that the guitarists had to turn the neck of their guitar to the ceiling, a new pose was born.

Directors of the show over the years included Michael Lindsay-Hogg, later to direct The Beatles’ Let It Be, Adam Faith’s Budgie and Brideshead Revisited among others.

The show’s opening titles used the catch-phrase ‘The Weekend Starts Here’ and the accompanying theme music changed frequently including Stevie Wonder's 'Hey Harmonica Man', The Surfari’s 'Wipe Out', Manfred Mann’s '5-4-3-2-1' and 'Hubble Bubble', Dusty Springfield’s 'Heartbeat', The Animals’ 'I’m Crying', Wilson Pickett’s 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' among others.

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. While Radio Luxembourg hosted Ready Steady Radio featuring many of the acts who would appear on the TV show.

In March 1964 a spin-off magazine with articles about the show and full colour photographs appeared, while in April a request for new teenage boy and girl interviewers drew around six thousand applications. Each application had to come with proof that they have had something published.

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-April.

The producers would be given the chance to make one-off specials, the most famous of which was the Mod Ball from the Empire Pool, Wembley in April 1964 and was subsequently entered for The Golden Rose Of Montreux festival of television. The idea was to hold a show similar to the Chelsea Arts Ball with the money going to the Variety Club of Great Britain. Over 25,000 applications were made for the 8000 tickets.

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 mod bunker.

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 summer 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. 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 song. Only less than a thousand entrants managed to do this. Each show featured six groups a week and a guest panel of judges. After the first show was broadcast two of the featured bands The Scene Five and The Falling Leaves were offered recording deals.

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 people. 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 show only intended to play new record releases, but in early 1965 they give several slots to a young singer-songwriter from Scotland, Donovan. He would write songs especially for the show, including one about that week's singles chart.

In the Spring of 1965 Elkan Allan, executive producer, decided to change the format by making the performers sing and play live, and with the change of location from Kingsway to the larger facilities of Wembley the show was given a facelift and from the 2nd April 1965 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.

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. But there's no doubt that one of the most successful aspects of the show had just been sidelined. The musical director for the new series was Johnny Spence, later replaced by Bob Leaper, while backing vocals were provided by The Breakaways (who later sang back up on Jimi Hendrix’s 'Hey Joe'). The new sound equipment needed for a totally live show costs Rediffusion £12,000 with an extra £1000 per show. The change also saw Keith Fordyce leave the show with Cathy McGowan now co-hosting with David Goldsmith, but McGowan took sole control when the show reverted back to its original title 4th June 1965, with Keith Fordyce returning for the New Year’s Eve show. The new version of the show looked like a variety show compared to the more intimate, almost cabaret approach of the previous set up. Despite it's new by-line 'The All-Live Pop Show' it was starting to lose viewers.

Despite the intended renovation several ITV channels decided to drop the show before the change, while others would transmit it on different days. By early March 1965 the programme's makers Rediffusion were the only showing it at the intended time slot. TWW ended up showing the more established Thank Your Lucky Stars instead of RSG! in this time slot, while ATV showed an edited thirty-minute version the following Thursday.

The trend-setting show from London was now getting noticed by broadcasters from other countries, and in the summer of 1965 Gary Smith, producer of NBC's Hullaballoo sees the show and suggest that they swap clips. Whether he was told that Rediffusion had plans to replace the show isn't known.

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 - without realising they were already on the show - as artists, just waiting to be discovered as compares!" Guest comperes included Michael Crawford, Woody Allen, Eric Burden, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

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 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 Rediffuision 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 - we will shoot a lot of it out of doors and we will be using cartoons”. It is unlikely that the show will have a regular compare. “Unless we get a lot of complaints after the new show begins - on 7 January – there is no chance of RSG coming back.” DJ Pete Brady was considered as a co-host on the replacement show. There was in fact every chance that the show was coming back, but it's reprieve still couldn't convince more ITV stations to transmit it.

By late 1965 it was a given 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".

With the axe placed over their heads 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.

Bad news awaited those returning after the Christmas and New Year's festivities, but instead of their unemployment papers they were told that the show had survived, but would now be cut down to under half an hour to make way for 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.

Even though the show had responded to the threat of Top Of The Pops by making the artists perform live, miming and lip-synching eventually made a return only to have the Musicians’ Union threaten to black the show if the lip-synching didn’t stop by 31st March 1966.

Time slot placement for any show had always been a problem for the ITV network, resulting in the show not always being seen nationally, if at all. So ITV's various stations would show the programme on different days, for example a Friday evening live show in 1966 would then be shown by Granada and Tyne Tees the following Thursday evening. The 25th March 1966 edition was the first 7:00 to 7:30 pm show to be fully networked at this time, replacing long-running quiz show Take Your Pick.

During 1966 several shows 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 magazine Musik Parade awards the show their Golden Arrow as best TV show, despite the fact that only clips of the programme had been shown there.

RSG continued throughout 1966 including a re-launch as 'new style RSG' in June, but despite a prestigious time slot the falling audiences meant that its days were numbered, and after re-scheduling by Rediffusion it was announced in early November that the show was to be cancelled with the final edition to be broadcast in December.

The famous catch-phrase was later re-used by London Weekend Television to announce their opening line-up of programmes in 1968. In the late-seventies Dave Clark bought the few remaining shows and a few other pop specials from Rediffusion and began to release them through home video, Channel 4 TV in Britain in the mid eighties and in late 1989 through the Disney Channel in America. A second series of seven shows were planned for the summer of 1986 in the UK but RSG didn’t materialise again until 1993. The sale of the show to BMG in 2016 gives hope that a new initiative to find remaining clips will result in more being shown, alongside possible DVD releases.

The show would be best remembered for breaking new acts like The Animals, Them, Lulu, The Who, The Rolling Stones, among others. Without a doubt it was the most important and influential British pop music show of all time.


Associated Rediffusion / Rediffusion

9th August 1963 - 23rd December 1966