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Popular Music on British Television

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Associated Rediffusion / Rediffusion
9th August 1963 - 23rd December 1966

Devised by Rediffusion to capitalise on the emergent British Beat Boom of the Summer of 1963. It was Dusty Springfield’s secretary, and later manager, Vicki Wickham who came up with the idea for the show, specifically aimed at the more mod audience. It was broadcast live from Studio Nine at Rediffusion’s studio at Kingsway, London. 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.

A trial show (it’s not known if this was a taped / filmed pilot) was held at The Royal in Tottenham featuring The Springfields and gave the producer and editor an idea of what to expect when the show debuted. However, the audience had no idea what to expect as the first 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. The initial idea was to hold the show not only inside the studio at Kingsway with an audience of 150 and Keith Fordyce introducing the acts, but also in the lobby where Canadian co-host David Gell would talk to the audience about their current music favourites. One of them will get to play amateur disc jockey, while another fan 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 idea of showbiz news items every week was also quickly dropped. The show initially relied on British acts, but the word got around to visiting American acts that this was the show to do. Pre-filmed promo clips were rarely used, although clips from new movies on general release were used for the first few weeks. Keith Fordyce, although a good DJ, found it tough interviewing the guests, occasionally fluffing it (a notable example being PJ Proby), so it was left to Cathy McGowan to chat to the acts. McGowan handled the interviews better, despite an irritating tendency to say “amazing” about anything or anyone, so much so that it wasn’t long before people were imitating 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.

TV Times describes 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.”

The original producer was 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 always 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 bay 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. Top Of The Pops would later used professional dance troupes like The Go-Jos and Pan’s People to do a weekly routine, RSG! only got by with one dancer, Patrick Kerr 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. Sometimes the stage would be so small that the guitarists had to turn the neck of their guitar to the ceiling, a new pose was born. There appeared to be a weekly movie spot hosted by Polly Perkins in the early days, but this may have been dropped after a few weeks. The Producers would be given the chance to make one-off specials, the most famous was the Mod Ball from Wembley Empire Pool in April 1964 which was entered for The Golden Rose Of Montreaux. 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.

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

The show’s opening titles launched the catch-phrase ‘The Weekend Starts Here’ and the accompanying theme music changed frequently including The Surfari’s 'Wipe Out', Manfred Mann’s '54321' and 'Hubble Bubble', Dusty Springfield’s 'Heartbeat', The Animals’ 'I’m Crying', Wilson Pickett’s 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' among others.

The BBC’s reaction to counter RSG! with its own completely networked alternative Top Of The Pops at the beginning of 1964.

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 show Ready, Steady, Win! appeared in 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. Each show featured six groups a week and a guest panel of judges.

In Spring 1965 Elkan Allan, executive producer, decided to change the existing 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 a new name, Ready Steady Goes Live! A new dance troupe was employed with the audience now confined to seating (with 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. 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').

In April 1965 David Goldsmith co-hosted the show with Cathy McGowan when Keith Fordyce wasn’t there, while Cathy McGowan took solo control when the show reverted back to its original title 4th June 1965, but Keith Fordyce returned for the New Year’s Eve show 65/66.

The Musicians’ Union threatened to black the show if the lip-synching didn’t stop by 31st March 1966.

Timing was always a problem for the ITV network, resulting in the show not always being seen nationally, resulting in stations showing the programme at different days, for example a 1966 live show on Rediffusion on a Friday evening would then be shown by Granada and Tyne Tees the following Thursday evening. The 25th March 1966 show was the first 7:00 to 7:30 pm show to be fully networked show at this time, replacing Take Your Pick.

During 1966 several shows were given over to special guests, performing and introducing the other acts themselves. These included the Troggs, The Who, Otis Redding, The Walker Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner.

The show continued throughout 1966 and despite replacing Take Your Pick the falling audiences meant that its days were numbered, and after re-scheduling by Rediffusion the show was cancelled. The famous catch-phrase later re-surfaced and used by London Weekend to announce their opening line-up of programmes in 1968. In the mid-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 but didn’t materialise until 1993.

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 pop music show of all time.

It’s thought that only three complete shows and a few clips are known to exist.