fri 10/04/2020

The Story of Ready Steady Go!, BBC Four review - when life was fab | reviews, news & interviews

The Story of Ready Steady Go!, BBC Four review - when life was fab

The Story of Ready Steady Go!, BBC Four review - when life was fab

The show which started both the weekend and the whole concept of music television

The Beatles - who, as Jan Morris wrote, 'put Britain into mini skirts'

It’s almost unbearably poignant, on this black Friday evening in March 2020, to watch a documentary about Ready Steady Go! , “the most innovative rock ‘n’ roll show ever”, believes Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the second of its four directors who went on to work with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

It’s almost unbearably poignant, on this black Friday evening in March 2020, to watch a documentary about Ready Steady Go! , “the most innovative rock ‘n’ roll show ever”, believes Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the second of its four directors who went on to work with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he!” – but he’s right. Nothing has surpassed it, certainly not Top of the Pops, BBC TV’s response to the programme which, based around the singles chart, eventually helped kill it.

“The weekend starts here” was its (unofficial) slogan, though it wasn’t quoted in The Story of Ready Steady Go! Nor did its most famous presenter feature: everyone remembers Cathy McGowan, “the epitome of the mod girl”, as assistant producer Vicki Wickham put it, yet she was not interviewed – her choice, one assumes. Instead, Annie Nightingale (whom McGowan supposedly beat to the job) reminisced, along with a roster of talking heads that included Eric Burden, George Fame, Gerry Marsden and Melanie Coe, one of the show’s resident dancers, who recalled her star turn with the Beatles in March 1964. The show went out live at 6pm but work on it started at 8.30am so Melanie spent all day with Fab Four, presumably sagging off school. When she returned on Monday, all the girls wanted her autograph!

To have been a teenager in the 1960s was surely very heaven – the kids who came of age (which was then 21) in the early Sixties where the real baby-boomers. As Lindsay-Hogg noted, “birth control ushered in a new world which the rock ‘n’ rollers were writing about”. While for many “good girls”, that aspect of the Sixties didn’t happen until later in the decade, the music, and the “boys” who played it, showed them the possibilities of a new and very different life to the one their parents had lived. Mums and dads saw the show, specially with Mick Jagger, and felt deep anxiety.

My sister was exactly the right age for the programme, rushing home Friday evenings from Harrods where she was a trainee buyer. As BBC 4’s rather wonderful documentary pointed out, families watched it while having their “tea”. My six- and seven-year-old ears somehow registered that some of the music was really good and I’ve always remembered McGowan, squinting out from her too-long fringe and oozing superlatives as she interviewed the musicians. Donovan has always stuck in my mind, “Catch the Wind” still a pleasing song. He made a brief appearance, sporting a grown-out wash ‘n’ wear perm. Oh dear

The idea for the programme, first broadcast in August 1963, came from Elkan Allan, and the show was relayed from Rediffusion’s Kingsway studios, a basement which was the home of Muriel Young and children’s television. The timing was perfect, for in November 1963 the Beatles played Sunday Night at the London Palladium (another Rediffusion show) and Beatlemania was born. Wickham was out of work and Allan took a chance on her, telling her to go out and “find” the Beatles. Keith Fordyce was the first presenter, “a lovely man but ancient”, in collar and tie, looking like a news reader. He is shown asking Dusty Springfield if she would like to become “a big star” or go on being “an amiable goon”. The latter she hoped, but she was also a massive star who had a major influence on RSG! and who of course left us too soon.

It was Dusty who pushed Wickham (later her manager) to feature black musicians on the show, introducing “suburban Britain” to R&B, as Jools Holland noted (he had to watch it on a neighbour’s television). Wickham was “the gatekeeper”, scouring the emergent club scene for talent, but Dusty would ring her from the US with suggestions. The Supremes got their big break on the show and Mary Wilson recalled Springfield as “a girl who spoke her mind and was very much into black culture”. She was the first person to be allowed to hear “Dancing in the Street”, Martha Reeves seeking her opinion.

Ready Steady Go! was “the Friday night scene”, as Wickham said, and perhaps it was right that it didn’t outstay its welcome. Though the artists all mimed until 1964, it was the first show to “go live”, Lindsay-Hogg ensuring the sound was the best it could then be. And not just the sound: when he heard the Stones’ “Paint it Black”, he told Jagger to think he was Lucifer – every time he raised his arm they’d take out a bank of studio lights until only Mick himself remained illuminated. Lindsay-Hogg thought him “an extraordinary kid” and compared him to Olivier!

McGowan was a key part of the show’s success, in large part because “she wasn’t terribly good at being a compere”. Rather she was just “an ordinary girl” but with “a Cleopatra look” who “always looked amazing” and “had the fashion nailed down”, wearing Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki - as much a face of the Sixties as Twiggy. The show’s influence on high street fashion deserves another documentary.

Oh happy day, to coin a phrase, an innocent and joyful time. The music was homegrown, a burgeoning of new talent, pop music not yet a capitalist creation with PRs and spin and a Praetorian Guard. In short it wasn’t all about money. Woodstock 1969 was when big business stepped in and spoiled it all.

As George Melly once said, RSG! "made pop music work on a truly national scale ... It was almost possible to feel a tremor of pubescent excitement from Land's End to John O'Groats". It was, said Lindsay-Hogg, all about “hedonism, pleasure, looking for a good time”.

For now, best remember those good old days.

McGowan was a key part of the show’s success, in large part because 'she wasn’t terribly good at being a compere'

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Mmmm.. Well I watched this with huge anticipation, as someone whose adolescence and boyhood interests chimed with this beloved '60s weekly musical fix, and was somewhat disappointed by this doco. It was OK, but I wanted more. At the very least, more talking heads, not only of those involved, but more, like featured Jools Holland, who remembered its influence on them - and its wider impact at that time. Where, for example, was Cathy MacGowan? Did she really refuse to take part? More should have been made of its context: its Friday at six timeslot, and its proud slogan: "The weekend starts here!" There just should have been more about WHY it was special - to me and thousands (millions?) like me in early sixties Britain, who delighted in its eclectic mix of distinctly R & B, sometimes little-known, artists yet to become bigger and more famous in the months and years that followed. It was a stylistic TV trail-blazer, and lively platform for an often edgier kind of pop, not to mention, blues - and I loved it, and revere its memory. But, to be fair, perhaps like a fondly-remembered love affair that retains a nostalgia-fueled rose-tinted glow, nothing can quite bring back the way one felt at the time, just entering one's teens, and eager to embrace all the aural and visual excitement that time was so generously giving us, and which "Ready Steady Go" was a part of. And, as everyone says, of anything then, you had to be there...!

I did comment on McGowan's absence, which was very odd, and the time - but perhaps not enough. I mentioned the slogan - which the programme didn't

 

I live in Leeds, and as far as I can remenber it was broadcast at 10'ish in the evening. Was this a regiolal thing, certainly do not remember it at 6 o'clock.

Ah, well, of course it was on ITV, and I grew up in Essex, with London-area reception. Perhaps, as used to be common on ITV, you suffered from a regional variation to the schedule. Sounds like your weekend started a little late..!

It was on in the early evening

Did you know that Melanie Coe was unknowingly the inspiration for She’s Leaving Home after Paul saw a story about her in the Daily Mail in February 1967?

No! Thank you.

I was lucky enough to dance on Ready Steady Go when The Stones were on. I went to school with George Melly's son!

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