1 9 6 3 – 1 9 6 6 (UK)
For teenagers all over Britain, early Friday evenings were dominated by one 30-minute programme – Ready, Steady, Go! – which promised, “the weekend starts here”.
The first show aired at 7 pm on Friday 9 August 1963 and was presented by Keith Fordyce and David Gell, with 200 kids in the studio.
Originally only broadcast in the London area, over the next three years, Ready, Steady, Go! proved to be quite simply the best television pop show ever, combining its unique atmosphere and vitality with the best sounds around.
By Autumn 1963, the programme had been extended to 45 minutes and moved to a slightly earlier slot.
From the opening title music – originally The Surfaris‘ Wipe Out but replaced in January 1964 by Manfred Mann‘s countdown-like 5-4-3-2-1 – the show oozed vitality, and the studio discotheque set allowed the general public onto the studio floor for dancing and mingling with the appearing stars.
Broadcast live to air from Associated-Rediffusion’s home at Television House in London’s Kingsway, the show featured both new releases, existing hits and off-the-cuff interviews with the artists.
It made stars of singer Donovan and a 19-year-old ‘typical teenager’ from Streatham, South London – Cathy McGowan.
A lowly £10-a-week secretary, Cathy answered an advertisement for a teenage adviser to the show, along with 600 other hopefuls.
Elkan Allan, the man behind Ready, Steady, Go! remembered “she was awfully gauche and raw and desperately nervous, but she was worth taking on because she was obviously terribly switched on in a teenage way”.
Cathy was totally unspoiled. She lived with her parents and admitted that her favourite programme was Danger Man: “He’s my idea of a smashing, terrific-looking chap”. And despite her new-found fame, she still dusted her production office every day.
The pelmet-fringed young girl, who constantly flicked her hair out of her eyes, soon became known as ‘Queen of the Mods’ and received 600 fan letters a week, and you could buy Cathy McGowan shirts, jeans, stockings and even a movable doll.
The programme’s look slowly changed, drawing on the world of pop art to dress the studio walls with giant paintings, collages and Mod symbols like arrows and targets.
A 1964 spin-off series featured the RSG! team in a talent competition show called Ready, Steady – Win! searching for new pop talent. The panel of judges changed constantly but included Brian Epstein, Bill Haley, Lulu, Mick Jagger, Helen Shapiro and Brian Matthew.
Each week, six groups participated in a contest to find the best new beat combo, with £1,000 of musical equipment on offer as the top prize, followed by a second prize of a £750 van and £250 of clothes for third place.
The ultimate winner was The Bo Street Runners from Harrow. Despite securing a Decca recording contract and enjoying the exposure the programme provided, they failed to register a chart hit.
In May 1965, the show’s theme tune changed to Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere by RSG! favourites, The Who.
Also in 1965, a spin-off programme – entitled The Sound Of Motown and hosted by Dusty Springfield – featured an array of Motown talent, fresh from their recent British tour.
The programme gave tremendous exposure to the Motown sound and the show’s stars – including Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – who were all hit-less at that point in the UK.
In March 1965, the programme abandoned miming in favour of live studio performances. This meant the show’s weekly budget had to rise by 50% to cover the cost of backing singers, musicians and arrangers, and a five-figure sum was spent on acquiring the latest equipment to guarantee high-quality sound reproduction.
To publicise the change, the show’s name was temporarily changed to Ready Steady Goes Live!, although the original title returned after nine weeks, with briefly-seen co-host David Goldsmith stepping aside and Cathy McGowan now fronting the show alone.
The miming ban coincided with a move to a new studio at Associated-Rediffusion’s Wembley Studios, which offered more space and better facilities.
While efforts were made to recreate the intimacy of the original set, artists were now not so tightly hemmed in by fans and probing cameras, and dancers – up to 250 per programme – were given more room to show off their latest moves.
The final episode of Ready, Steady, Go! – titled Ready, Steady, Goes! – aired on 23 December 1966, a victim of more progressive fashions and rising production costs.