- Ready Steady Go!: The Weekend Starts Here. The Definitive Story Of The Show That Changed Pop TV, by Andy Neill. BMG, $80
LP. Hartley began his famous novel The Go- Between with the words, "the past is a foreign country". To many, Ready Steady Go! (RSG) will be a musical foreign country, not realising the significance of the most influential pop music program in TV history.
"The Weekend Starts Here" was the slogan of RSG, which was filmed live from a London basement studio on a Friday night from 9 August 1963 until 23 December 1966.
George Melly, the English jazz and blues singer and music critic, wrote that 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" . Ready, Steady, Go! mirrored the cultural upheaval and spirit of youthful optimism that gripped Britain in the mid Sixties."
The excitement of the raw music, the anarchic live television atmosphere, and the impact on fashion and social habits, can be best experienced by watching on YouTube, the 2020 BBC 4 RSG documentary. Visually only 5 per cent of the 173 RSG shows remain, as video tapes were wiped and reused.
RSG helped kickstart the careers of groups, such as the Rolling Stones, The Who and Manfred Mann, and gave The Animals, Donovan, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix their first TV exposure. It brought, with the help of Dusty Springfield, a regular on RSG, the Tamla Motown sound to Britain, the April 1965 show featuring the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Miracles and Martha and the Vandellas,
The definitive textual memoir of RSG now comes in music historian, Andy Neill's huge LP-sized, lavishly illustrated, Ready Steady Go!: The Weekend Starts Here, based on 16 years of research. Neill's chronological chapters are labelled - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - linking into its RSG 's best known opening music by Manfred Mann.
Neill includes more than 100 interviews, many previously unseen photographs, memorabilia and first-hand accounts, for example from Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Ray Davies. It concludes with an exhaustive episode guide of all 173 programs.
Keith Fordyce was the first presenter, wearing a collar and tie, "a lovely man but ancient", but it was his replacement, Cathy McGowan, "the epitome of the mod girl" with "a Cleopatra look", who captured the spirit of the program.
George Harrison called her "the posh bird who gets everything wrong", but the young audience identified with McGowan, who "had the fashion nailed down", wearing clothes from Mary Quant and Biba's Barbara Hulanicki, and was much a face of the Sixties as Twiggy.
RSG creator, Elkan Allen, allowed his dynamic young director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg and producer Vicki Wickham to create a show, which Mick Jagger said, "wasn't safe. It took risks". Dusty Springfield recalled that the 1964 New Year RSG was definitely "the greatest show I have ever been on...Everyone was blotto ... Half of it didn't get on camera; it was chaos".
Lindsay-Hogg reflected, "We were broadcasting live . . . We never got it right. Every week a camera would mow down a dancer or someone would miss their cue. But because the show was live, it was an absolute must-see. The camerawork set the bar for music on TV."
RSG pushed the boundaries, socially and culturally. The James Brown special in 1966 received lots of racist complaints with the television switchboard overwhelmed with calls saying, according to Vicki Wickham, "'get him off", only in more colourful language".
Lindsay- Hogg said, "When The Who did 'My Generation', I switched the camera mode to negative for the line, 'I hope I die before I get old', so their faces looked like skulls", and "When The Stones did 'Paint, It Black,' we put camera effects on Mick's face and made it darker and darker".
It was also often physically dangerous with TV cameras moving in the middle of dancers amidst deliberately cramped mini stages, staircases and gantries. The Beatles performed "Twist and Shout" on a precariously moving stage, which had been pulled into the studio by female fans. But the dramas on stage were often surpassed in the RSG Green Room, as the stars took advantage of the plentiful alcohol and drugs.
The last show was on December 23 1966. The BBC's Top of the Pops was attracting a wider based audience, while music videos were taking away the need for groups to launch their records live. RSG'S sense of musical excitement and visual anarchy had also waned as Flower Power grew.
Lindsay-Hogg writes, "There would be other music shows in Britain and America but not Ready Steady Go! It was one with its time". It was quintessential Swinging London, as well as being, in Mick Jagger's words, "the best rock 'n' roll show of all time".