Friday, August 9, 2013

The 50th Anniversary of Ready, Steady, Go!

It was fifty years ago today  that Ready, Steady, Go! debuted. Ready, Steady, Go! was a rock music television programme that aired on ITV in the United Kingdom from 9 August 1963 to 23 December 1966. While the show lasted only a little over three years, it would have an enormous impact in its time on the air and can be considered an integral part of what people think of as "Swinging London".

Ready, Steady, Go! was conceived by Elkan Allan, then Head of Entertainment at Rediffusion Television. Mr. Allan had served as a presenter on various BBC programmes in the early Fifties was working on ITV's current affairs programme This Week by the mid-Fifties. Although Ready, Steady , Go would prove revolutionary, in many respects it was not particularly original in combining a live audience of dancers with rock performers. American Bandstand and similar shows had been airing in the Unites States since the mid -Fifties. The BBC even aired such a programme, Six-Five Special, from 1957 to 1958. Ready, Steady, Go! may have owed a good deal to Discs A Gogo, which aired on TWW (Television Wales & West) from 1961 to 1967. That having been said, Ready, Steady, Go! came about at precisely the right time for a nationwide show. Beatlemania had overtaken the United Kingdom in 1962, and the nation was in the midst of an absolute craze for beat groups of any kind.

Ready, Steady, Go! debuted on 9 August 1963 and originally aired in the London area, although it would not be long before it aired across the United Kingdom, albeit sometimes in different timeslots across the country. The show was produced by Vicki Wickham and was originally presented by Keith Fordyce and David Gell. Mr. Fordyce left after the fifth edition of Ready, Steady, Go!, after which David Gell presented the show by himself. While Cathy McGowan is forever identified with Ready, Steady, Go!, she would not become a presenter until January 1964. Originally hired as a "teenage advisor", she and Michael Aldred started presenting the show alongside Keith Fordyce starting in January 1964.  This particularly team of presenters lasted until April 1965, after which Miss McGowan presented the show on her own. Dusty Springfield also served as a guest presenter from time to time.

Not only were changes in presenters on Ready, Steady, Go!, but the show also changed very slightly in its format. Like nearly every other show on British television at the time (and American television, for that matter), performers mimed to their records. It was in 1965 that the Musicians Union enforced a ban on miming to records on television. Afterwards, then, performers performed their songs live on Ready, Steady, Go!. It would also move studios. Ready, Steady, Go! was originally shot at Television House (the headquarters of Associated-Rediffusion) in Kingsway, London. It later moved to Rediffusion's Studio One in Wembley.

Ready, Steady, Go! proved phenomenally successful. Much of this was due to the fact that it was the only popular music programme that aired on Friday night. This allowed it to capture more of the teenage audience than its competitors (BBC's Juke Box Jury and ITV's Thank Your Lucky Stars aired on Saturday evenings, while BBC's Top of the Pops aired on Thursday). Indeed, the show's slogan throughout its run was The weekend starts here!" Another element in the show's success may have been the fact that the relatively small size of the studio at Television House created for some often inventive camera work. Not only were shots often at unusual angles, but the cameras tended to move a good deal than on the average show as well.

Ready, Steady, Go! would have an impact on youth culture in the United Kingdom in the Sixties. Among other things, it would be largely responsible for spreading (and perhaps commercialising, as well) the Mod subculture that had existed in some form since the late Fifties. Indeed, in April 1964 there aired a special edition of the show, The Ready, Steady, Go Mod Ball. The Ready, Steady, Go Mod Ball was staged for charity and aired live from Empire Pool. It involved 8,000 Mods and featured such acts as The Rolling Stones, The Searchers, Freddie and The Dreamers, The Merseybeats, and Manfred Mann.

Of course, in its years on the air Ready, Steady, Go! featured some of the top rock performers of the day. Quite naturally, The Beatles numbered among these performers. In fact, the highest rated edition of Ready, Steady, Go! was on 20 March 1964. The Beatles performed their songs "It Won't Be Long", "You Can't Do That" and "Can't Buy Me Love", as well as being interviewed. The Who were also very popular on Ready, Steady, Go! Not only did they appear in nearly twenty editions of the show, but they even had an entire Ready, Steady, Go! special dedicated to them. Other performers who appeared throughout the show's run were The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, The Searchers, The Dave Clark Five, The Troggs, Lulu, The Supremes, and many, many more.

In addition to featuring well established artists, Ready, Steady, Go! would also be responsible for helping the careers of up and coming performers. Donovan's career took off after he appeared several times on Ready, Steady, Go! in early 1965. It was after Jimi Hendrix performed "Hey, Joe" on Ready, Steady, Go! that his tour sold out. Not long afterwards he was also added to a national tour that included the ever popular Walker Brothers.

Among other things, Ready, Steady, Go! would have an impact on youth fashion. Much of this was through Cathy McGowan. Called by some "the Queen of the Mods", a great deal was made of her fashion sense at the time, to the point that designers were eager to wear their fashions. Although she was a presenter rather than a performer, Cathy McGowan had much the same influence on young women's fashion as such pop stars as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, and Lulu.  Of course, the audience on Ready, Steady, Go! would also have an influence on fashion. It was in a small part due to the show that Mod styles spread throughout the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the success of Ready, Steady, Go! would not last. By 1966 the beat boom that had emerged in the United Kingdom in the early Sixties was losing steam and the audience for Ready, Steady, Go! was declining. A change in the show's time slot could not save the show and in the end what once the most popular music show in Britain was cancelled. It aired its last edition on 23 December 1966.

While Ready, Steady, Go! lasted only a little over three years, it proved very influential for a time. It was important in popularising Mod fashions throughout Britain. It was also pivotal in the careers of such performers as The Who, Lulu, Donovan, Jimi Hendrix, and others. It would have a lasting impact on similar shows that have aired since, all of which have felt its influence in one way or another. Lasting only three years having been off the air for decades, Ready, Steady, Go! remains one of the best remembered shows of its time.

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