How Ready Steady Go! soundtracked a revolution

Ready Steady Go!, the pioneering 60s pop show, takes to the stage as part of the Meltdown festival. RSG! producer Vicki Wickham tells Phil Hogan about the impact – and the fun – of its early years

by Phil Hogan

Like the Beatles’ first LP and sexual intercourse, you might guess the pioneering pop show Ready Steady Go! was a product of 1963, the year the 1960s started swinging at last.

With its youthful spontaneity, cool graphics and gleefully shambolic presentation (and you only had to watch the BBC’s Reithian Juke Box Jury with your parents to see what it wasn’t), RSG! trailed the white smoke of the coming revolution. Its chirpy slogan, “The Weekend Starts Here” – a mantra for a hip new generation of teenagers with money in their pockets for clothes and records and going out – could equally have been “Everything Starts Here”.

RSG

History has declared Ready Steady Go! a cultural landmark – for its live performances (miming was eventually outlawed on the show) and its championing of emerging talent – though of course no one was thinking about posterity back then. “We really had no idea,” says Vicki Wickham, who at the age of 24 found herself plucked out of a backroom secretarial job to produce the show. (Now running her own production company in New York, Wickham is putting together a Ready Steady Go! event for Ray Davies’s forthcoming Meltdown festival in London.)

“We were all so naive. It was like being given a box of candies and being able to eat them all. Elkan Allan, the executive producer, just said to us, book who you want. So we were booking people our own age, and for all sorts of reasons – Brian Jones, because we loved his hair and thought he was gorgeous. George Best, who we all thought was heavenly – he came on to be interviewed. We could have anyone.”

And they did – the Beatles, the Who, the Stones, the Animals, the Beach Boys, Ike and Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Isley Brothers, “Little” Stevie Wonder, the even littler Marc Bolan, David Bowie (as Davy Jones and the King Bees). Gary Glitter – Paul Raven then – worked as the show’s warm-up man! It’s a long list. In the 178 episodes aired – the show went out live every Friday night for more than three years without a break – it would be easier to say who was missing (Dylan, Aretha and, weirdly, Cliff).

Dusty Springfield – a close friend of Wickham’s – was a permanent fixture. “It was Dusty who introduced me to American black music. She would play me these obscure artists and I fell in love with them. Dave Godin had his store, Soul City, just off Cambridge Circus, so on a Saturday we would go there. We introduced an awful lot of American acts people had never heard of – mostly Motown. The mod crowd loved Motown. So if we put on Wilson Pickett or Ike and Tina Turner, they would respond because it was music they were beginning to hear in the clubs. They knew if they watched the show they’d find out who was new and over here. The mod scene was just starting out as we came along, and when Cathy McGowan joined us we became a mod show. And, of course, Cathy became the face of Ready Steady Go!

McGowan was 19 when she was recruited as an “adviser” after a trawl of hundreds of teenagers for her looks and her interest in “boys and fashion”. She was soon presenting the show, though she became as famous for her lack of polish as her trendsetting Biba styling and pelmet fringe. (The YouTube clip of her asking George Harrison what the Beatles did in their spare time is a case study in what happens when a group of young people say: “Hey, let’s put the show on right here!”) And the nation loved her for it.

Wickham agrees. “You couldn’t do it today. They would fire her after two weeks. But it became endearing – a lot of people watching felt that they could do the job, which they probably could. It wasn’t a bad thing. And in fact none of us had any experience. Where could we have got experience?”

Is it true they once had Marianne Faithfull miming to the wrong song? “Oh, things like would happen all the time. There’d be cues missed, someone coming late out of the dressing room, or the camera would mow down one of the dancers. But that’s the excitement of live TV. We laughed at Solomon Burke, who in his full cape and crown and everything fell off the riser. He was a big man even in those days.”

Wickham does put a good word in for Keith Fordyce, an avuncular old-school figure who as the main presenter in the first series kept chaos to a minimum, even if it meant having a “square” in the camp. “Yes, Keith was much older and he was experienced, and at the time we were all rebelling and saying we’ve got to get rid of him, but in retrospect it was great he was there.”

It wasn’t an obvious idea in 1963 to let a bunch of twentysomethings run a TV show, but the resulting mix of guilelessness and instinct for what audiences wanted did work. “The show reflected what was going on then because we were young. We could decide to have Pete and Dud, or Phil Spector or someone from the art world or the book world. We reflected the times without knowing what the times were.”

Not only that but it was so much fun that artists kept coming back for more. “It was a small world and I guess we were all in it together. It was our scene. We all went out to clubs every night – the Revolution or the Speakeasy. You knew everyone – the pluggers, the managers, the writers and photographers.” The artists too. Many became friends, not least Ray Davies of the Kinks, whose performance of “You Really Got Me” in 1964 made the group overnight stars.

Wickham is now preparing for Davies’s Meltdown, featuring acts who appeared on RSG!, including Eric Burdon, Sandie Shaw, Ronnie Spector and the Manfreds (most of Manfred Mann, whose hit “5-4-3-2-1” was the programme’s theme tune). Does it make her nostalgic for that golden age?

“I’m not nostalgic at all. It won’t be an oldies show by any means – they’re all acts that are working and relevant now and we’ve added new ones and quirky ones. So it will be representative of what the show was.”

It will be a concert rather than an attempt to recreate a studio environment, she says. But the set will be familiar. “Nicholas Ferguson designed all the best sets and graphics and luckily he kept a lot of them. I’m delighted to be doing it. I love a challenge – and I love Ray.”

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Michael Parkinson was a maestro of the golden age of British television

Parkinson, who has died aged 88, will be remembered for his blend of entertainment and serious thinking, a rare combination today

By Donald Clarke | The Irish Times

It is easy to get sentimental about the often-touted golden age of British television in the 1970s. But there really was a period when one of the BBC’s biggest shows allowed guests 20 minutes (or more) to chew over everything that mattered to them.

Michael Parkinson
Michael Parkinson

Michael Parkinson, who has died at the age of 88, was a maestro in the art of interviewing. During the first run of his eponymous show – lasting from 1971 until 1982 – he carried out justifiably legendary interviews with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Orson Welles, David Niven, Peter Ustinov and Lauren Bacall. It would not be entirely correct to say he displayed no ego. A proud – and unmistakable – Yorkshireman with strong opinions, he would occasionally prod his subjects in provocative fashion, but they were always allowed space to roam about the conversational hinterland. Often the stars had books or films to flog. Sometimes, they just happened to be in town. We were, however, in a very different place to the offshoots of the PR business that often now pass for talkshows. It really does seem like a golden age.

Parkinson always saw himself as a journalist first. Born near Barnsley in the UK, he attended grammar school, excelled as a club cricketer and, after cutting his teeth on school papers, landed a job on features at the Manchester Guardian (yet to lose the “Manchester” from its masthead). Just old enough to undergo national service, he saw action during the Suez crisis. On return, he moved into television, working in current affairs for Granada and on the BBC’s magazine series 24 Hours. The Parkinson show began in a late-night slot on Saturday and fast became an unmissable institution.

Parkinson’s grounding in print journalism held him in good stead. He always did his research. He actually listened to what his guest was saying. The interviews were usually good natured, but tensions – famously with Ali – occasionally added spice to the entertainment. Parkinson called the boxer, whom he interviewed on four occasions, “the most remarkable man I ever met”, but the chats did not always glisten with bonhomie. “You do not have enough,” Ali once cut back. “You are too small mentally to tackle me on nothing that I represent.” Parkinson was unshaken. “Must have been a good question I asked you because you’ve been talking for about 15 minutes,” he responded. Continue reading

Jimmy Savile survivors will appear in chilling BBC drama starring Steve Coogan

Savile’s survivors recently visited the set of The Reckoning.

By Adam Miller

The victims of Jimmy Savile will be appearing in the upcoming BBC drama The Reckoning, starring Steve Coogan as the monster paedophile.

Savile died in 2011, aged, 84, having never been brought to justice for his crimes while he’s now thought to be one Britain’s most prolific sex offenders.

The Reckoning will explore the children’s TV presenter’s horrific acts against young women, written by Neil McKay who recently received huge praise for his drama Four Lives, which followed the victims of ‘Grindr Killer’ Stephen Port.

According to the Sun, Savile’s victims will feature in the BBC drama after it was confirmed some of his survivors met with Coogan while he was dressed as the monster on set.

Writer McKay said: ‘The victims requested to attend filming since we are telling their stories.

‘Safeguarding measures were put in place to facilitate this.

‘We are working closely with many people whose lives were impacted by Savile to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect.’

The BBC has defended The Reckoning from critics, with organisations for sex abuse victims blasting the broadcaster.The Survivors’ Network said: ‘It should not be used as entertainment.’

Savile’s nephew also criticised the Beeb and claimed none of the disgraced presenter’s family had been consulted.

The BBC released a statement saying: ‘The team are working closely with many people whose lives were impacted by Savile to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect, and the drama will also draw on extensive and wide-ranging research sources.

‘It will examine the impact his appalling crimes had on his victims and the powerlessness many felt when they tried to raise the alarm.’

Speaking of landing the controversial role, Coogan said: ‘To play Jimmy Savile was not a decision I took lightly.

‘Neil McKay has written an intelligent script tackling sensitively a horrific story which, however harrowing, needs to be told.’

The BBC declined to comment on this story.

The Reckoning is expected to be released on BBC later this year.

Source: Jimmy Savile survivors will appear in chilling BBC drama starring Steve Coogan

Mum review – magnificent TV that will put sunshine in your heart

Mum – How the BBC sitcom became the best depiction of grief on TV

Guaranteed to make you cry four times every episode, the final series of the Lesley Manville sitcom miraculously turns tiny gestures into epic romance

By Jack Seale

Mum is a comedy that can be agony. When it first wiped its feet, hung up its anorak and shuffled politely on to BBC Two in 2016, at times it was perhaps too painfully funny. For a season and a half, Mum was very very good, and Lesley Manville was flawless as Cathy, a recent widow bedevilled in her nice Essex semi by her insensitive relatives. It was, however, tiptoeing awfully close to a couple of traps that can snare cringe-coms.

First, the “main character is nice, everyone else is a grotesque fool” format was a little too stark, as we wondered how the saintly Cathy could withstand a torrent of micro-aggressions from her unbelievably selfish son Jason, his incredibly stupid girlfriend Kelly (Lisa McGrillis), Cathy’s outrageously crass brother Derek (Ross Boatman) and his catastrophically snooty partner Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson). Meanwhile, the forbidden connection between Cathy and her late husband’s best pal Michael (Peter Mullan) progressed by nanometres per episode, as he repeatedly stared at her benignly instead of announcing that he’d always loved her. “Character has every opportunity to say The Thing, but never does” is another sadcom trope that risks turning sympathy into frustration: just bloody say it, we almost screamed.

Having taken us right to the limit, though, writer – and since season two, director – Stefan Golaszewski was able to bring us back. Just when the supporting characters’ infernal suburban prattle about cars, holidays and whether rice can be eaten with stew stopped distracting us and we reached breaking point, there was an emotional pay-off to make it all worthwhile. Near the end of season two, Cathy putting down her washing basket to hug Michael, or the pair slyly holding hands during a fireworks display, were tiny gestures made huge by the journey we had taken to get there – and by the craft of Golaszewski, Manville and Mullan, who have the chops to turn glances, silences and desultory chats about getting to the tip before it closes into epic romance.

In the new, third and final season – bingeable in full on iPlayer – Golaszewski shows he has known exactly what he has been doing all along. The whole clan decamps to a Kent mansion on holiday, with episodes covering consecutive days rather than taking place weeks apart as previously, to celebrate Derek’s birthday. Cathy and Michael have admitted their love to each other, but not to anyone else. In this pressured new environment, those moments of release arrive harder and faster. Before now, Mum probably made you cry once a year. Prepare for that to become three or four times an episode.

Mullan and Manville remain magnificent: he has a speech in the fifth episode to rank with the greatest romcom soliloquys, and just the way he looks at her with his happily creased eyes will put sunshine in your heart for a month. But the miracle Golaszewski performs here is in humanising his small army of monsters, giving characters who were once cartoons a heartbreaking inner life that previous seasons only hinted at. It is hard to pick an outstanding member of the ensemble: maybe it’s Boatman as simple-soul Derek, whose pathetic jokes and clumsily planned spontaneity hide an insecurity that makes him willing to accept humiliation from Pauline. Maybe it is Atkinson as Pauline, who reveals the vicious sadness that lies inside any sharp-elbowed snob; she has worked with both Mike Leigh and Victoria Wood, two poles of influence that visibly pull on Golaszewski’s scripts. At its best, Mum equals them both.

The hardest job is handed to Sam Swainsbury as Jason, who is so lazy, thick and unobservant that he has always been borderline problematic. In these new episodes, his fear of Michael usurping his late father manifests in the sort of hostility that Mum would usually have skirted around. It’s another fine line that the show barely walks back from, but – whether or not it’s plausible or redemptive – Jason is the core of what the show is really about. As well as its myriad observations about family members who didn’t choose each other; and who annoy and impede each other in a hundred unintended ways each day; and who have an inkling of what they should do to make things better but aren’t always brave or articulate enough to overcome their limitations; as well as all that, season three of Mum completes a portrait of a gang united by grief. They are terrible because they’re missing a son, a friend, a husband or, in Jason’s case, a dad.

It has been worth all the pain to work these people out. Mum might have looked like it was just a sitcom, but it had something beautiful to say about love and loss. It’s said it.