A compact TV studio in London’s Kingsway was almost a second home for Manchester and Merseybeat bands in the early 1960s.
All the big names – including the the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Georgie Fame, Freddie and the Dreamers, Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and the Searchers – flocked there from August 1963 to December 1966.
The reason? To appear on the fresh, energetic and sometimes chaotic new pop show – Ready Steady Go!
Presented by Cathy McGowan, Ready Steady Go! was ATV’s answer to the established BBC programme Top of the Pops.
It dispensed with scenery, costumes, choreography and make-up, preferring to focus on the music provided by the leading bands of the time and the audience’s reaction to them.
The Rediffusion studio was certainly cramped. There was no room to hide cameras, so they became a part of the action. They were large cameras too, with rotating lens turrets rather than zooms.
The producers combed London clubs to find the most fashionably dressed dancers, positioning them around groups playing on gantries, stairs, platforms or mini-stages.
Individual singers often performed on the main floor, right in the thick of the youthful audience.
Ready Steady Go! went out every Friday night with the slogan ‘The weekend starts here!’ It was coined by a young Mod who’d travelled down from Sheffield to be on the pilot episode on Tuesday July 16th 1963.
When the producer asked him if he was going home that night to get back to work, he replied: ‘You’re kidding mate – the weekend starts here!’
The episode that attracted the highest ratings featured an interview with the Beatles who performed three songs including their latest hit Can’t Buy Me Love. It went out on March 20th 1964
Ready Steady Go! always allowed bands to perform full-length tracks rather than the shortened versions of other shows, but the artists had to mime their songs.
This all changed when production moved to Studio 5 in Wembley. Artists performed live, but backing tracks had to be provided by the show’s orchestra due to union rules.
The Beatles’ first appearance on Ready Steady Go! on October 4th 1963 was an unusual affair as Paul McCartney was asked to judge a Brenda Lee lookalike competition.
The Fab Four once backed Lee on tour, so McCartney was well placed to pick which teenage girl miming to Let’s Jump the Broomstick was most like the American singer.
The winner was 13-year-old Melanie Coe, who four years later ran away from her family – inspiring the Beatles’ song She’s Leaving Home.
Other Merseyside acts who made multiple appearances on the show included the Fourmost, Billy Fury, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Searchers and the Merseybeats.
Beatles’manager Brian Epstein even made an appearance as a judge on one of the programme’s many competitions.
Cilla Black memorably joined host Ready Steady Go! host Cathy McGowan and friends on a shopping trip to the hugely trendy Biba Boutique in West London.
Our photo shows Cilla queuing at the door with another familiar brand, the Wimpy House, in the background. Wimpy cafes were the haunt of many music fans in the 1960s.
Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas appeared in no less than 10 episodes of Ready Steady Go! as well as the programme’s Mod Ball at the Empire Pool, Wembley, in April 1964.
Bootle-born Kramer and his band went to No. 2 in the UK charts with Do You Want to Know a Secret in 1963, then hit the top spot in the same year with the Lennon and McCartney song Bad to Me. It sold more than a million copies.
Gerry and the Pacemakers sang on seven episodes of Ready Steady Go! Our photo shows Gerry Marsden with his Gretsch guitar in front of one of the mini-stages in February 1964.
Marsden and piano player Les Maguire are performing from the floor with a cable running between them as there’s no room on the severely restricted stage!
Perhaps the most frequent Merseybeat band on Ready Steady Go! were the Searchers who cropped up on 16 episodes from 1963 to 1965.
Our photo, from January 1964, shows them in the familiar pose of scanning the horizon! They are, from left, drummer Chris Curtis, rhythm guitarist John McNally, bass player Tony Jackson and lead guitarist Mike Pender.
The band achieved a string of chart hits including Sweets for My Sweet, Needles and Pins, When You Walk in the Room and Love Potion No. 9.
Manchester acts who made multiple appearances on the show included the Hollies, who performed on 16 episodes, and the Dakotas who notched up 10.
The band also played at the show’s Mods’ Ball at the Empire Pool, Wembley, in April 1964.
The Dakotas went to No. 2 in the UK charts with Do You Want to Know a Secret in 1963, then hit the top spot in the same year with the Lennon and McCartney song Bad to Me. It sold more than a million copies.
Salford band the Hollies were riding high in the charts for two of the three years Ready Steady Go! was on air.
Their debut album Stay With The Hollies went to No. 2 in the UK charts in January 1964, with the track Stay giving the band their first Top Ten single. It peaked at No. 8 while their foll0w-up single, Just One Look, reached No. 2 in February.
Herman’s Hermits appeared on nine episodes of Ready Steady Go! while Freddie and the Dreamers performed on seven. They were as anarchic as ever, with Freddie Garrity going through his whole repertoire of athletic jumps and leaps.
Wigan-born Georgie Fame, formerly with the Blue Flames, performed on 15 episodes of Ready Steady Go! and Salford singer Elkie Brooks performed made three appearances.
Manchester United winger George Best, a trendsetter himself in the 1960s, attended Cathy McGowan’s wedding to actor Hywel Bennett. Also among the guests was Dave Clark of the Dave Clark Five.
Ready Steady Go! was last broadcast on December 23rd 1966 when the Beat music boom was starting to drop off.
Appropriately, the episode was titled Ready Steady Goes!
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