Ready Steady Go! (or simply RSG!) was a pioneering British rock/pop music television programme which used to air every Friday evening in the mid-1960s. It was conceived by Elkan Allan, head of Rediffusion TV. Allan's intention was to produce a light entertainment programme that broke away from the "bums and tits" style of light entertainment being transmitted by ATV, at that time. The programme was produced without scenery or costumes and with a minimum of choreography or make-up. Allan recruited a fellow journalist, Francis Hitching, as producer. Hitching was to become a major figure in the world of light entertainment in the '60s. Robert Fleming was the first director, followed by the distinguished documentary director Rollo Gamble then Michael Lindsey Hogg, Daphne Shadwell and Peter Croft.
The programme was broadcast from August 1963 until December 1966. It was produced by Associated-Rediffusion the weekday ITV contractor for London, called Rediffusion-London post 1964. The live show was eventually networked nationally.
The show gained its highest ratings on 20 March 1964 when it featured the Beatles being interviewed and performing their songs "It Won't Be Long", "You Can't Do That" and "Can't Buy Me Love" - the last of which was a hit at the time.
RSG! USA! was a Dick Clark production in 1964. A trademark infringement ended the show after six episodes.
Its last episode was broadcast on 23 December 1966.
The show went out early on Friday evenings with the line "The weekend starts here!", and was introduced by the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" - later replaced byManfred Mann's "5-4-3-2-1" (later replaced by Manfred Mann's "Hubble Bubble, Toil and Trouble"). It was more youth-orientated and informal than its BBC rival (from 1964), Top of the Pops.
It was particularly notable for featuring the audience prominently as dancers and for the close interaction of artists and audience. Artists appeared on different mini-stages, sometimes on studio gantries and stairs, or on the main floor in the case of solo artists, closely surrounded by the audience members. The producers would choose the audience themselves by going round the London clubs, picking out the best or the most fashionably dressed dancers, and handing them invitations to the next show. This ensured a very hip audience who were in tune with the artists.
Owing to the scheduling of local news in parts of the UK, several ITV regions joined the show part-way through.
Initially, RSG! artists mimed to records but by late 1964 some performed live and the show switched to all-live performances in April 1965.
It was noted for allowing artists to perform the full version of their songs rather than the short versions demanded by other shows. Despite its popularity in the UK, the programme was never broadcast in the United States, perhaps because it was produced in black-and-white during a period when the American networks, ABC, CBS and NBC were converting to full-colour broadcasting.
The show was recorded at small studios in Rediffusion's headquarters in Kingsway, London. Although the company had bigger facilities at Wembley, it was easier to attract stars and audiences to central London. As the studios were compact it was not possible to hide cameras. The ever-present cameras, which were very large with rotating lens turrets rather than zooms, were sometimes incorporated into the action, notably in a Manfred Mann performance of the song Machines which ended with Paul Jones singing crouched on the floor surrounded by menacing cameras.
RSG was originally transmitted from Studio 9 at Television House in Kingsway when artists mimed to their records; it later moved to Studio 5 at Wembley, enabling artists to perform live. However, artists' own pre-recorded backing tracks were not allowed by the Musicians' Union so the whole of Studio 5 (normally divided into 5a and 5b) was used so that an orchestra could perform the backing live.
In late 1966, the time that the 'beat boom' was fading, the show was cancelled, despite its huge popularity. Many years later the British musician Dave Clark bought the rights to the surviving recordings of the show. Compilations were broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s and VHS videos were issued including a Beatles live special and The Sounds of Motown special edition. In 1989 the show was seen for the first time in the US, on Disney Channel. During that time, Disney was a pay channel that aired programming aimed at adults at night. Ready Steady Go! has not been officially released on DVD.
McGowan joined after answering an advertisement for "a typical teenager" as adviser. She found herself presenting the show, and in fact her status as a fan was evident in her style; stumbling over lines, losing her cool and her obvious inexperience actually made her more rather than less popular, and by the end she was presenting alone. She also joined in various fun and games, including miming with The Rolling Stones to other people's records, notably "I Got You Babe".
It featured most successful artists of the era, among them the Who, the Beatles, the Hollies, the Zombies, Dusty Springfield, the Supremes, the Temptations, the Walker Brothers, the Kinks, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Fourmost, the Rolling Stones, Donovan (discovered by RSG!), the Fortunes, Helen Shapiro, P.J. Proby, Otis Redding, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Dave Clark Five, Bobby Vee, the Animals, Cilla Black, Gulliver's People, the Searchers, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Billy Fury, Lulu, Marvin Gaye, Gene Pitney, the Beach Boys, Sandie Shaw, Burt Bacharach, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kenny Lynch, the Small Faces, James Brown & the Famous Flames, the Yardbirds, Them and the Four Pennies. During the 4 October 1963 episode — The Beatles' first appearance — Paul McCartney judged a contest between four teenage girls miming to Brenda Lee's "Let's Jump the Broomstick" (the group had opened for Lee before becoming famous), choosing 13-year-old Melanie Coe as the winner. Three years later, after Coe's disappearance made the front page of the Daily Mirror, McCartney would immortalize her in song, using the article as the basis for "She's Leaving Home".
Jimi Hendrix made his first television appearance in Britain on RSG! with "Hey Joe", performing solo. After this appearance, his club tour sold out and he was quickly added to a nationwide tour headlined bythe Walker Brothers.
Dusty Springfield devised and introduced the RSG Motown Special in April 1965, featuring the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Miracles and Martha and the Vandellas, which was released as a VHS video in the 1980s. The Supremes performed their "Stop! In the Name of Love" dance routine for the first time on the show.
The Who proved particularly popular and in 1966 had an episode to themselves entitled Ready Steady Who. The programme no longer exists, but an EP of the name marked the show (although no recordings were from the show). The Walker Brothers were also popular and had a special live edition in 1966 but again the tape was wiped, although extracts surfaced on YouTube in 2009 proving the group did not mime.
- In 1965 the programme was parodied in The Benny Hill Show (Hill impersonated Cathy McGowan, Peter & Gordon and a singer named P. J. Orbison (the amalgam of the names of P. J. Proby and Roy Orbison).
- Although not mentioned by name.. Ready, Steady, Go! was parodied in the 1967 film Bedazzled featuring comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (who both appeared on RSG!).
- In the mod film Quadrophenia, the main character is watching the Who perform on Ready Steady Go!.
- In episode 3 of Alan Plater's 1995 TV drama "Oliver's Travels", Oliver (played by Alan Bates) says "Ready, Steady, Go!", to which his B&B hostess (played by Molly Sugden) replies, "If you're old enough to know that, you're as old as you look."
- English group Generation X wrote a song about the show "Ready Steady Go" in 1978, which made various references and had the lyric "because I'm in love with Cathy McGowan".
- As part of the Southbank's Meltdown Festival 2011, curator Ray Davies recreated Ready Steady Go on Saturday 11 June.