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"Ready Steady Go!" director recounts show's rockin' run, chronicled in new book
From August 1963 until just before Christmas 1966, "Ready Steady Go!" was appointment television for pop and rock music lovers in the U.K.
The Friday night ITV program -- whose motto was "The weekend starts here!" -- hosted live performances by a who's who of the popular music world at the time, from the Beatles onward. It was considered more hip and current than the BBC's iconic "Top of the Pops," with Dusty Springfield as the presenter for early shows before Keith Fordyce and Cathy McGowan became its primary hosts. Jimi Hendrix made his first British TV appearance on RSG!, which also hosted a Sounds of Motown Special and devoted one entire episode to the Who, which made 18 appearances on the program.
"RSG!" is being remembered with a new coffee table book, "Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here: The Definitive Story of the Show That Changed Pop TV" by Andy Neill, publishing Friday, Nov. 6 and loaded with photos and oral histories as well as a detailed episode chronology. Also available is a box set that includes singles by artists who played the show, including Springfield, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Kinks, Donovan and others. (Information and orders via ReadySteadyGo.lnk.to/rsgPR)
Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the American expatriate who was "RSG!'s" primary director -- and also helmed the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus," the Beatles' "Let It Be" and more films and music videos -- recalls the mania of the show's short run, as well as its lasting impact...
What was the allure of working on "Ready Steady Go!" for you?
Lindsay-Hogg: It was partly because Elvis Presley changed my life when I first heard him when I was 15. I thought, "There is music in the world somewhere for me." I think the other thing which is interesting is that it was highly unusual in those days to have anyone who was 24 directing anything, really. Most of the people who were directing rock 'n' roll or pop music shows at the time were in their 40s -- not that they weren't good directors but they didn't quite get rock 'n' roll in the same way I did, since I'd grown up with it. They thought rock 'n' roll was a fad, like the hula hoop. But I was 24 -- two years older than Mick (Jagger) or (Rolling Stones manager-producer) Andrew Oldham) and we were all from the same generation, so when I got "RSG!' the fact that we were the same age helped a lot.
The bands gravitated to "RSG!," too, as an alternative to something like "Top of the Pops" or "Live From the Palladium."
Lindsay-Hogg: They really preferred to be on "Ready Steady Go!" ahead of any other show, especially because it was the first show to go of its kind to go live, so they weren't miming or anything. It wasn't doctored in the editing room afterwards. And then after the show went out live we'd have a couple drinks and sit in a big rom and look at a recording of the show the bands, for all of us to see if we got it right that day but also to let the bands say, "Oh yeah, that's a good shot." With all of us being the same age, there were real relationships formed with the bands -- the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, the Animals...They really liked what we got. And, where "Top of the Pops" was very hit-based -- you had to be on the charts" -- we pretty much did whatever we wanted.
Many of these were recurring guests, too.
Lindsay-Hogg: The Rolling Stones were always in those days thrilling to have on because "Satisfaction," "Paint It! Black," "the Last Time"...This is when they were really discovering who they were, and they've gone on for 50 years now. Personally I always loved the Animals because I loved Eric Burdon; I thought he was just magical as a performer and completely unaffected by anything except his own wish to sing. And The Who we had a special relationship with; I'd been to Oxford for one year and Kit (Lambert, the band's co-manager) was in his last year and he talked a bit louder than anybody else, and usually what he was saying was very funny. So we did The Who a lot, including a full show of their own.
What did you feel were the biggest coups for the show?
Lindsay-Hogg: James Brown. We saw he was coming over to England and Vicki (Wickham, producer) and I did a little bit of research and we went over to the Dorchester (hotel) to see him. He was grumpy; He'd been on "Top of the Pops" the day before and they had him stand on a little rostrum and didn't want his band with him. We offered him the whole show and he said, "I don't rehearse, I just turn up." And when he came he was surprised to see he wasn't going to be standing on a little rostrum, but we'd built a stage for him and the band, and the surface of the floor was smooth enough for him to do his dance moves on -- although when I pointed that out to him he laughed and, "I could do it on concrete!"
"RSG!" has the distinction of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's first TV performance.
Lindsay-Hogg: That came through Chas Chandler, who played bass for the Animals, who we had a great relationship; He called and said he was bringing Jimi over, and we knew and trusted Chas so of course we were receptive. And Hendrix was...Occasionally you meet people in this business who you know are special. Do they give off rays from their body? Do they give off vibes? Do they just have an extra sense of confidence they can pull it off? Mick Jagger did, and so did Jim. He was almost shy, but confident -- and a really nice guy, not hard to deal with at all. And then once he got onstage, he became this once-in-a-lifetime musician.
You did an entire Motown episode during April of 1965. How did that come about?
Linday-Hogg: Dusty (Springfield), who was involved with "Ready Steady Go!" at the very beginning and Vicki were very admiring of all the black American acts that you didn't get much of in England, on TV. The Motown Revue came over to England and Vicki and Dusty went to see it in a small movie house, and there was nobody there and they couldn't understand why. So Vicki went to Elkan Allan (head producer) and said, "Can we do a Motown show? All Motown?" and he said, "Sure, if you can get Dusty to introduce it" and Vicki said "Done deal!" So that was it. There’s' a fabulous duet between Dusty and Martha & the Vandellas, I remember. And then, of course, after the Motown show they would all come on "Ready Steady Go!" by themselves -- the Temptations, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder. We had them all. Berry Gordy credits Vicki with breaking Tamla-Motown in England.
Did you have to battle much with the "establishment" at the network, or did they let the inmates run the asylum, as it were?
Lindsay-Hogg: Oh, certainly we had to fight some of the powers that be -- not about who was on the show, because very quickly on it was seen that the people Vicki and I were choosing were getting eight to 10 million viewers a week. But the structure in the television company didn't really like "Ready Steady Go!" because they thought it was promoting all the wrong values and all the wrong freaks -- which sis partly why so many of the "Ready Steady Go!" Shows got wiped. James Brown doesn't exist anymore. The Who special doesn't exist anymore. It's really a shame.
There aren't shows now like "Ready Steady Go!" Live music on television is mostly via competition programs like "American Idol" and "The Voice."
Lindsay-Hogg: Things have become much more corporate now. Movie studios are owned by television companies. You have social media now and streaming and all the other things, and we know how quickly something can go from being supported to being damned and discarded. There are so many choices these days for people to give their allegiance to. And the acts are so invested in controlling what goes out. The world has just changed so much. It's not quite the revolutionary times that the 1960s were. So, no, I don't think you could even have a "Ready Steady Go!" happen again.
"Ready Steady Go!" certainly provided a launch pad for you, working with the Beatles, the Stones, in movies, music videos. Did you apply the same sensibility to those projects that you employed for the show?
Linday-Hogg: It was the same friendships, really. "Ready Steady Go!" really changed my life, but I was able to maintain the relationships because back then a lot of people were kind of groupies, even if they were working with them. They wanted to be near them. They wanted to be where this evocative perfume came from. But although I loved working with them, I didn't want to particularly hang out with them except when we were working. I had a separate life with my girlfriend. So I had sort of, like, a distance from them, which they, I think, respected. The work was always the most important thing.
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