Teen Magazine Interview (1965)
England’s „Ready, steady, go“ girl ... Queen of the Mods influences Britain’s Popularity on the teen show which is the Parliament of Entertainment.
The sounds of the trumpets are heard loudest in Great Britain, for this is where the fanfare of the world’s New Beat in music, fashion and even of this pageantry is London, but the heartbeat is at Redeffusion Television Station on Kingsway in the office of Cathy McGowan. This is where the action is, with more awareness of what’s going on than anywhere else in the world.
Cathy is the Queen of the Mods, for on her television show „Ready, Steady, Go,“ she introduces the latest of Pop and Op in singers and fashions that overnight become „The Thing“ in almost every country that’s with the New Beat. And being with Cathy for the better part of two weeks is like being part of the Royal Family of Entertainment. As the title of her show suggests, Cathy is constantly on the go, and her main concern is the television program. Says she: „Anybody who wants to be with it in England watches ‚Ready, Steady, Go‘ for any of their fashion ideas. We have such a with-it director. He makes sure every little detail is seen. In fact, we started the Mod craze. And how amazed we were at the colossal reaction. It all started with the idea of our show being for Young Moderns, so we just called them Mods.“
Before Cathy was chosen from among 600 girls to be the hostess on the television show, she used to write fashions for a woman’s magazine. „Oh, it was horrid. These people of 40 used to water all my ideas down, because they never quite believed me. They looked at me as though I’d taken a turn. But now, on television, everybody takes notice of me. It’s lovely because I just wear the fashions and they catch on.“
Cathy now writes for „Rave“, an English publication. She receives hundreds of fan letters to be passed on to the pop singers. She also receives personal letters inquiring about the latest fashions, as well as anything else that might be „in“. And saying „in“ is usually what Cathy herself has started. Any of her creations can be labeled „Go!“ in the fashion’s world. The Broadway Stores, Gimbel’s Department Stores and Neiman-Marcus of Dallas, Texas are soon to sponsor Cathy McGowan clothes.
„Ready, Steady, Go“ has also shaped a great deal into the McGowan mold. Every Thursday afternoon there is a meeting to discuss the Friday show, which is now live instead of taped. Also, there is the auditioning of new groups, listening to the latest records and selecting dancers for the show. „I like to be involved in the whole thing, I just don’t like to be ‚on‘ the show. I like to be ‚with‘ it as well.“
Cathy’s office is a small room crowded with desks, papers and people. The phone is never silent and neither are the people. Besides business appointments, interviews, meetings and tea breaks, Cathy stops to talk with many of the well-known pop singers who come into her office to put their picture up on the walls. A quick conversation with one of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cilla Black or Marianne Faithfull is an everyday experience, for Cathy is not just a professional acquaintance, she is a personal friend. And though soft-spoken, there is no mistaking what Cathy has to say. You don’t miss a word, because you know she means everything she says. She is an extrovert in her affections, but is surprisingly shy of large audiences and autograph hounds. Yet, you’ll never catch an expression of annoyance on her face or detect any irritation in her speech.
I was especially aware of Cathy’s personality the night I went with her and Patrick Kerr, the 22-year-old Englishman who assists Cathy on „Ready, Steady, Go,“ to the Orchid Ballroom. About 45 minutes drive from the heart of London, the Orchid swings and sways with every Mod who can squeeze through its doors. Every Monday night Cathy goes there to select teens from the audience to dance on „Ready.“
The ballroom is almost as large as a stadium decorated with a kaleidoscope of lights and people, with a constantly deafening noise bouncing off all walls. Walking onto the dance floor, you face directly towards the stage which supports a double record player that spins the latest hits. About half an hour after we had arrived, the three of us were standing on the stage. Cathy welcomed everybody and invited them to her program she smiled warmly at the audience, which was pressing hard against the stage, enabling us to see looks of admiration from her fans. She then quickly stepped onto a small platform which was electrically raised from the stage floor and danced the latest dance but a few seconds with Patrick. Then Cathy stepped down and stood towards the back of the stage while the records started to play again and the Mods moved to their sounds. Asked to stand forward so she could be seen, she said quietly: „No, I prefer to stay here and just watch.“ Had she not been on the stage, Cathy could have been just another teen girl watching her friends dance.
Like all famous people, Cathy is no exception to the rule when it comes to being noticed on the street. She is constantly of question under the sun. „I have big chats with them all. They always call me Cath to be friendlier.“ Even during our conversation in her office, her fans would be calling, and there was never a brush-off. „They get me silly and giggle a lot when I talk to them, but they’re lovely. They’ve made me what I am, haven’t they? Without them I would be nothing, so they, deserve it.“
Cathy cannot understand her success. And perhaps there are a lot of people who feel the very same way for this No. 1 Mod does not come from a show business family, nor had she ever been experienced in the past with a show business life. She doesn’t dance, sing, play a guitar or act. She is a slim brunette, 5‘4 ½ inch tall with blue eyes. If she wasn’t THE Cathy McGowan, you’d miss her on the street. Then why all the fuss? Because Cathy McGowan is part of the New Beat.
She’s a girl who feels the same rhythm and blues that beats a pulse in the corners of each life of every teen who follows her and her trend. There is this constant tension and excitement that Cathy interprets for her teen audiences. Her reaction to the public life she represents the same reaction felt privately by every teen. In her own words: „I’m THRILLED!“ And this statement is justified because of Cathy’s attitude towards her television show. „More than anything I enjoy getting ready for the show. I love it! I love going to the hairdresser on Friday morning; I love dressing up and putting make-up on and even dabbing on the perfume. It’s just like going to a smashing party. The only thing I don’t like about the program is that it’s not long enough and it’s not in color. It’s such a drag when it’s all over.“
The format of „Ready, Steady, Go“ is nothing you would expect to see if watching „Hullabaloo,“ „Shindig,“ or „Hollywood a Go Go,“ for it is not at all as well produced as any of these three. But it doesn’t have to be. For the first time on television, either in England or America, AND on prime time, here is a program that is completely spontaneous, and in this respect you know it’s strictly for the teens. After sixty minutes of unrehearsed entertainment, you feel as worn out as if you’d run the mile in five seconds.
The various performers are placed in their sports just before air time and then the audience is let in, spreading itself in spots where the performers are not. And while the music is played and the songs are sung, the audience is wildly dancing. In the meantime the viewers at home see this through undisciplined cameras, getting as much of an eyeful as if you were in the studio yourself trying to look at everything at the same time. If mistakes are made, it doesn’t matter. They’re laughed off. And the audience laughs the loudest. No wonder they always come back for more.
Sandwiched in between this madness is our famous hostess, Cathy McGowan, who keeps things even livelier by her informal chatter to the stars; her introductions to the songs to be played invariably labeled as ‚super‘ or ‚fab‘; and, perhaps most important, her unaffected attitude. As said before, Cathy reacts like any teen who would get in front of the cameras and be absolutely thrilled when talking to Gerry and the Pacemakers, Adam Faith, Dusty Springfield, or anyone of the famous pop singers. Yet, when Cathy speaks to any one of these people, they can be certain of an extra bonus of sales on their record charts, for the McGowan touch can many times mean that they will turn to gold. And what singer doesn’t want a gold record!
But Cathy’s influence doesn’t stop in England. It has already begun to spread to America. It is hoped that in the near future Cathy will be able to appear as guest hostess on „Shindig“ and „Hollywood á Go Go.“ America. Already she is beginning to feel at home, for American pop singers receive just as big a reception from English teens as do the British pop singers who go to America. „Even though the English groups and female singers are a novelty with the Americans right now, perhaps because we are so far out, your music is far better. We’ll never be as good. Your music has a marvelous beat and is so professional. Our people who record have been to work all day, then they pop in and make a record that same evening. But in America, there is more of a struggle and more experience is needed to get ahead than with our people. We have no one to compare with your American pop singers. Even The Beatles wouldn’t name an English group who would be in their books. The biggest compliment you can give an English artist is to say he has an American sound.“
Besides „Ready, Steady, Go,“ many American singers are seen frequently on two of England’s other top pop shows: „Thank you for the lucky stars“ and „Top of the Pops.“ Neither one of these programs is like „Ready.“ They are produced more professionally and attract older teens and young adults.
Cathy’s social life is interwoven with her professional life. They could be one and the same. After her program has gone off the air on Friday nights, the whole show goes to the „Ad Lib“ club, one of THE night spots for the famous of entertainers. Another club is „The Cromwellian,“ not as elegant as the other, but still catering to the gay and get-ahead crowd. When Cathy took me to both these places, it was not time to have informal chats because the noise was deafening. So, we just looked – and definitely smiled – because of the people we were bound to meet. One particular evening, when Pattie Boyd joined our party, we talked with Brian Jones and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
Steady boyfriend of Cathy is a young hairdresser who does the hair fashions for Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw. Cathy has been linked romantically with many of the well-known pop groups, but none of this has been confirmed. As a matter of fact, it has been discreetly evaded by Cathy.
Though leader of the newest in life for English teens, for her own entertainment Cathy enjoys seeing old films, particularly those of Fred Astair. „I get lovely fashion ideas from those films. The look for boys at the moment is actually the Astaire Look, wearing even those round toed patent leather shoes and wide ties, so everyone rushes around trying to see his films to be ‚in‘ with the latest fashion.“
Well, you can’t help being impressed by some people, can you? And Cathy’s success is certainly impressive. She stands out as the most popular female personality in England, who has nothing more to do than be herself. Can it last? Who knows. That same question was asked about The Beatles. In fact, it is now being asked about everything English. But look over your shoulder, back to when this all began and what was said then. Come on, now. It’s still Rule Britannia!