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Cathy McGowan and Her Remarkable Legacy

The legacy of Cathy McGowan endures, a testament to the power of one woman's influence on an entire generation. In the world of television and popular culture, Cathy McGowan truly made the weekend start with "Ready Steady Go!"

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In the annals of British television history, few figures shine as brightly as Cathy McGowan. Born in 1943, Cathy McGowan made a lasting impact as a British broadcaster and journalist, best known as the presenter of the iconic 1960s pop music television show, “Ready Steady Go!” In this article, we delve into the story of Cathy McGowan and the incredible influence she had on the British pop culture scene during the swinging ’60s.

The Birth of “Ready Steady Go!”

“Ready Steady Go!” (often abbreviated as RSG) made its debut in August 1963, right at the time when the Beatles were taking the world by storm. The show was a game-changer, and as a historian of television would later note, 1963 marked a distinct shift in the cultural landscape of Britain. With the catchphrase, “the weekend starts here,” RSG was a Friday evening staple, airing from 6 to 7 pm.

The original host, Keith Fordyce, was a well-known name in the broadcasting world, but it was in 1964 that Cathy McGowan and Michael Aldred joined him as co-presenters. Cathy McGowan’s journey to RSG was intriguing. She was chosen as an advisor from a pool of 600 applicants. Notably, she had previously worked in the fashion department of Woman’s Own magazine. Her selection came down to a single question from Elkan Allan, RSG’s executive producer: “What is most important to teenagers, sex, music, or fashion?” Cathy’s response – “fashion” – secured her place in television history.

Cathy McGowan: The Queen of the Mods

Cathy McGowan was not just a television presenter; she was a cultural icon. Often referred to as “the girl of the day,” she was seen as the embodiment of the youth culture of the era. Through her fashion sense, she earned the endearing nickname, “Queen of the Mods.” This title, though also associated with other notable figures like Dusty Springfield and Dinah Lee, perfectly encapsulated her influence on the fashion of the time.

Her relatability was one of her strongest assets. Cathy was not an older, out-of-touch host; she was in sync with RSG’s viewers. Young women saw her as a role model, while young men were captivated by her looks. In fact, Anna Wintour, the future editor of American Vogue, credited RSG with introducing her to the world of fashion. Another legendary figure influenced by Cathy was Lesley Hornby, known as Twiggy, who regarded McGowan as her hero.

A Cultural Bridge

Cathy McGowan’s connection with the artists she interviewed was another key factor in the show’s success. Donovan, whose career took off in 1965 partly due to RSG, remembered Cathy as the “young Mary Quant-look hostess.” This reference to Mary Quant, the champion of the mini-skirt, highlights Cathy’s role in popularising this iconic fashion trend. Her on-screen conversations with artists were easy-going, and she spoke the language of the youth, continuously using teenage slang. As one observer aptly put it, watching RSG was like being at a King’s Road party where the performers themselves had just happened to drop by.

Cathy McGowan’s Influence Beyond Television

Cathy McGowan was not just a television host; she was a trendsetter. She was an early supporter of Biba, a famous fashion store that opened in 1964. Additionally, she had her own fashion range at British Home Stores. Cathy endorsed a portable make-up set known as “Cathy’s Survival Kit.” Her impact was so profound that young girls across the nation emulated her style. Julia Baird, the half-sister of John Lennon of the Beatles, recalls trying to get into the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles first gained prominence, by dressing “à la Cathy McGowan.” The influence was so substantial that it’s even suggested that the British Society for the Preservation of the Miniskirt was formed in 1966 in response to Cathy hinting that she might wear a long skirt on RSG.

The End of an Era

Cathy McGowan continued to host RSG after Keith Fordyce’s departure in March 1965, but the show eventually came to an end on December 23, 1966. The decision to have artists perform live on the show added an immediacy that Top of the Pops, RSG’s BBC rival, never quite achieved. Despite RSG’s gradual decline in popularity, its impact on music and the broader cultural landscape of the ’60s was undeniable.

As historian Dominic Sandbrook aptly put it, “Thanks to the enthusiastic salesmanship of McGowan and her fellow presenters, the emerging youth culture that had once been confined to the capital [London] or to the great cities could now be seen and copied almost immediately from Cornwall to the Highlands.” The tremors of excitement from RSG’s vibrant presentation could be felt from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

A Lasting Legacy

Cathy McGowan, standing at 5 feet 4½ inches, was not just a television host but also a model. Her influence extended to the airwaves as she presented a show on Radio Luxembourg. Her impact on ’60s culture, particularly in the realms of music and fashion, is undeniable.

In conclusion, Cathy McGowan’s time as the face of “Ready Steady Go!” was a significant chapter in the history of British television and youth culture. Her relatability, her influence on fashion, and her connection with the artists of the era left an indelible mark. Cathy McGowan, “the Queen of the Mods,” will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who helped define the swinging ’60s and brought pop culture to living rooms across the nation.​