In the Spring of 1964 the production team of the legendary Friday evening rock show Ready Steady Go! came up with the idea of launching a talent competition to find 'the group that would replace The Beatles' A modest aim!
The main criteria for groups aspiring to this ambition was that they could perform at least one original number and that they had no previous recording contract.
The prize being offered by the TV company was £1,000 to buy instruments and equipment, a recording contract with Decca records, a publishing deal with Keith Prowse Music (KPM) and an agency deal with a leading London entertainment agent Harold Davidson. A package that, with a sprinkling of luck, had all the ingredients to secure the winning group a rosy future in the music business. The runners-up would win a new van and 3rd band in the finals £250.
It seems, in retrospect, to be strange that the members of the Bo Street Runners showed no interest in the announcement of the competition. Perhaps thinking that replacing The Beatles with their brand of raw RnB was something of a tall order. However, unbeknown to the band, the mother of Dave Cameron , the group's bass player, had sent in an application form with a copy of their EP to the competition organisers. The first thing the Runners knew about this was when a scout from the Ready Steady Win team came to check them out at their Sunday RnB club at the Railway Hotel .
It seems that the group got over this hurdle and on the 20th May were invited to a formal audition at Associated Rediffusion's Kingsway TV studios where they were deemed good enough to enter the competition proper. The first of the knockout heats that the Runners competed in took place on the 16th June at the company's Wembley Park studios and included in the panel of four judges was the dancer/choreographer Lionel Blair.
The shows were broadcast live, unlike Ready Steady Go! itself that at this time was still pre recorded. An exciting feature of these live heats was that each of the competing groups were allowed to invite a number of fans to the studios who were, in turn, encouraged to whip themselves into a frenzy when their group was performing.
In 2009 one of the fans, Alan King, reminisced; 'I was there me and my brother, dancing to the RSW bands back in '64 or whenever - saw ourselves on tele for the first time. I remember entering the studio and being pulled to one side. "Dancers" some production guy said and we were shuffled onto the 'dance floor' (the spaces between the podiums on which the groups were performing). Our mates and girlfriends were not selected - we were 'the ones'. We danced, taking care not to trip on the camera cables that slithered across the floor and felt pretty cool'.
Amongst the production team handling this task was a young Paul Raven who would later be better known to the world as Gary Glitter.
By the 24th August the Bo Street Runners had reached the semi-final of the competition where they unexpectedly came second but this was good enough to send them through to the final that was held on the 8th September.
The panel of judges at the final were, the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, rock n roll legend, Bill Haley, singer Georgia Brown and DJ Brian Mathews. Thanks, in no small part, to the manic support given by their fans the group were declared winners.
As the result was announced and mayem erupted on the floor of the studio the group was whisked away to a hospitality suite to meet the judges. Over a celebratory glass Brian Epstein expressed an interest in becoming involved with the band. Inexplicably this offer wasn't followed up by the Runners. How different their future might have been!
From this brief moment with the celebs the Decca Records machine took over the controls and in order to capture the moment, and get a single out ASAP, the band and their equipment were taxied away to Decca's recording studio in central London. For next chapter in the saga see 'I'm a Bo Street Runner'
Was their win justified? Who can say, but their uncompromising gutsy R&B style made them stand out over their competitors' largely Merseybeat sound and singer John Dominic's charisma was certainly a big factor in their success. Readers can judge for themselves if they can hunt down a copy of the Ready Steady Win compilation album. Details can be found at the Discography page.
1964 ended with a bang for the Runners when they performed at the 'Ready Steady Go!' New Years Eve party that was broadcast live from the Rediffusion studios. On the bill were, Sandie Shaw, Manfred Mann, Dusty Springfield, Freddie and the Dreamers and, sharing their dressing room, The Stones.
Sadly this was to be their last appearance on television.