Keith Fordyce: Unflappable host of ‘Ready Steady Go!’
Tuesday 29 March 2011
The easy-going and avuncular Keith Fordyce was the highly reliable host of the chaotic live, beat music programme, Ready Steady Go!, which started in 1963. Part of its attraction was the potential for things going wrong and Fordyce was the ideal person to restore order.
Keith Fordyce Marriott – he was to drop his surname as a professional broadcaster – was born in Lincoln on in 1928 and went to The Lincoln School. His father encouraged his sporting prowess and in 1946, he won the Lincolnshire Junior Tennis Championship. In the forces, he worked as an announcer and producer for the Forces Broadcasting Service, where his commanding officer was another radio personality, Cliff Michelmore. Fordyce gained a wide experience in presenting record programmes, which he put to good use in civilian life.
After the forces, Fordyce studied for a law degree at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and he was the president of the University Law Society during 1951-52. Fordyce founded and edited the university's sports magazine, Light Blue. On obtaining his degree, he worked as a football commentator for BBC TV, his first broadcast being on the Leyton v Hereford match on 22 November 1952. A comment on the BBC's files says that "his voice lacked crispness".
Fordyce presented a flagship programme, Housewives' Choice, for a week in August 1955, and this time the assessment was "Professionally-modulated, virile voice and not too smooth; but no strong character, no indication of extra entertainment potential." Also in 1955, Fordyce fought a municipal election for the Conservatives and won a seat on Wimbledon Council, but he was to move to Radio Luxembourg as a staff announcer. He presented their weekly Top Twenty programme and stayed with the station for three years.
As a journalist, he wrote for New Musical Express and two records by unknowns that he correctly tipped for No 1 were "Diana" by Paul Anka in 1957 and "When" by the Kalin Twins the following year.
In 1960, he compèred Jack Good's ITV show Wham! which featuredBilly Fury, Little Tony and Dickie Pride. That was short-lived but he became the original host for Thank Your Lucky Stars and the Sunday morning radio show, Easy Beat. By and large, hedidn't comment on the music, but on one memorable Thank Your Lucky Stars, he said that the British singers, Craig Douglas, Mark Wynter and Jimmy Justice were all better than Ricky Nelson.
In April 1963 he interviewed the Beatles on the BBC's Pop Inn and he had many contacts with them during the 1960s. He hosted the Granada TV tribute to them, The Music Of Lennon And McCartney, in 1966. Over the years, he remained the true professional and refused to tell background stories.
In August 1963 Fordyce hosted the first edition of Ready Steady Go! for Associated Rediffusion and it was thought that his know-how would help the inexperience of Cathy McGowan and Michael Aldred. The chaos was all too real, especially on one programme where Marianne Faithfull was to walk down a spiral staircase lip syncing to "Blowin' In The Wind", but the wrong record was cued – the Kinks' "All Day And All Of The Night". The cameras switched to Fordyce to save the day. Among his more embarrassing duties was to preside over a weekly mime competition. Still, he preferred Ready Steady Go! to being the straight man for Groucho Marx in his only UK television series.
"Keith Fordyce may have been much more experienced than Cathy McGowan and Michael Aldred," says Billy Hatton of the hit-making Liverpool band, the Fourmost, "but at times you didn't think so. When he interviewed the Beach Boys, he asked them if surfing was a music or a sport and they looked at each other as if to say, 'Who is this guy?' It was a difficult show to manage and the audience could be unruly. When we were singing 'Baby I Need Your Loving', a girl grabbed my balls. Fortunately the camera was on my face but you could see the sudden change in my expression."
Through the 1960s and '70s, Fordyce hosted variety shows and quizzes on television and radio including Come Dancing and Miss World. In 1979, he was the first presenter of Radio 2's Sounds Of The Sixties and on the same day, he presented the quiz show, Beat The Record. During the 1980s, he followed another passion by running the Torbay Aircraft Museum in Paignton. He broadcast locally on Radio Solent and Radio Devon. He wanted to broadcast until he died but he developed Alzheimer's and was forced to retire.
Keith Fordyce Marriott (Keith Fordyce), radio and television presenter: born Lincoln 15 October 1928; married (four children); died Devon 15 March 2011.
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