Monday, 3 October 2011

Cherry shake well

One of the things I've been careful with on this blog is not to make too much of the in-house dance troupes. Partly because there's loads about them online anyway going into fulsome and frank detail and much other discussion is of the 'men fancied them but they did stupid routines' postmodern one-liner sense, but it's something you've got to tread carefully round. We know why it happened, maybe we don't appreciate from this distance the late 60s to mid-80s success of specialist dance teams on television from The Young Generation to the Brian Rogers Connection, but there still seems something out of place about reinterpreting someone's carefully honed work in such a choreographed close to studio time fashion. It's natural, though, then when you delve into everything a TOTP offers in detail as this blog has there's things you can't help but notice that turn out to be specific to the given time frame. One thing that seems to have happened as far as Ruby Flipper goes is that one member has been getting the bulk of the good, unembarrassing (cf Young Hearts Run Free) roles, and in doing so earning themselves a not inconsiderable amount of new personal followers and appreciative commenters.

Not for much longer, though. The next TOTP showing next week will also mark the end of... no, not an era, but something. A something that started at Christmas 1972 like this (and moreover, because this clip hasn't got the relevant introduction attached, like this:

Flick called that the worst routine they ever did, by the way, largely due to the volume of those dresses.

While it's Babs or Dee Dee, often Louise too, who usually get dragged out whenever nostalgia TV comes calling, Cherry Gillespie seems from the three and three quarter years she served as a TOTP dancer to have become a totemic presence. Actually that seems to have been the case at the time - it's rumoured she had a clear lead in personal fanmail at their height. Is it the horse's mane length hair? The eyes? The frequently part-bared and constantly toned body? The faces to camera (of which, as I didn't pick up at the time what with being new to this back then, there's an excellent mock-baffled example of 0:31-0:35 into Ruby Flipper's debut) Or all of the above?

It's all of the above.

Flick tried to dissuade her, but Cherry insisted shitting on the dressing room floor was her good luck charm. (pic source)

But then it's also possible to say she was much more than that on the sly, which is why if you discount Babs' globetrotting human endurance feats for their rarefied nature she seems more than her contemporaries to have made something of a go at a showbiz life after Pops. From Hemsby, near Great Yarmouth, she was a ballet school prodigy of whom the Daily Telegraph wrote in 1972 "she seems bound to develop into a major artist". When Andi Rutherford got married and became pregnant she chanced the open audition for her replacement, got a unanimous nod and a couple of months short of 18 years old she became the then fifth girl of the troupe.

The Pan's People Kites range needed some fine tuning

And so a place in televisual dancing history was assured. She was there circumnavigating the dogs for Get Down. When the Monster Mash costumes were being doled out, she became a bat in a curious furry costume with a tellingly balletic routine. She gets a solo in the celebrated 1974 folly Pan's People In Concert.

"...and then I'll get Robin to sack the rest of them!"

And when the Ruby Flipper bandwagon rolled in she became the senior member, being seven months older than Sue. Here's her celebrated solo spot to Misty Blue, which was never discussed here at the time of reshowing because a) it got edited out of the first showing and b) there's not really much you can add.

And then it ended. Well, to be accurate she ended it. It's not entirely clear at this distance why she left early, even less why she had that three week break not long before, but she went on to play Connie in the award winning original West End run of A Chorus Line from January 1977, so maybe rehearsals started around then.

Gillespie may have done more theatre work, and there are suggestions to that end, there's little online record compared to the years of bit parts she got when returning to TV after that run - Casualty, Minder, Blankety Blank (five times), Metal Mickey, Crown Court, Bergerac (which is on YouTube in full - she first turns up 4:55 into part one) and a guest slot with Morecambe & Wise, albeit on one of their lesser 1983 shows for ITV. In addition she's female lead in the video for Dire Straits' Private Investigations and has credits in Octopussy, where she's the titular character's henchwoman, and The Bitch, as 'Disco Girl'. Nothing like stereotyping.

Her major post-Pops TV work came in 1983 as she took third billing behind Wayne Sleep and Bonnie Langford on the BBC dancing roustelay The Hot Shoe Show. Here's a couple of clips of her work there. The song on this got released as a BBC Records single, which was about as successful as the Pan's People 1974 single she takes lead vocals on. According to the uploader the here unseen punchline is the mystery beau is a Boy George-alike.

And here's an ensemble piece chiefly featuring the always delightful sound of middle class white Brits rapping, and especially so when one is Bonnie Langford. Roxanne Shante rests easy in her bed.

With no listed onscreen roles since 1991 we can only assume Cherry subsequently settled down to raise a family with music industry big shot husband Rob Dickins, though she's continued to do voiceovers - here's an example - and in fact can still be hired for such. And if you must know, here's a clip of a Pan's mini-reunion last April at the opening of a Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition of photos by Harry Goodwin. We shall never see her like again. Well, there's not the telly dance troupes any more.


Arthur Nibble said...

I’ve discovered that Cherry released another single soon after she Legged it (ho ho), in January 1977, ‘Here Comes the Band’ written by Junior Campbell. Both her singles were produced by David Mindel, who appears to have (co-)written the other three songs on those slabs of vinyl.. That BBC single is confusingly titled ‘Why?’ even though the chorus’s main refrain is the words ‘one good reason’.

Simon said...

From One For The Dads, Cherry in Minder in 1991. They all have that cutglass RP accent in Great Yarmouth.

wilberforce said...

gosh, i never knew cherry was so posh, although i was aware from the various interviews on nostalgia shows that her older colleagues were graduates of the school of received pronounciation (which of course you had to be back then regardless of your class and background if you wanted to get on... especially at the beeb!)

i would imagine she was one of the last of her kind (can anyone think of any younger slebs still using RP)? i wonder if her younger colleagues in ruby flipper such as lulu (who i believe is only a couple of years older than me) also spoke in that manner?

however having said that, although RP is pretty much dead in the water these days (joanna lumley excepted of course, but unlike most she makes it sound sexy), a friend has pointed out there is an army of young (ish) women working in the media now who affect a milder and more hip version of it (do they all get trained at media school?) - the giveaway is that instead of saying "to" they say "tew"... mind you, given the choice i'd rather that than suffer sink-estate chavs like billie piper (she was the reason i never persisted with the new dr who - give me the roedean assistants like sarah jane any day!)

btw simon, although as you say there is plenty about pan's people "being for the dads" elsewhere on the internet, i don't think theirs and others contributions to TOTP should be marginalised - after all it was an integral part of the naffness that was british light entertainment back then, and even though i didn't appreciate it at the time, these days i would much rather see a dance routine done to music where for whatever reason the artists were unavailable for the show, than some old cartoon (which seems a real cop out to me)...

ps - does anyone actually know what that weird yellow rugby ball thing on strings is?

Adam Maunder said...

Well, after looking forward with bated breath to this, it's only now I've actually had time to sit & take it all in, so here I am, late & doubtless unread, but there we are.

I think you've gotten the tone exactly right as regards the dance troupes, Simon; whatever one can scoff at ceaselessly about the hurried nature of such folderol (or indeed, fantasise moonily about their favourite, which I'm certainly not gonna condemn), they did an often silly job with unfailing zest, boundless good humour and thorough professionalism, hence the continuing regard in all quarters. What Mr. Underhill said about that approach vs. the Whistle Test one of random old film (often cartoons) is fair, too; I'd say that on balance, I prefer the dancing, but, being nothing if not a cultural whore, I'm just as happy with the films, partially 'cause as often as not I recognise them, and thus enjoy them in another context.

When it comes to being a member of the Latter-Day Worshippers at the Altar of the Blessed Gillespie, there are one or two other things not mentioned that have had me hopelessly enslaved. One is the ever-present smile; you could more-or-less get away with a nuclear holocaust in my book if you did it with a disarming twinkle, so if Cherry ever did get into International Politics, best not tell me about it.

The other main thing that gets me is the same as with Pan's, and for that matter many others whose job is to entertain, and that is: the selling of your wares. There are few surer ways of insuring my life-long devotion than if you communicate what you're doing with such... confidence (even if that's just a front), enjoyment and spirited joie-de-vivre. Hence Cherry, whose Stage School-honed mixture of unquestionable talent with bottomless energy was bound to ensnare me. To contextualise this waffle, her appeal for me is exactly the same as that of this woman, whom I discovered aged 13, and whose name is never heard anywhere near often enough for my liking. Get to 1:50 in this clip:

Back with Cherry - while I saw all of the Dawson-era Blankety Blanks back when Challenge repeated them a decade or so ago, I can't remember much of them now. Not that it's hard to imagine the Cherry shows: bottom row, 1st on the left, 'Cherry Gilles-pie... What'veyougotfor meeeee?' Bliss.

The M&W Thames shows are patchily available (Network put the 1st lot out on DVD 3 years ago), but other than a lot of compilations I've still got lying around on tape, I've no idea what she did with them (big production number, presumably).

I've become rather transfixed - obsessed isn't quite the word - by the Hot Shoe Show. Just as Flick's reign on Pops was coming to an end, the Beeb go & put on this massive dance-based show - no comedy, no pop acts: just dancing, with a huge load of publicity, tie-in records, awards... and presumably, bugger-all viewing figures, given there were just 11 shows. The clips don't make it look or sound any the less deranged a notion; even in this age of Glee & High School Musical, I reckon it'd still be a weird old bet for prime-time TV fun.

Still, when all's said & done, it's quite a legacy that Cherry & the girls have got to look back on. To go from Swanilda to Mark Knopfler is hardly an average career, is it?

(Oh, one last thing: I'm sure I read in an interview somewhere that Lulu [Cartwright, not 'We-ee-ee-ee-ee-ll'] was at school with Cherry, the Head Girl, no less. Anyone else know anything about it?)

Simon said...

Ballet school, but otherwise yes, I came across that on the old BBC TOTP2 site - Cherry was head girl at the time, no less (Lulu is five years her junior).

The M&W sketch list for that episode includes 'Gypsy dance', so while I'd like to imagine she was out in front of the curtain indulging in crosstalk it's more likely she performed a routine in a big skirt and short top while Eric and Ern did some thematic business around her. A hoofing routine of sorts seems to have been a regular feature on that series, in the 1983 Autumn Of Television Dancing - from the same run this is briefly popular robot mimes Tik & Tok, in a routine which for some reason eventually riffs off Taco's version of Puttin' On The Ritz, which was huge in America and did nothing here:

Even if you consider Hot Shoe Show a Sleep/Langford vehicle it's strange that there was an attempt right then to revive dancing as prime-time entertainment - TOTP had phased Zoo out the previous year and Hot Gossip had faded away - but maybe it was seen as of a piece with variety entertainers like Wall Street Crash and Stutz Bear Cats, retrospectively styled multi-talented troupes always available to fill a slot on 3-2-1 at a moment's notice.