Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Ruby blue

After seven months, just as quickly as they arrived, they, or at least their collective self, were gone.

Odd thing about that photo is from the whole cache of Pan's People and Legs & Co promotional pictures all the girls are either in matching outfits or specially designed branded gear, and yet for this one and only proper Ruby Flipper meet-the-gang set everyone's in the clothes they arrived in. (It's not too far from very likely that Lulu dressed like that when casually out all the time, and we now know Floyd wore the oddest assortment when off screen too. And as for Philip's sophisti-gay biker look...)

Were Ruby Flipper ahead of their time or a joyous error of judgement? Certainly you could do more, and more idiosyncratic full routines, with mixed sex outfits as some of those we've sat through together have shown - you can't imagine Legs & Co in all their soft focused smouldering glances and two sizes too small tops putting on the duality of A Fifth Of Beethoven or the morality tale of Young Hearts Run Free (and now we all know them so much better we can better appreciate Philip's cock-eyed acting here) Yet it's telling that towards the end of their run on this repeat set that's probably given them a higher widespread profile then they had at the time even BBC4's own continuity was calling them Pan's People. Seems the popular memory recalls two sets of dancers and the rest were mere minority interest flotsam. But oh, what flotsam.

Again, I fully believe Pat Cash headband/open waistcoat/short shorts is how Cherry dresses on most functional occasions

So it's March/April 1976 and Ruth Pearson, the final active original member of Pan's People, has decided to retire and move behind the drapes. She and Flick Colby have observed the rise of disco and believe it's time men were subsumed into the next phase of Pops dancing. Without telling fearsome BBC head of LE Bill Cotton (Ruth: "it felt like it was time for a concept change. Everybody in the group could see it was time for a change") plans were drawn up for a troupe named, after a fashion, for their overseers, RUth and FLIck. Mary Corpe and Lee Ward, who'd only joined Pan's the previous autumn, both left, Mary telling the press "it's a big mistake. Men rush home to watch sexy ladies. They do not want to see other men." Cherry and Sue stayed on and open auditions at the Dance Centre in Covent Garden found Lulu Cartwright, only 16 (and apparently Cherry had been her head girl at ballet school), decade older Royal Ballet School graduate Patti Hammond, Philip Haigh (nee Steggles), formerly of Nigel Lythgoe's The Young Generation, 17 year old Floyd (also known as Floid, but we'll go by his spelling in the credits for now) Pearce and potential Paul Nicholas-a-gram Gavin Trace. Launched onto television at the beginning of May it was all carried out with the minimum of fuss, and actually not much publicity as far as I can tell, even Noel referring merely in passing to Pan's People, at the end of a beloved eight year stint, being "sort of moved slightly stage left" at the end of Flipper's introductory Stylistics routine. Notably, that aforementioned individuality was prized of the new group. Philip: "(Flick) wanted us all to have our own individual look. In Pan's People they'd all worn the same things each week and she thought that looked a bit dated." And so out came the wide variety of costumes, the thrown together bits of business and the acting. Oh, the acting.

It's just that it didn't make the same impression on the viewers. Gavin was let go by mutual consent in mid-July, Flick feeling he couldn't keep up with the weekly turnaround of new routines, and was pretty much never seen again. Then in October the producers let it be known that Ruby Flipper would be going no further and arrangements would be made for an all-female troupe to take over. Flick was notoriously unhappy, feeling she'd been given an ultimatum to retreat to the same Pan's People ideas or lose her job, but was told ratings were suffering for it and as well as the gender issue, these by all accounts being pretty close to the actual words in the letter given to Flick, "young teenage boys would not want to see white girls dancing with black boys". (Lulu: "I don't think any of us realised what was going on. I think if it had been on ITV we would have got away with it.")

Sue, Patti and Lulu stayed on for the as yet unnamed new set, Cherry went off to the theatre and then... well, you've read all that, Philip rejoined Nigel Lythgoe's team and then the Brian Rogers Connection before branching out on his own and Floyd... well, here's some further background details.

Actually, first off Floyd became Legs & Co's token man, making nine utility appearances with them over the following 15 months (here's one) plus being a part of their cameo in the notorious Joan Collins vehicle The Stud. After that he jumped ship and joined Arlene Phillips' Hot Gossip, then rapidly making a name for themselves on Kenny Everett's show. He literally grew up in public. You want a proper clip, don't you? Here's one from a 1983 live show, notable also for being the track, one from the early Human League catalogue, Floyd sings on the troupe's flop 1981 album Geisha Boys And Temple Girls. In Hot Gossip when Floyd got the short straw costume things turned out slightly different.

Hot Gossip fizzled out towards the mid-80s; beyond that I know he's on the Doctor Who single Doctor In Distress and in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

I know Gavin's got her arm round her but Patti's merely blinking, alright?

So, the grand Pops experiment was brought to an abrupt end. And yes, I'm going to kind of miss them.


Hooray for Floyd said...

I'd like to think somewhere out there Floyd checked out these TOTP repeats from the comfort of his well-earned easy chair and swelled his chest with pride, murmuring "Yes... it was all worth it."

Simon said...

It's unfortunate that nobody thought to get a proper Floyd cult following going, I know even in Ruby Flipper the girls were still the selling point but there's enough people who comment weekly on TOTP to have got something going. Maybe it should have happened around Young Hearts or TVC15.

Incidentally, regarding that BBC LE quote about how Floyd and white women shouldn't have been seen together, a) I wonder how much Flick must have fought to have had him come back for the Legs & Co cameos (though they had Pauline by then) and b) note how in Rubberband Man, the penultimate Ruby Flipper performance and presumably filmed when they knew they were on their way out, the second image is a two-shot of Floyd with his arms round Patti. That can't have been accidental.

Floid Fan said...

Hey Simon,
you will know I have been going on about Floid/Floyd, and doing my bit to single-handedly create an appreciation society for him for him on the One for the Dads site, though not at all surprisingly, the 'Dads' over there are more interested in Sue and Patti! (but they usually put up with me with good humour)
With regard to old racist Cotton, I believe he moved on to a higher position in the BBC around the beginning of 77 (if I remember reading correctly did he move to BBC1 Controller from Head of Light Entertainment?) and so had bigger fish to fry and other worries on his mind. So I think Cotton's moving on could have co-incided with Floyd's/Floid's reinstatement with Legs. I'll have to check dates on that again. And of course, Floyd's/Floid's first reappearance was just a couple of months after the Flipper demise on December 23rd 1976, when he strutted his funkateer stuff to Stevie Wonder's 'I Wish' with Legs, but they hid him from view behind a screen and you only saw his silhouette- but absolutely, unmistakably him!
Nice to see someone with the name Hooray for Floyd on here, at last.

Floid Fan said...

Think Ruby Flipper knew they were on their way out a couple of months before they finished. In fact, I recall someone, somewhere (perhaps on here) saying they had a copy of an old Record Mirror from the middle of August 76, which announced that Ruby Flipper were to be axed.

wilberforce said...

simon, thanks for this tribute to ruby flipper - i have seen and read about them so often in the last few months (plus added my own two-penneth-worth about them from time to time) that it's almost like losing some good friends...

i was taken aback to discover that lulu was quite so young (and boy does she look young in these pictures!) and that patti was quite so old - in my ignorance i would have thought that early 20's was an optimum age to be a dancer, and if i were flick i certainly would have pensioned people off once they reached their mid-20's (a bit like that brazilian boy band that once featured ronnie biggs' son ha ha)...

anyway, a few questions come to mind on the nature of their employment - the answers are no doubt already on the internet somewhere anyway, but here goes: just how much did they get paid for their efforts? (presumably not that much if gavin was happy to walk away after only a couple of months)... were they on a weekly wage or did they only got paid when they appeared? how many hours a week did they work on the show? were they allowed to do other work inbetween or did the terms of the contract prevent that? anyone who knows these things please feel free to enlighten me, thanks...