The show gained its highest ratings on 20 March 1964 when it featured the Beatles being interviewed and performed their songs "It Won't Be Long", "You Can't Do That" and "Can't Buy Me Love" - the last of which was a hit at the time. Its last episode was transmitted on 23 December 1966.
The show went out early on Friday evenings with the line "The weekend starts here!", and was introduced by The Surfaris "Wipe Out" - later replaced by Manfred Mann's "5-4-3-2-1" (later replaced by Manfred Mann's "Hubble Bubble, Toil and Trouble"). It was more youth orientated and informal than its BBC rival (from 1964), Top of the Pops. Owing to the scheduling of local news in parts of the UK, several ITV regions joined the show part-way through.
Initially, RSG! artists mimed to records but by late 1964 some performed live and the show switched to all-live performances in April 1965. It was noted for allowing artists to perform the full version of their songs rather than the short versions demanded by other shows. Despite its popularity in the UK, the programme was never broadcast in the United States.
The show was recorded at small studios in Rediffusion's Headquatres in Kingsway, London. Although the company had bigger facilities at Wembley it was easier to attract stars to central London. As the studios were compact it was not possible to hide cameras. The ever-present cameras, which were very large with rotating lens turrets rather than zooms, were sometimes incorporated into the action, notably in a Manfred Mann performance of the song Machines which ended with Paul Jones singing crouched on the floor surrounded by menacing cameras.
The show had a popular following among the British Mod youth subculture of the 1960s.
In 1966, the time that the 'beat boom' was fading, the show was cancelled. Its disappearance at the height of its popularity enhanced its status. Many years later the British musician Dave Clark bought the rights to the surviving recordings of the show. Compilations were broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s and VHS videos were issued. In 1989 the show was seen for the first time in the US, on Disney Channel. During that time, Disney was a pay channel, that aired programming aimed at adults at night. Ready Steady Go! has not been officially released on DVD.
The most famous presenters were Keith Fordyce and Cathy McGowan, though early shows were introduced by Dusty Springfield. The show was occasionally presented by David Gell and Michael Aldred. McGowan joined after answering an advert for "a typical teenager" as advisor. She found herself presenting the show, and in fact her status as a fan was evident in her style; stumbling over lines, losing her cool and apparent inexperience made her more popular and by the end she was presenting alone. She also joined in various fun and games including miming with The Rolling Stones to other peoples records, notably "I Got You Babe".
It featured most successful artists of the era, among them The Beatles, The Hollies, The Zombies, Dusty Springfield, The Supremes, The Walker Brothers, The Kinks, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Fourmost, The Rolling Stones, Donovan (discovered by RSG!), The Fortunes, Helen Shapiro, P.J Proby, Otis Redding, Freddie & The Dreamers, The Dave Clark Five, Bobby Vee, The Animals, Cilla Black, The Searchers, The Who, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Billy Furry, Lulu, Marvin Gaye, Gene Pitney, The Beach Boys, Sandie Shaw, Burt Bacharach, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kenny Lynch, Small Faces, Them and The Four Pennies. It was said that Cliff Richard never appeared on the programme because he was considered too popular and would unwittingly incite too great a reaction from the audience.
During one of the Beatles' appearances, Paul MaCartney judged a contest between four teenage girls miming to Brenda Lee's "Let's Jump the Broomstick" (the group had opened for Lee before becoming famous), choosing 13-year-old Melanie Coe as the winner. Three years later, after Coe's disappearance made the front page of the Daily Mirror, McCartney would immortalize her in song, using the article as the basis for "She's Leaving Home".
Jimi Hendrix made first TV appearance in England on RSG! with "Hey Joe". After this appearance his club tour sold out and he was quickly added to a nationwide tour headlined by the Walker Brothers. Dusty Springfield devised and introduced the RSG Motown Special in April 1965, featuring The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Miracles and Martha and the Vandellas The Supremes performed their now legendary, Stop! in the name of love dance routine for the first time on the show.
The Who proved particularly popular and in 1966 had an episode to themselves entitled Ready Steady Who. The programme no longer exists, but an EP of the name marked the show (although no recordings were from the show). The Walker Brothers were also hugely popular and had a special live edition in 1966 but again the tape was wiped, although extracts surfaced on Youtube in 2009 proving the group did not mime.
Although not mentioned by name.. Ready, Steady, Go! is parodied in the 1967 Film Bedazzled featuring comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (who both appeared on RSG!). In one sequence during the movie, both Cook and Moore play the parts of pop stars singing songs with girls in the audience going crazy for them. Cook's "Devil" character and his group taking the name of "Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations".