Back in the day before pop promos, the BBC’s chart show, Top of the Pops employed dance troupe Pan’s People to fill-in for those artists who couldn’t appear on the show.
Pan’s People were the legendary dance goddesses of the 1960s and ‘70s, who are still worshipped by the writers of Lad’s Mags, and by the over-familiar contributors to self-congratulatory pop culture list shows, like I Love the 70s. And less we forget, Pan’s People were also responsible for convincing many a middle-aged dad, in the 1970s, that pop music wasn’t the devil’s plaything.
Pan’s People made their first appearance on TOTP in April 1968, replacing The Go-Jos, the original trio of dancers who had graced the chart show with their interpretative dancing since 1964. BBC bosses decided a change was needed and cast Louise Clarke, Felicity “Flick” Colby, Barbara “Babs” Lord, Ruth Pearson, Andrea “Andi” Rutherford and Patricia “Dee Dee” Wilde as Pan’s People:
London born Louise Clarke had attended the Corona Stage School where she did child modelling work and was also chosen for some minor roles in films and television.
Ruth Pearson also attended the Corona Stage School. She originally came from Kingston in Surrey and at the age of seven won a place at the Ballet Rambert.
Wolverhampton born Babs Lord began dancing an early age and after initially taking lessons at her mother’s dance school, she later attended the Arts Educational Trust stage school. At the age of eighteen Babs joined a group of young dancers called The Beat Girls and made weekly appearances on BBC2’s music show The Beat Room. Babs later appeared with The Beat Girls in the 1965 British film Gonks Go Beat.
Originally from Farnham in Surrey, Dee Dee Wilde had arrived back on British shores a few years earlier, aged seventeen, after spending most of her childhood in Africa. Prior to joining Pan’s People, Dee Dee enjoyed a stint with another dance troupe that included a tour of Spain.
American Flick Colby came from New York and originally trained as a ballet dancer. Within months of arriving in Britain in 1966 Flick, together with Andrea Rutherford and the four other girls, had formed Pan’s People. The fact that Flick also handled the group’s choreography ensured that Pan’s People remained a pretty much self-contained unit of strong-willed young women who were hungry for a little success.
During the next eighteen months Pan’s People only appeared a few times on British television, but they had more success in Amsterdam with a spot on a Dutch TV series. They got their lucky break in 1968 when the BBC finally decided to sign them up as TOTP’s new dancers. Initially Pan’s People made only semi-regular appearances on the show, perhaps once or twice a month. However, it soon became clear that Pan’s People were proving a huge hit with viewers. So by 1969 the girls were dancing on the TOTP every week and were now an integral part of the show.
As the new chart run-down was released on a Tuesday and TOTP went out on a Thursday night, Pan’s People only had 24-hours in which to choose a song, work out their moves, and learn their routine. The tremendous pressure led Flick Colby to quit in 1971, and focus solely on the troupe’s choreography. Pan’s People thereafter remained a 5-piece until Louise left to start a family (Pan’s People were allegedly banned by the Beeb from getting married) and was replaced by 17-year-old Cherry Gillespie in December 1972, who was presented to the group as a Christmas present. Very enlightened.
After Pan’s People split in 1976, Flick remained choreographer for TOTP and created the shows dance groups Ruby Flipper, Legs and Co. and Zoo. Only Legs and Co. was successful out of these. Flick’s style was often criticized as far too literal (most notably in Pan’s People’s version of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Get Down” - see below), but it fitted with the times and she did create the group’s very recognizable dance language:
By the mid 1970s Pan’s People had almost invented their own sign language to accompany song lyrics (now commonly referred to as ‘Pan Speak’).
“You” - Index finger pointing towards the camera.
“Stop”- Arm half outstretched with palm facing camera - like a policeman halting traffic.
“Love” - Both hands held over heart.
“Think”- Index finger pointing towards temple with a ‘thinking’ facial expression. Head cocked at 30° angle towards finger.
“Know” - Index finger pointing towards temple with a ‘smiling’ facial expression. Head cocked at 30° angle away from finger.
“I” or “Me” - Index finger pointing towards oneself.
“Don’t” - Index finger pointing upwards about 30cm in front of face, then move forearm in a windscreen wiper motion. Half smiling, half chastising facial expression.
“No” - Arms crossed just in front of chest with hands at neck level, palms facing outwards. Now uncross your arms until they are vertical, palms still facing outwards. Same facial expression as with “Don’t”.
Here are a few moments of Pop Heaven from Pan’s People, firstly their short film interpretation of John Barry’s “Theme from The Persuaders”, then the classic dog dancing to Gilbert O’Sullivan, ‘a best of’ and The Chi-Lites’ “Homely Girl”. Enjoy.
Previously on DM