In an era before pop videos, they danced to songs whose original artists were not available to perform them live. They were not the first dance troupe to appear regularly on Top of the Pops; they were preceded by The Go-Jos in the programme's first four years, before Pan's People replaced them in May 1968. They did not start off with weekly appearances, but they had become an almost-weekly feature of the programme by early 1970.
Pan's People were formed in December 1966 in London. Set up as a sextet, they appeared on television series in the UK and the Netherlands before they were first approached to appear on Top of the Pops in 1968.
Two dancers (Dee Dee and Ruth) from the troupe were invited to dance on Top of the Pops by choreographer Virginia Mason in 1968 for a routine to "Simon Says" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company. This was followed by a further routine featuring three members of Pan's People (Dee Dee, Ruth and Flick, dancing to "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, and subsequently, the entire sextet appeared in a routine set to "US Male" by Elvis Presley.
- Louise Clarke (1949–2012)
- Felicity "Flick" Colby (1946–2011)
- Barbara "Babs" Lord
- Ruth Pearson
- Andrea "Andi" Rutherford
- Patricia "Dee Dee" Wilde
Colby gradually stood down from dancing towards the end of 1971 to concentrate full-time on choreographing the group's routines. At the end of 1972 Rutherford left Pan's People to raise a family, and was replaced by Cherry Gillespie. In mid-1974 Clarke left Pan's People to start a family; Sue Menhenick was selected to succeed her at an open audition.
The final personnel changes within the troupe occurred during 1975, when Lord, and then Wilde, left the group. When Lord departed, two members joined the troupe, Mary Corpe and Lee Ward.
The line-up by the time of Pan's People's final routines for Top of the Pops in April 1976 was:
- Mary Corpe
- Cherry Gillespie
- Sue Menhenick
- Lee Ward
- Ruth Pearson (the only remaining original member)
The 26 September 1975 issue of Reveille reported that Dee Dee was 28, Sue 20, Ruth 29, Cherry 20, Mary 17, and Lee 19.
Shortly before the group made their last appearance on Top of the Pops in the spring of 1976, dancer and TV presenter Lesley Judd became a temporary member of the group for a one-off routine, dancing to Rodrigo's Guitar Concerto De Aranjuez by Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains. The rehearsals and behind-the-scenes footage of the routine were featured on Blue Peter.
Work outside TOTP
Among other television series Pan's People appeared on were:
- Bobbie Gentry (BBC)
- Lulu (BBC)
- The Price of Fame (BBC)
- The John Denver Show (BBC)
- The Two Ronnies (BBC)
- The troupe performed with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise on their 1975 BBC1 Christmas Day TV Show, one of the most popular TV shows in the UK. They danced to Brenda Arnau's version of Big Spender with Morecambe & Wise posing as two new Pan's Persons.
- In 1974 Pan's People appeared in their own edition of the In Concert series for BBC television.
References in popular culture
- In an episode of Porridge ("A Night In", 1974), Norman Stanley Fletcher (Ronnie Barker) jokes to Lennie Godber (Richard Beckinsale) in their prison cell about having a night out: "We could ring up those girls on Top of the Pops. Pan's People. There's one special one... beautiful Babs... dunno what her name is."
- The Benny Hill Show spoofed the dance troupe as "Pam's People," with Benny Hill, Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Jackie Wright and Earl Adair appearing in drag. In the late 1970s Pan's People performed in two later editions of Hill's show; Louise English of Pan's People went on to become a major cast member of the show through the mid-1980s.
- The Goodies made frequent references to the group, as well as showing an all-pensioner dance troupe called "Pan's Grannies".
- In their TV series French & Saunders, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders parodied the group, with their rendition of "Yellow River" by Pans Indeedy People.
Life after TOTP
Even after their departure from Top of the Pops Pan's People were much in demand for personal appearances. Dee Dee Wilde knew the name was still marketable and kept Pan's People alive as she continued to dance with and manage a new group of girls: Pauline Crawford, Abigail Higgins, Patricia McSherry, Francesca Whitburn and Sarah Woollett. A member for a short time during this period was Sarah Brightman, who went on to join the more raunchy Hot Gossip before marrying Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The best-remembered of the original members is Babs Lord, as a result of her marriage to actor Robert Powell and her subsequent career as an amateur yachtswoman and world explorer, with several trips to the Himalayas, the Sahara, both Poles and the jungle in Guyana. As of 2013[update] she was the oldest housewife to visit both the North and South Poles. Lord was the subject of BBC's This Is Your Life in November 2001. She appeared on the final regular weekly edition of Top of the Pops on 30 July 2006, the only member of any of the show's dance troupes to appear in person at the recording.
Top of the Pops continued to use professional dancers until 1981, with Colby remaining as the show's choreographer through the entire period. Pan's People were followed by a group called Ruby Flipper, which featured male and female dancers. However, there was pressure to return to the all-girl format, and after six months a new troupe was created, named Legs and Co. after a viewer competition to choose a name. Both Gillespie and Menhenick from Pan's People featured in Ruby Flipper, with Menhenick going on to join Legs & Co. Pearson was Legs & Co's manager. Legs & Co performed every week on the show until 1981, when they were replaced by Zoo, a large troupe of dancers from which individual members could be selected to perform each week, depending on the song. Flick Colby became the 'Dance Director' for Top Of The Pops at this time. By the early 1980s Zoo's role had shifted towards leading the audience, and eventually the group was disbanded, some members remaining in the crowd as strategically placed 'cheerleaders'.
In 1997 Gillespie appeared as a panelist on Channel Five's nostalgia quiz Wowfabgroovy.
Clarke died of heart failure on 24 August 2012 at the age of 62.
In November 2013, Signum Books released the autobiography 'Pan's People: Our Story,' authored by Babs Powell, Ruth Pearson, Dee Dee Wilde, Cherry Gillespie and writer Simon Barnard.
- The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: "Dee Dee's Top of the Pops memories"; published 25 July 2006, accessed 11 April 2011
- Flick Colby: Her Story in Words and Pictures
- "The Backers: Pan's People" from "Top of the Pops Annual 1975", ed. Ken Irwin, World Distributors, 1974; accessed 11 April 2011
- BBCi: TOTP2 - Pan's People; accessed 11 April 2011
- "Louise Clarke : Obituaries". The Stage. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
- "Pans People: The Girls Who Bring Glamour To The Show" from "Top of the Pops Annual 1974", ed. Ken Irwin, World Distributors, 1973; accessed 11 April 2011
- "It's Tough Being a Pan's Person" from "Top of the Pops Annual 1976", ed. Ken Irwin, World Distributors, 1975; accessed 11 April 2011
- The Unofficial Pan's People: Moonlighting; accessed 11 April 2011
- "Ronnie Barker OBE - Comic Actor and Writer", BBC website, 5 December 2005. The title is incorrectly given as "A Quiet Night In".
- "Flick Colby, Pan's People co-founder, dies". guardian.co.uk. 29 May 2011.
- "Louise Clarke, Pan's People dancer, dies aged 63". guardian.co.uk. 24 Aug 2012.
- PansPeople.com: Community and Resources for fans of TOTP dance troupes
- BBC Pan's People page
- The Unofficial Pan's People homepage
- Yahoo "Panfans" Group
- Pan's People on video
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