Yesterday I found out that Ruth Pearson had died. It happened back in June, but somehow I missed it. The British papers noted her passing, briefly, but the Times gave her a generous obituary for a woman who had spent the last few years of her career working quietly in local government administration and IT. But for men of a certain generation, Ruth Pearson was, quite simply, sex on two legs.
Pearson was a founder member of a dance troupe called Pan’s People, who danced on the hugely popular BBC TV show Top of the Pops. Her mother was Israeli, and she had a touch of sabra about her that made her seem impossibly exotic to a kid from the outer reaches of the London suburbs. She was one of six dancers (eventually cut to five) that performed to hits when the actual artists weren’t available in person. Viewed from the distance of nearly 50 years, PP routines look quite demure, but at the time they were seen as quite scandalous. They were the reason your dad was prepared to sit through half an hour of David Cassidy, Mudd, and the Osmonds.
They earn an honorable mention in this blog because they frequently wore boots as part of their costumes, not surprisingly given that their TOTP career from 1968 to 1976 spanned the period of peak popularity for this style of footwear and that they were also frequently clad in hot pants or miniskirts (for the record, in later life Pearson was more than a little ambivalent about this. “I’m not very sentimental about my time in Pan’s. The music, the clothes and the dances all made some of it a bit . . . bleurgh”).
It’s possible to draw a wider cultural conclusion from the fact that Pan’s People’s late seventies successors, Legs & Co. (1976-1981, managed by Pearson), rarely wore boots on TOTP, preferring more disco-appropriate high-heeled sandals. By contrast, their punkish rivals on ITV, Hot Gossip (1978-1981), tended to go for a lot of rubber and PVC fetish wear, including spiky heeled thighboots. In this sense, they reflect wider trends in the evolution of fashion.
But the reason I’m writing a post about Ruth Pearson is that her passing makes me feel very old. I grew up in a time when it seemed quite natural for a music program on a national TV channel to employ a team of dancing girls. For good or ill, that notion seems impossibly quaint now, as archaic as steam trains and non-metric currency. Pans’ People were, in the words of the Times, the epitome of “an innocent and carefree era in popular culture when London was swinging and everything was groovy.” I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic for simpler times.
Ruth Pearson, obituary. The Times (London), June 29, 2017. Accessed, 9/2/2017
One for the Dads. Accessed 9/2/2017
Dickins, C., Lord, B., Wilde, D., Pearson, R., and Barnard, S. 2013. Pan’s People: Our Story. Signum Books, 208pp.
One for the Dads Forum