INTERVIEW WITH JO COOK
Conducted on 17th June and 3rd August 2011
By Gary P. Rose
I feel very privileged to have spoken to Jo Cook on the telephone and also to have met her in person. We first spoke in June, the day before her birthday, when she was about to meet Bebe Robson for lunch. As she was in a rush, she asked me to ring the following day and said she was looking forward to talking about her career. As requested, I rang the next day and spent the next few hours immersed in Jo's fascinating conversation. Although she couldn't recall everything in detail, she spoke with frankness and honesty.
In July, I received a telephone call from her, inviting me to meet her and the other Gojos at a London hotel but, unfortunately, I had other commitments so I couldn't make it. However, when she told me she was was visiting a friend in Yorkshire in August I told her that I lived in Yorkshire, (half an hour's drive from her friend) and suggested that we meet then.
On Wednesday 3rd August I drove through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside to the small village where she was staying with her friend, Mervyn, and his wife. I was greeted at the door by Mervyn who took me through to the living room and introduced me to a tall and elegant lady. That lady was the legendary Jo Cook.
Gary: "How did you get involved with Top of the Pops?"
Jo: "I started the Gojos on the 18th November 1964. It's a day I'll never forget and one that changed my life forever. Prior to that day, I'd been working at the Pigalle Club in Piccadilly, where I used to dance every night. I was only on a six-month contract. Then I got pregnant but my husband left me so I had to find work. When my son was born, I had to leave him in the care of my family and friends so that I could work, because I needed the money desperately."
"I auditioned for Gary Cockrell at the Dance Centre and he invited me to join a new group he was forming called the Beat Girls. Babs Lord was auditioning too and I remember sitting on the bed with her as we both signed our contracts. Gary also asked me to do some choreography for him. Then, one day, he sacked me! I was furious and wanted to know why and Gary told me it was because he'd had a telephone call from the manager of the Pigalle saying that I was still under contract and shouldn't be working for Gary. This was a lie. I told Gary that my contract with Pigalle had only been for six months but Gary decided I had to go. In reality, he had met a young girl and wanted to put her in my place."
"Gary wanted to get the Beat Girls on Top of the Pops so I went to the BBC and, literally, knocked on Johnnie Stewart's door. Johnnie asked: 'Who are you?' to which I replied "I'm Jo Cook. I used to be with the Silhouettes. We worked for you on The Jimmy Wheeler Show and The Vera Lynn Show'. Johnnie asked: 'What can I do for you?', so I said 'If I show what I can do, will you give me the chance to dance on Top of the Pops?'. He agreed. So I contacted Linda Hotchkin, Jane Bartlett and Pat Hughes and asked if they would dance for me. They agreed to rehearse for nothing! Then I bought some pale blue trousers and white T-Shirts and had The Gojos emblazoned on the front, which we wore for the audition. Johnnie rang to ask if we could do a routine to 'Baby Love' by The Supremes, which was climbing up the charts and I said 'Yes'".
"The Gojos made their debut on Top of the Pops on the 18th November 1964 and I'll never forget it. We got to the studio and saw our name, The Gojos, had been written in big letters at the back of the BBC studios. The letters were huge, about 12 feet tall, and we had to dance to 'Baby Love' in front of them. it was wonderful. After that performance, Johnnie would ring me when he couldn't get an artist to appear on the show."
Gary: "You were the first dance group to appear on Top of the Pops, why didn't you get the resident spot?"
Jo: "I worked with Babs and Ruth Pearson in the Beat Girls. Then the group split into two. Babs continued to work in the Beat Girls, where she was joined by Flick Colby and Dee Dee Wilde. And Ruth formed her own dance group. Then Babs, Flick and Dee Dee broke away to form Pan's People and eventually got the resident spot on Top of the Pops. The Gojos were edged out really but, in a way, they did us a favour because we got lots of work elsewhere. I had already formed another group, called the Jo Cook Dancers, and they would often be on one channel while the Gojos were on another. We did lots of television work, like The Val Doonican Show, Three of a Kind and The Mike Yarwood Show. We did five years on Thank Your Lucky Stars for ITV. We went to Birmingham to record that. They weren't paying expenses then so I had to drive the girls all the way there and then drive them back home again after each show. We also did a television show for Western Wales Television called Disc-a-Gogo."
"We worked with stars like Tom Jones, Liberace, Roy Castle, Anita Harris and Leslie Crowther. The Gojos did lots of cabaret too. But, you know, there were several other Gojos groups going on at the same time. Linda Hotchkin was in one group, Bebe Robson was in another. This meant that the Gojos could do work on television and also do cabaret in different parts of the country, all at the same time."
Gary: "I've been in contact with several of the original Gojos, including Linda Hotchkin, Lesley Larbey and Wendy Hillhouse, but would like to know more about the other Gojos."
Jo: "Thelma Bignell came from Essex and trained at the Arts Educational School in Tring. Jane Bartlett came from Birmingham and trained at the Royal Ballet School. We used to dance together in the Silhouettes. She married someone from the Royal Ballet Company and went to live in France but, when she became ill, she moved back to Birmingham so that she could be nearer her family. She was ill for many years before she died. She was a lovely girl and a beautiful dancer. Barbara Von Der Heyde was from Shoreham in Sussex. She did her training at ballet school. She was a gorgeous girl but was beset with problems. She'd been adopted as a child and was very quiet and reserved. She got very nervous when flying so I had to console her. Unfortunately, I have lost touch with Thelma and Barbara but would love to see them again."
Gary: "I had read somewhere that Barbara has died."
Jo: "Really? I hope not, I couldn't bear it."
Gary: "Can you tell me something about your background, such as where you were born, and how you started dancing?"
Jo: "I was born in Northamptonshire. My dear mother, bless her, suffered from mental illness for many years and was put into an institution when I was three years old. I lived with my Aunts and never saw my mother again until I went to her funeral. My father met this wonderful lady who was a ballet teacher and that's how I got interested in dancing. She was my inspiration. She ran her own dance school, called the Pitt-Draffen School."
"My first job was in a pantomime, in Hudderfield, when I was fourteen. I was chosen as one of the Balmoral Four who did sword-dancing! I was very proud to have chosen as one of the four because lots of other girls wanted to do it."
Gary: "What is the highlight of your career?"
Jo: "I danced at Windsor Castle for the Queen when I was with the Silhouettes."
Gary: "Why did you stop performing with the Gojos?"
Jo: "I decided to step down as a dancer and concentrate on the choreography. I think a good choreographer should stand back and watch rather than perform"
Gary: "One of the website's members, Mayday, has put a question forward. In most databases, there are only six entries for the Gojos performances on Top of the Pops in 1965. Can you recall any more songs you choreographed for 1965?"
Jo: "There was so many! I can't always remember which year the songs were released but I remember some of the songs I choreographed for Top of the Pops: 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' by the Rolling Stones, 'Glad All Over' by The Dave Clark Five, 'Simon Says' by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, 'Down Town' by Petula Clark, 'Reflections' by Diana Ross and the Supremes".
Gary: "Mayday also asked if you can remember how you interpreted the song 'Guantanamera' by the Sandpipers. It seems such a hard song to set a routine to."
Jo: "I handled this song with great care. It had a sort of Rumba feel to it so I choreographed it with that in mind."
Gary: "Another member, mishmash, asked why the hiatus in Gojos performances in 1966? Was it to do with the World Cup being on?"
Jo: "I can't recall a hiatus. The Gojos worked consistently. We weren't required to work every week on Top of the Pops. When we weren't appearing on Top of the Pops were working on other shows. We never stopped working."
Gary: "Kevin Mulrennan from Popscene is interested in the Gojos time on Thank Your Lucky Stars. What was it like to work on that show?"
Jo: "It was fun. It was much the same as Top of the Pops but involved more travelling. We had to go to Birmingham every week and I'd drive the girls all the way there and back again. We used to rehearse in London but had to go to ABC Studios in Birmingham to record it. Keith Beckett was the director of the show. He was a former ballet dancer who had performed with the Festival Ballet Company. Because of his dancing background, he chose songs that weren't always in the charts. Most of the music he chose was picked especially for the Gojos to dance to and for me to choreograph."
Gary: "Are there any performances that stick in your mind?"
Jo: "We did a show for Southern Television called Tale of Two Rivers which I had to choreograph routines for. Filming took place, first in London, and then in Paris. We had to dance on the Tower Bridge in London and over the Seine in Paris. On both occasions, it was early in the morning and the roads were cleared of traffic!. The Gojos also danced on the Cutty Sark. The song they performed to was 'Sloop John B'. The show was directed by Mike Mansfield and was shown by Southern Television."
Thank you, Jo, for all the time you've given to me. I feel very privileged to have spoken to you and honoured to have met you. Thank you for providing publicity photos and for shedding the light on many unanswered questions. Thank you.
(c) G. P. Rose / Jo Cook 2011
Read Jo Cook's Biography