Time was when we all knew just what to expect from dancing girls. Arms linked and all frills and flounces, they’d drift across the screen, high-kicking away and smiling prettily. An attractive line in anonymity…and all very predictable.
They gave the star of the show a chance to change his sweater, and they gave the viewer an opportunity to put the cat out or the kettle on.
But not any more. Now we’ve got – or rather Val Doonican has – the Gojos, six girls whose sock-it-to-‘em style of dancing, a sort of physical jerks with sex appeal, rivets the attention. When they’re on the screen the cat stays put and the kettle is forgotten…
For their more devastating routines, the Gojos select attire like cat-suits with cut-outs in all the right places. They also wear skirts that make the early minis look like something off Little Nell’s washing line.
Val Doonican fell for the Gojos when they were appearing on Top of the Pops, the long-running BBC-1 programme that introduced them to television.
Val was on the show singing his hit ‘Walk Tall’. He says: “I thought the Gojos were fabulous, something really new. When I got my own television series I just had to have them with me.”
Jo Cook leads the Gojos and is in charge of all dance direction on The Val Doonican Show. A former dancer herself, she turned to choreography and launched the Gojos four years ago – hence the ‘jo’ in the group’s name.
There were three Gojos at first, and two of them, Jane Bartlett and Linda Hotchkin, have stayed. Thelma Bignell and Barbara von der Heyde joined next, and this year the latest arrivals, Lesley Larbey and Wendy Hillhouse, have brought the number to six.
Each Saturday they dance the opening number and they also have their own spot. Says producer John Ammonds: “They’re not just part of the scenery. They’re an act in their own right. The show wouldn’t be the same without them.”
Jo Cook based the Gojos’ dancing style on the steps the kids were doing in clubs and discotheques. Says Jo: “With Top of the Pops and other pop shows we’ve done, it was simply that – pop steps developed into precise routines.”
But on The Val Doonican Show the Gojos are reaching higher. “Pop steps are limited,” says Jo. “With Val we have more scope, and we can work to get more of the feel of ballet into our numbers.”
The Gojos pour a noses-to-the-grindstone six day week into their few minutes of explosive, exhilarating action on Saturday nights.
Fittings and rehearsals take up Monday. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday they rehearse from ten in the morning till five, and sometimes later if things aren’t going right.
On Friday come rehearsals in the costumes they’ll be wearing, and on Saturday they rehearse yet again until the show goes out live in the evening.
Sunday is their one day off. And for the Gojos that are married – Jane, Linda and Thelma – it’s the day they catch up with the housework.
”It doesn’t sound all that glamorous, does it?” said Linda. “But you should see us on Saturday nights. If the show has gone well we feel great and we do the whole bit. All the hard work has been worthwhile, and we really go on the town.”