The name 'Flying Pickets' refers to mobile strikers who travel in order to join a picket. The band of six was founded by Brian Hibbard in 1982 from a group of actors who had been active with him in John McGrath's '7:84 Theatre Group', a fringe theatre organisation who had sung a cappella in their production of the 1981 play One Big Blow. The group chose the name The Flying Pickets as band members had played a part in the UK miners strikes of 1972 and 1974. The Flying Pickets came up with the then novel concept of transferring the art of a cappella to the pop music scene.
Joining Hibbard in the Group were Rick Lloyd (who also wrote the music to One Big Blow), Gareth Williams, David Brett, Ken Gregson and Red Stripe (real name David Gittins). The members of the group were internationally renowned for their flamboyant appearance: Hibbard's huge sideburns, Stripe's thick eye-liner, and four others showing off gaudy suits and large hats. Two of the other original members, Ron Donachie, Chris Ryan left the band before "Only You".
"Only You", their debut single, was the UK Christmas number one in 1983 spending a total of five weeks at the top, and also doing well around Europe and in Canada, where it hit #17 in the spring of 1984. Despite the radical Socialist politics of The Flying Pickets then Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proclaimed to much amusement that it was her favourite record. A second single, featuring Van McCoy's "When You're Young and in Love" originally written for Ruby and the Romantics reached number 7 in the UK, but their third, a cover of the Eurythmics' "Who's That Girl" barely charted.
The height of the groups fame following the success of Only You coincided, quite ironically, with the 1984 Miners Strike. In 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers called strike action following the National Coal Board's decision to close 20 pits and lay off 20,000 people. The Flying Pickets were very vocal regarding their support of the miners during the dispute and came to blows with the record label Virgin after they picketed Drax Power Station in Yorkshire. They also put on benefit gigs for the miners. Hibbard himself claimed that their political beliefs probably had a detrimental affect regarding the groups mainstream image but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make, one well known record store refused to sell the groups albums due to their support of strike action.
In 1986 Hibbard and Stripe left the band and were replaced by Gary Howard and Hereward Kaye. Hibbard and Gittins tried to stay in the music industry, forming their own act called 'Brian and Stripe', but their first and only single featuring a cover of Yazoo's "Mr. Blue" failed to chart, and they returned to their separate acting careers.
There have been many different members of The Flying Pickets and the line-up kept changing constantly throughout the 1990s and 2000s; since the Pickets began, there have been at least 19 different band members. The last member of the original line-up, David Brett, left the band in 1990. However in 1994, the original line-up (minus Lloyd) reformed to record one more album.
Since the Original Flying Pickets split, new teams of ambitious men using the name The Flying Pickets have tried to follow in the Original's footsteps, but there have been no chart successes. The current line-up tours around Europe in lots of small venues all year round, but have not achieved the short-lived heights of the original line-up