When I was very young, playing hangman in a dormobile one summer holiday, I hung my dad and all my brothers. The crickiter in question, that they couldn’t get, was the Yorkshire and England opener, G. Cott.
Of course, it should have been Boycott. The name Cott stayed thereafter whenever we mentioned the maestro. So it was, and you’re not going to believe this, but it was in 1972 that I first visited Lords, the hallowed home of cricket. I know what you’re thinking. Far too young.
Four years later I visited Twickenham. In 1983 I visited Lourdes. All hallowed turf. I’d been to Wembley Stadium for a tour as part of a school trip when I was 18; I saw a game there a few years later, standing behind the posts as we tumped Norway 5-0. I then had the displeasure to experience the bucket seats years before they spent £900 million tarting it up, building a roof that doesn’t close all the way. No, don’t get that either.
Whatever it’s physical make-up Wembley is the home of soccer, a stadium awash with history, great triumphs, the venue where England claimed world glory in 1966, where Alan Clarke did the same for Yorkshire six years later. Leaving other sports to one side for the ground has also hosted many rugby league finals and international matches, this is the Holy Grail for soccer fans. Kids with bobble hats, scarves and rattles crave the day they can watch their team, their icons, challenge for the FA Cup. They go to Wembley Stadium. They don’t go to Wembley Arena, the venue that hosted this week’s Strictla.
When the BBC decided to take the show on the road – one presumes Blackpool was unavailable? – why they alluded to ‘Going to Wembley’ is anyone’s guess. This, the Arena, is a music venue, it hosts The Tweenies or Madge, not Leeds Utd or Manchester Thingy. It does not have hallowed turf, goal posts or thirty-nine steps.
You’ll be guessing by now that the analogy wasn’t popular at Travolta Towers.
That said, the show began with a bang, the most spectacular of openings. 6,000 delirious supporters went crazier as the entourage treated us to routines to the music of Queen. Not sure the significance of that. Brian May was there on a wire; they couldn’t get Lulu. Gymnasts slid down sashes from the sky. The acrobatic group Legless did . . . acrobatics. And there, on the dance floor, I could just about make out the dancers. I was fine once I put on my opera glasses. Prior to that it looked like a Lowry sketch or a scene from Gulliver’s Travels.
From one end of the stage Bruce took to his golf cart and was duly caddied to the centre to meet our hostess, herself having to use a Segway to manage the distance; it was that far I thought she’d call for a cab. Then Bruce began to speak and the echo drowned him out every time. His response was to shout. All night.
The dance floor, the physical size of it, proved to be an issue for one and all; the cameramen and women struggled with angles, the dancers looked out of place and the choreography went to pot as everyone tried to make the dances eye-friendly. It didn’t work. The floor was four times that of the BBC studio. Its size made the pros look bad too. The only routines where it proved favourable were a Tango and Russell’s weekly panto. More of Mr Ridiculous later.
First upp were Robbie and Oooh-la dancing Salsa to ‘Let Me Entertain You’. From afar they looked like ants. Close up they looked awful. Maybe Robbie thought he was auditioning for Bon Jovi, his waxed underarms matching his chest? Maybe Oooh-la thought that just wearing an amazing cat suit would be enough to distract the audience from something that was not Salsa?
I may be booed like a Pagan at St Paul’s for saying this but standing on a dais, clapping and running around liked he’d just scored the winner at the real Wembley do not constitute dancing. It took 38 seconds. The rest of the dance added another minute. It was filled with three lifts, one spectacular, three thrusts, one leap frog – obviously a Salsa leap frog – and another knee slide. Amidst this there were a cupple of bars of stompy, static Salsa. Watching it live it was terrible. Having watched it a second time I can confirm that my first score was an overmark. The dance scraped to 26 points.
As Harry and Ali began their Salsa a red flag the size of a penalty box covered them so that we could see their silhouette emerge. As a trick it failed and I wish the flag had remained to cover Harry’s feet, the least polished they have been throughout the series. Along with Robbie there was little fluidity, too much stop and start, too little conviction. Salsa is a dance to be done on a dustbin lid; steps the size of a garage didn’t help.
The routine contained an unravel – a chance to waste bars without dancing – three lifts, the last, always the best to last, brilliantly executed, but one failed, the wince on Harry’s face telling its own story. There was a solo section, the ubiquitous knee slide, a bit more thrusting and a drop to finish. There was other solo action; the routine contained a miserly twenty-eight bars in hold. Somehow it scored 34. Maybe that was the voat for Harry’s chest, waxed or shaved, another dancer struggling to stay fully clothed? Maybe it was a favour from one of the juddgies, full of sexual double entendre, innuendo and a predatory offer? When are the producers going to put a stop to this?
Another to score 34 was Jason still scoring two nines even though he made the biggest mistake of the series except for when Lulu forgot the entire routine. This was a crisp Jive, one that nearly, so nearly, ticked all the boxes.
Dancing to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ both dancers emerged through a paper alarm clock, very twee, and then they flicked and kicked, and flicked and kicked, and then flicked and kicked again. There were a few bars in hold and half way through, just to set up the last set of flicks and kicks, he and Kristina both ran around the auditorium performing a premature lap of honour. Once back into flick and kick mode Jason blanked and then he stood still, no flick nor a kick, the tumbleweed whizzed past, his partner continued, and then, when he recovered, he picked it up nicely and went on to finish.
It was a shame but it does happen and it didn’t seem to affect the generous juddgies, Alice and Mr Innuendo, both nining. Does that mean that this was nearly as good as his VW? 35 for that. His Tango? 36. His Quick Step? 37.
Brendan Cole played his part in the opening extravaganza but his partnership with Holly is over, albeit until R-Tem gets injured again. As the understudy Brendan had to learn the Quick Step routine that R-Tem concocted, just in case he, R-Tem, was attacked by a gang of marauding field mice or he succumbed to the plague. This meant that Brendan had to learn the girl’s steps too, and so armed, he and R-Tem danced together, at times swapping roles, auditioning for the lead in Brokeback ‘Ballroom’ Mountain.
Holly eventually got a look in and although she scored 31 in a routine that was fast and furious her error count was high, her legs clumpy, at times she resembled a car that was chasing at the clutch, just trying to run away from the timing and her partner, or trying to catch up. She has still to click at the same time in every department; there seems to be mistakes each week. And it still feels like she is holding back. She will have to tip past the point of no return soon. Time is running out. So much so that the GBP indicated their annoyance by plumping her into the last two for the first time. She survived but surely it was a lesson, not quite too late in the learning?
Perilously close to the trap-door too was Anita, nearly suffering that well known sentence, DBS, Death by Samba. So far in the Samba stakes we’ve had scores of 22, 25 and 33. Tonight we had a 27, Anita and 35 from Chelsa who used to call the dance the Samby before her intonation made it what it is.
The Samba, a party dance, full of spirit, gusto, shakes and shimmies is notoriously difficult, this in the main caused by the need to balance the gaiety and the bounce of the dance, the ‘whe-hey’, with the technique and the timing that make you go ‘whoa!’ in a Fonz sort of way. It can not be one. It can not be the other. It has to be a combination and apart from rolling out and rolling in, probably sixty-four times, this, to coin a popular phrase, wasn’t Anita’s dance. Of course, she came out, gave it 100% whapatumba, but not even Juddge Alice could add, ‘great job’, as she did three times throughout the evening.
Not even that great Brazilian song ‘Come on Eileen’ could help her get the mood right.
Chelsa, on the other hand, in spite of having ‘Spice Up Your Life’ to contend with, produced another corka of a performance on her first visit to Wembla, areny, sorra, Arena. There were some really high quality sections to this dance: her spotting was sharp, her spare arm slick, the bota fogos were beautifully placed, the promenade runs precise and timed, the Samba roll, the first of the series, short but sweet. This is what we affectionately call the ‘back scuttle move’.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Chelsa if it wasn’t wobberla and on a cupple of occasions she dula obliged but don’t let that detract too much from one of the two main contenders. Her average score in the last five weeks has been 35. This is 0.4 higher than show pony Harry; he can feel her breath all over his neck.
That score ought to have been enough to have Chelsa top the leader board for the night, but no, what is that I see in the distance? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Alex, matching her, point for point, on a charge, mounting a challenge in spite of protestations of her being cryogenically frozen by some of the travellers’ camps in the city. I can’t use the word ‘gypo’ but if I did, you’d probably know what I mean.
Back in 1983 I was working abroad and as a result I missed the pop phenomenon of the day, a group called Frankie Goes To Hollywood, hitting the top of the charts with a song that was banned by the BBC for vulgarity and its explicit nature. Frankie also had two follow up number ones, the first band in twenty years to have such success with their first three songs.
The song that was banned is called ‘Relax’.
Fast forward and bring on Dave Arch, his orchestra and fabulous singers, and Alex Jones dancing a Tango. To say that the song was mis-chosen and out of place is an understatement.
I think the BBC is losing the plot.
A fortnight ago crude jokes, 18 rated, more akin to a comedy club were broadcast at 10:00pm on BBC1, after the watershed, but when 95% of families are still up and circling the TV, all ages, 3 – 80.
I am sure that the BBC is losing the plot.
Alex, for what it’s worth, isn’t. In spite of the dosey-doh start and a cupple of repetitive standing turns, oh, and the music, not a real Tango sound within a plane flight, this was a proper Tango, moody, full of content, well-choreographed to break up the rhythm and plenty of style. Of course, she, like Holly, is still protected by an outer veneer but you sense that it is coming off and the sooner the better.
What will the result be when she does?
And so too the timely exit of one of the least talented dancers ever to grace the show.
At 11:24am on Tuesday morning I was in a business meeting after our Christmas party the night before and one of the main board stepped out for some fresh air. The minutes were noted thus: Stevie takes vomit break. This was how I felt as the astrologic star gazer was launched from a cannon, a human cannonball, flying high on a wire, another wire – no dancing on the floor here – like a weeble on a body board. He was likened to Dumbo. An insult to the elephant.
Once again, this was panto not danco, the wrong thing, the wrong time, the wrong dance. Somewhere amidst the melee was a Jive that scored 24, an idiotic 7 from one juddge; the music ‘Reach’ from S Club. Reach for the Valium? The Temazepam? The shot gun? Well, being shot from a cannon was an obvious precursor to being fired.
Had this been at the real Wembley Kenny Wolstenholme might have commentated, ‘Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over.’
Thankfully for Russell, ‘It is now.’
November 23rd 2011