Back in June I popped down to the local pally to see a one-man show, a dancer, singer, raconteur, musician and all-round entertainer. Before the curtain rose the pulsing crowd waited with expectation, nerves akin to those before a big match.
And then the star turn was announced and on to the stage he walked, beautifully turned out, shoes gleaming, suit pristine, the glitter on the waistcoat sparkling from the lights. To a man, woman and child, everyone rose and welcomed this legend of entertainment to the stage. A standing ovation for turning up.
The couple of hours that followed passed in a bath of warmth, love and affection, music and mirth, old-fashioned fun and frolics, bad language, bad behaviour and bad taste banished to the land of elsewhere. It was an honour to be there. It was so good I would have paid good money to get in. In fact, I did.
Sir Bruce Forsyth, CBE, has been an ever present in my lifetime, be it Sunday Night at The London Palladium, game shows on either channel or hosting the number one show on TV for eleven series. Now, at the age of just 86, he has decided to take a well-earned rest. I doff my cap, Sir.
Sir Bruce’s role has gone to the tag team of Helen Elizabeth Tess ‘Twice’ Daly, tall, graceful, confident, and her lopsided side-kick Claudia Winkleman, the latter a capable stand in last year in times of need though a little shy of make-up on the first proper show. Just a tad scary. The judggies remain the same.
Lord Len is back, rested and relaxed, fresh from his dabble with Farm Foods, the Aldi of the frozen food world, probably helpful if you own a freezer. Darcey Bussell, Prima Ballerina, looked sumptuous, more edible than the wares peddled by Lord Len, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood both mimicked their Spitting Image dolls. In a twist to convention the judggies, the awesome foursome, don’t know what they would be called if there were five of them, danced on, Lord Len’s bota fogos trouncing any camp mincing. For information, the world’s leading Mormon, Donny Osmond, is on his way too, a guest juddge in the autumn.
There has been another shake up in the ranks of the professionals. Wo betide you if you talk out of turn, eh, James, young Mr Jordan getting a severe bump as he was ejected from TV Centre, his wife somehow hanging on to her job though guilty of the same crime, having an opinion and airing it. It was all about money, value and worth. But then, isn’t it always? The popular Robin Windsor has gone too, to the injury clinic in fear of his ability to walk let alone dance, and Artem Chigvintsev has taken the Yankee dollar. Not sure he has taken Mrs Chigvintsev with him. The absence of all three, brilliant dancers and choreographers, may weaken the show. In the ladies’ changing rooms the clothes peg for Anya Garnis has gone from five stars to two, the likeable Russian, now just part of the troop.
Of course change offers opportunity and so returns Australia’s finest beautician Natalie Lowe, injured out of last year’s show. In too comes Joanne Clifton, Kevin from Grimsby’s more talented sister (she is a real world champion – Ballroom Show Dance) and two new male pros, Trent Whiddon, another Aussie, a ten dance champion, and Tristan MacManus, Mick’s lad, straight from the streets of County Wicklow.
In years gone by we have been kept in suspense about who would be on the show, our guesses mainly lame, and all was revealed in a TV exposé. But this year, we were drip fed on social media, FB, telling us about singers, TV stars and sportsmen, nicely done, and once revealed and paired the only thing to contemplate then would be which couples would couple up and who would leave their marriage or partner. Of last year’s crop three have been and burnt, Susanna Reid, Ben Cohen and Rachel Riley all starting afresh . . . the latter with her Strictly partner Pasta Kovalev, predicted in this column in October last year.
So, after three weeks of intense training, the first six celebs performed late on a Friday night, the other nine at a more gentle hour, a day later, the BBC still not having the courage to create a ‘dance time’, à la Crackerjack or News at Ten. What followed was bags of nerves, forgetfulness, talent, timing and a plethora of sparkle and sequins, all to the brilliant sounds of Dave Arch and his singers and orchestra, Dave accompanying Sir Bruce on his nationwide tour.
I’m not sure what the definition of celebrity is. It always used to be someone with a particular talent who was in the public eye, you know, Clarke Gable, Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Bobby Moore; these days that could be anyone though, what with the superfast news world we live in, so forgive me if you don’t know some of the ‘stars’ of the show.
The nervy first upp slot went to Caroline Flack, a TV presenter with multi-channel experience over the last decade or so, on shows that I haven’t actually caught. Sorry Caroline. She is partnered with the Russian formally known as Pasha Kovalev but who you may know as Pasta Riley and their Cha to ‘Can You Feel It’ set the bar at 27 points, a great start but unsurprising given her education at the Bodywork Company Dance Studios in Cambridge. Our first ringer.
Back in 1985 Tim Wonnacott was a director at Sotheby’s, the auctioneers, a proper job before his life diverted itself to daytime TV where he now hosts a number of programmes, Antiques Road Show, Bargain Hunt, Antiques R Us, Bid For Tat, If Only I Could Flog It and How Much Can I Get For Me Granny. He normally wears a three piece suit, half-moon glasses on a string, he is a tad eccentric and he gets TV, comfortable with the stage. It is rumoured that he is an expert tap dancer. Sadly this did not transfer to the Cha with Natalie Lowe, 18 points scraped to the song ‘Shop Around’. Had this been an auction Tim would have not made his reserve.
Back in the day there used to be a farm at Emmerdale. That was the last time I watched a soap on telly though these days I am told that there is a character called Cain Dingle who is the naughty boy of the show. I thought of offering my services as Abel Dingle, the educated one who went to college. My offer was turned down and the bad boy remains the star.
This approach is mirrored in other soaps: J R Ewing, Alan Bradley, Phil Mitchell, Ken Barlow. You get the feel. In Eastenders there is a character called Max Branning played by Jake Wood who has murdered, beaten, intimidated, been a drugs baron and he also stole the Crown Jewels and got away with it. Welcome to Strictly, Jake, a seasoned actor, having appeared in The Bill, Morse, Frost, One Foot in the Grave, Red Dwarf and Minder. And if you get the chance ask him about the gecko . . .
Paired with Janette Manrara Jake was awarded a standing ovation and 28 points for a Tango to the song ‘Toxic’. It was mean, moody and strong, and a surprise.
In 2007 Jamie Murray became the first Murray to win Wimbledon, the mixed doubles with Jelena Jankovic, five years before his younger sibling began to feature as a world class tennis player. Their mum, Judy, the captain of the British Federation Cup Team, also tennis, was a well-publicised taker when offered the chance to Strictly. Known for her discipline, determination and martinet approach to coaching, this was, it is said, the chance to break that mould and for a softer Judy to grace our screens.
Bring on a Waltz, the ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as backing music and she appeared in Scottish, still British, plaid, her partner, Anton du Beke, better known as Antony Smith of Bristol, sported a kilt, trying to lose his South West connections. The dance that followed also tweaked 18 points as she nervously made it through ninety seconds where Antony could well have been dancing with a mop or a melting ice lolly. History will show that five weeks will be her maximum stay.
Close to her will be Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills partnered with Joanne from Grimsby, who struggled to 16 points dancing a Cha to ‘Rock DJ’. I’m more Radio 2 than Radio 1 so this was another new name to me. I thought that DJs were supposed to be cool, hip and funky, full of charisma and presence but Scott breaks that stereotype and is the antithesis. Pigeon toes, hunching like a balloon and a touch of camp didn’t help.
Last to go on day one was Victoria Louise Lott, better known as Pixie, christened by her mum when she was ickle, Pixie, not her mum, because she looked like a pixie. Never having seen one I can’t vouch for that. At 23 and 5’ 8”, a looker not short on talent, she has all the credentials for the washing up at Travolta Towers. She also has the credentials to win this show having spent her education, from the age of eleven, at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.
Remember Natalie ‘Pro’ Gumede from last year? Another one from the Italia Conti. I’m not sure why the BBC do this, having pros versus amateurs. It must gall those who have dad-danced or handbagged on the dance floor to see stars of stage and screen making it all look so easy.
Pixie is partnered by Trent from Oz and their Jive to ‘Shake it Off’ scored 27, Pixie a little heavy on her feet in a dance where it is better to be a sprite.
Mark Wright has made fame and fortune by appearing in a reality TV show, and then another. He has no talent that we are aware of, talks like he should still be in finishing school and somehow he is invited on the show. I’m sure, in spite of all that, he’s a very nice lad.
Karen ‘Hottie’ Hauer, Kevin from Grimsby’s other half, lost the bet and was awarded Mark, another cupple to Cha, 24 points achieved to ‘I’m Your Man’, in spite of him springing into acrobatics and a reverse caterpillar, something that irked the purists, that would be Lord Len and me. There are enough steps to master without pratting about. Apart from that though he did okay, gave it some wallop, plenty of gusto, and he proved to be a showman, something that will endure him to the audience for weeks to come. Somehow he will have to find some class and he will also have to stop calling Hottie ‘Kazza’.
The best way to describe Alison Hammond is 39, big and black. However, that would be inaccurate. Let’s go for huge. A winner of Big Brother and now part of the This Morning team where she interviews stars, she is partnered by last year’s winner Aljaz ‘Ali Ash’ Skorjanec, a guy who can only pray there are no lifts in the choreography. Any attempt would cause a hernia.
However, she is as bold as brass, loud, confident, and she has an instinctive rhythm. Her laughter is infectious, there is goodness radiating from her and she can dance. This Cha (another!) to ‘I’m Every Woman’ scored 26. It was the most natural dance of the show and the most fun by a mile.
In the main the Beeb have recruited the young and the slim, eleven of the fifteen buff and sexy in their own way. Again, I’m not sure the purpose. Bring on Steve Backshall nature’s answer to Edward ‘Bear’ Grylls, a black belt in judo, a brown belt in karate, a winner of two Baftas, a man at ease with caves, mountains, water and the wilds and everything that comes with it. He is built like an out-house, his arms, neck and chest enough to scare off any grizzly or polar bear.
‘Give him the Tango’, they said, ‘make it like a Paso, get him to show off his body. Do it to “Born to be Wild”.’ And they did. Cuppled with the outspoken Ola Jordan, someone dressed like a vamp and it’s not even Halloween yet, they cracked out 26 points with a dance full of strength, focus and little subtlety. If you want someone to wrestle a gator on your behalf Steve’s your man. Add some cleanliness and this could go far.
Mrs Brown’s Boys has been the surprise sitcom of the last few years on TV schedules shorn of much quality, Porridge, Only Fools, The Good Life, Yes, Prime Minister, Dibley and Mork and Mindy condemned to a bygone age. The surprise is not that the female lead is played by a man in drag, Brendan O’Carroll, also the writer, nor the bad language, over forty Fs a show – where is Mary Whitehouse when you need her the most? – but the surprise is that it is delivered with compassion and it is utterly ridiculous but believable. You are with the cast all the way.
It wasn’t common knowledge but the daughter in MBB, Cathy, played by Jennifer (Jenny) Gibney is married to Mrs Brown in real life. At a glance you would put her miles younger, but no, barely a cupple of years separate them. As Irish as Guinness it was obvious to pair her with the new boy Tristan, the both of them given a very short straw, a Jive to ‘Happy’. The Jive is bouncy, fast and the domain of the young. At 57 Jenny deserved a Waltz. Feels like she was dunn. 18 points means an exit next week or in the first month unless her fortunes change.
Talking of, on February 13th 2010 Thom Evans of Scotland nearly died on a rugby pitch sustaining a neck injury that meant he was literally millimetres from an early bath. He played ten times for his country and he was naturally forced to retire to pursue a career in modelling and acting. Thom is a good looking lad and seriously muscled.
Bring on Strictly and a partnership with Iveta Lukosuite, a golden cupple, both single, until . . . until they copped off with each other during training. So I read. As a result their Waltz to ‘You Raise Me Up’ was full of care and kindness, he the beautifully turned out chaperone, black and yellow, a mesmeric colouring. His frame was a bit stiff, it lacked basics and there was once a huge gap big enough for a bus, but 24 points is a firm basis for his journey to December.
So too the 24 points scored by Sunetra Sarker, a real actress, her back catalogue including Brookside, Dr Who, Cold Feet, No Angels (a brassy nurses drama, I loved it) and more recently Casualty where she plays Consultant Zoe Hanna. Born to a Hindu family in Liverpool it looks like Sunetra is a real novice and this showed in her Tango to ‘Bad Case of Loving You’ where the lead lyric is ‘Doctor, Doctor, give me the news . . .’
See what they did there? Wearing a classical full length blue frock, once the operating blues had been discarded, she took to the dance with attack, acting and rhythm. Her partner, Brendan Cole of New Zealand, would be pleased with her effort, Sunetra passing muster in spite of a wobbly frame and a roaming left hand.
Last year, following an airing of discontent, Aliona Vilani, a previous winner was kicked off the show only to be dramatically recalled when Natalie Lowe was injured. Her prize was the chance to dance with one week wonder Tony Jacklin. Retained again, you should have seen her face when she was given Gregg Wallace, the famous green grocer from Masterchef, for this year’s show. Not happy.
And so it transpired. Gregg has been married three times, divorced the same and his current girlfriend is 21 years his junior. His eye for the ladies does not translate to his feet and dancing, the fiftieth Cha of the weekend to ‘Hot N Cold’ amassing just 18 points. A generous 18 at that. Not long for the show our Gregg which is a shame because he’s likeable, he’s giving it a go and he even cast his specs to one side to try and improve his image. You sense that the three weeks’ training have not been desperately well spent.
Just two to go, bear with me.
The Saturdays are a pop group with five hot chicks that have had 13 top ten hits. Sorry I couldn’t name one though I do know that the redhead is married to an England rugby player. Way back in time Frankie Sandford was part of another pop group called S Club Juniors; she was selected during her time at stage school. She joined The Saturdays in 2007 and has since married a footballer, Wayne Bridge.
Frankie got the hot ticket on Strictly, the chance to dance with Kevin from Grimsby. He may use props too much, he may do pivots for fun just because his partner can do them, but he was a breath of fresh air last year and Frankie got lucky. Their score of 30 topped the night, a Waltz to ‘Someone Like You.’ There was too much faffing at the start, green brollies getting in the way, but once started and once the pigeon toes disappeared, the dance was one of grace and elegance. Here is a player.
Another, and lastly, phew, the time to introduce Simon Webbe from the pop band Blue, a beautiful black fella, muscled, and probably the most vain dancer of the night and that includes the pros and the ladies. Simon loves himself; I’m told he carries an A4 size mirror in his attaché case just to check that he is still gorgeous.
Back in 2011 he appeared on the Strictly Christmas Special and danced a Cha with Katya Vershilas; he didn’t win but this would have whetted his appetite once this year’s offer was made and he gleefully accepted especially when he knew he would be partnering that vixen that is Kristina Rihanoff, single again following an occasional romance here and there. They danced a Jive to ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, Simon dressed like a teddy boy in a bright red suit, and the routine was fast, spiky and full of tricks and flicks. His fitness kept him going to the end, putting down a serious marker, no flagging from the super fit singer.
Which is more than can be said for me.
Great start, the haves have posted their flags, the have nots should just enjoy it for what it is and think of how reputations are made from the profile.
Good luck to them all.
September 28th 2014