It was twenty-one degrees and the streets were flooded with people, the TFI Friday bunch making a dash for the hairdresser, the pound shop, the fancy dress boutique and others just taking in the moment, a coffee, a paper and a smoke. At Tesco the staff were clad in strange uniforms: a mummy, a fallen angel, Frank and Stein, a skeleton or two, a radioactive banana skin, a draklia, a ghost and many a coven of witch. What on earth was going on? At five o’clock the lights went out. Welcome to October 31st 2014.
Yesterday was Halloween, trick or treat, ghoulies everywhere, the country having gone bonkers for this American import. I put a cardboard cut-out of Rolf Harris by the gate to make sure the night went undisturbed. That aside the retailers were happy, the face painters relished the boost in income, the professional party organisers counted the wads in their wallets, kids under ten luvved it. Those over a certain age, commonly known as curmudgeons, were shaking their heads. The same as when a limo goes by with a group of eleven year olds celebrating the move to big school. We were just issued with a new bus pass.
The excitement was tangible because this is the night when the Beeb go to town and do what they do best, mass production of colour, lights, outfits, so stunning no other broadcaster can match it. The set was fantastic, the scene the same, the mix perfect except for the tripe music choices, magnificently performed by Dave Arch and the wonderful orchestra and singers. How he read the musical scores no one will know. He had a pickled onion in each eye.
Once the credits had rolled we all took a dubble take, two blondes smiled at the camera, one outrageously tall, the other obviously standing in a hole. Was this Claudia in a wig? No, she was at home nursing an ailing child. Tessa was there dwarfed by the gushing Zoe Ball, the hostess of It Takes Two, the show where everyone is greeted by ‘you were brilliant’ even when they scored 10. Just ten, not a ten. The Strictly Stars were then announced as they descended the stairs, this a fortune for us all, without this you’d never have known who was who, such was the makeup and outfits.
So, we prepared ourselves for a night of fear, lightning crackles and ghoulish laffs, something that only ever really happens on Scooby Doo. Sunetra was first upp with a Jive to ‘Tainted Love’, the original version, a really scary song that gained her 27 points.
There was a dubble bed on the stage, underneath it was bogeyman Brendan, white face and black eyes, just like his Panda dad at Edinburgh zoo. The bed then became the star of the show. It was a barrier, it was like supermarket sweep, he was on it, off it, on it, he was under it again, and in between he danced with Sunetra, who, it has to be said, didn’t look very scared at all, though when she plays the VT again she may well be. This wasn’t her dance, the conntnt not strong and of course, it got a standing ovation.
One point less, and straight into the dance off were Alison and Ali Ash, dancing to ‘Wuthering Heights’. When you watch a dance and you have no idea what it is because the steps don’t give it away assume it is an American Smooth. Alison descended to the floor on a reinforced swing, dry ice all over the place, everyone praying the harness was strong enough. In brown plus fours and white shirt Ali Ash waited. Was it a cloud? Was it Casper? Was it a giant sightscreen taken from the crickit at Lords? No it was Alison in a white sheet, solo, the rest of the gospel choir having a night off.
There were no lifts, Ali Ash did a jump and a bum/knee slide like he’d just scored at Wembley. And that was it.
Last year we were introduced to the phenomenon of spiders being scary at Halloween; remember the one on Bruno’s lapel? Well, this year it had changed colour to bright red and crawled to Craig’s right shoulder and so the theme to Webby’s Paso was the matador being caught in a giant spider’s web, ‘Poison’ a great song in its own right, but not tonight.
Whilst Webby gazed into the camera in one of those ‘look at me, I’m on the telly moments,’ something he does too often, the real world was watching Kristina in a tight, body hugging black cat suit, vamping it up, challenging and winning against Ola in the battle of the broads. Sexsational.
He did well, 29 the top end of his scoring range. Yes, he blanked near the end, and there is a fragility to him underneath that smooth exterior, but he attacked the dance with gusto and power, ferocious even. The routine was full on, quick grape vines, changes of place, appels, a grand attack; he even managed half a flick-flack. As a spider killer he was accomplished. When he gets the chance to slay a bull we can expect more arrogance, a severely arched body and a look of disdain, the sort reserved for the producers when they pick the music.
I once won a lottery at school to go and see the replicas of the Tutankhamen memorabilia at the local museum. It was touring. Of course the death mask of the boy king is the piece that everyone remembers, the gold hiding tales from the pyramids. I was lucky and privileged, not in the least terrified.
Bring on Steve and Ola scoring 26 dancing the Charleston to ‘Dem Bones’, a spiritual song inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14, nothing to do with Egypt at all, more likely Israel. They started behind giant death masks, an oversized roaring dinosaur skeleton was scaring everyone in the background, commonly seen in these parts at Halloween. Both had panda faces, both were dressed as skellingtons, hers black on white, his white on black with a red cummerbund and lapel flash.
The thing about the Charleston is that it is supposed to be funn and a little whacky in a bawdy seaside postcard sort of way. With such make up it was difficult to see the expressions that show funn and whacky. We need the eyes, the mouth, the combination. The black and white face make up killed that stone dead. Steve will be pleased this is out of the way and he surely knows that he has to start topping 30 to make it to December. Power lifts won’t be enough even though the one he did with one hand was stunning.
Ah, stunning, bring on me old mate Pixie and her Tango to ‘Danger! High Voltage’, that classic Ballroom track overplayed at dance schools throughout the country. If you could mind read Lord Len it might go something like this. ‘Well, she’s at the hairdressers, she gets an electric shock and now her hair is bigger than Hair Bear and Don King combined. There’s a giant pair of scissors on the stage, wonder what they’re for? And all that electricity flashing around the room. Is it raining out?’
You get the picture? Allow me to add some more. Both wore black and white akin to zebras. His tail suit was purple, so too her frock. Her cleavage flashed. His didn’t. And amidst all this we were supposed to believe there was a Tango going on. Lord Len picked on her strange right arm, Darcey her shoulders, Bruno called it quirky, Craig loved the details. She scored 33. I was left praying that the Monster Mash would be used for some Salsa later.
As Judy drove Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the heights of the studio dressed like Cruella de Vil, the makeup department having to change nothing from her normal attire, the band played that very song and Anthony Smith of Bristol was out walking the dogs, two Dalmatians reluctantly heading for centre stage. Before you could shout ‘Sit!’ they were off never to be seen again. I bet when he was competing for international honours that he never thought he would be appearing on prime time telly pratting about with two dogs in a dance competition.
Judy, looked swell, white fur ruff, black hat, silver frock, black lace sleeves matching the trim on the frock. And the dance contained plenty of conntnt. Did I say it was a Smooth? If in doubt . . . There were three lifts, all greeted with great cheer, such is the nature of the audience, all thinking, ‘ooh, that must be hard’, and she clung on for dear life listening intently to his commentary. ‘That’s right love, left, now your right, kick, hand, up you go.’ 20 points didn’t boost her average.
Did you know that Natalie Wood, the Hollywood superstar, visited the UK in October 1971 and dated a guy called Max Tweeny? In July the following year Jake ‘Tweeny’ Dylan Wood was born in a hospital in Westminster. Just thought I’d drop that in.
Five years later Ram Jam released the hard rock song ‘Black Betty’, the subject of which is a musket (or a liquor bottle), which reached number seven in the hit parade and which was used by Jake and Janette for a Paso. The graphic of a golden horse charged towards the camera. There were bats too and Janette was dressed as a cat, obviously called Betty. Jake looked like he’d come off the set of Harry Potter having just defeated Voldemort.
He wore black, a beautiful glinting waistcoat, and he dominated the dance, his characterisation strong. But to pick, the arch has to be the biggest arch of them all, not looking down helps this and if you think you have exaggerated then exaggerate again. He got 29 points, his lowest score in a month, but it deserved more.
By now the scary themes were running thin. What hadn’t we had? How about zombies doing a Samba in a graveyard, tombstones aplenty, bigger than houses? Caroline had a pink afro and her normal tassel dress shape covered with multi-coloured spray on string. Pasta’s hair was more rocker than afro, scruffy blue jeans and a pink shirt finishing the look. You’d have thought he’d have got dressed up for the night wouldn’t you?
When ‘Le Freak’ started Pasta lay in a coffin. She pulled off his arm. When they danced he was cured. It was magic. So too the dance, rolls and runs, Voltas, Bota Fogos, all mixed with a disco tint, the old thumbs to the left, thumbs to the right getting a go too, my favourite bit. What wasn’t was Caroline singing along. I’m not sure if this impacts in a good or a bad way on her dancing. The juddgies offered a middling 32 on the basis that it was too clean and she hadn’t let go enough. Bit harsh really.
Having tried to get in the dance off for six weeks Scotty eventually got his wish and with it the end of his Strictly dream/nightmare. Delete as applicable. Blessed with effort but not talent he averaged 18.2 points, Craig’s mean being 2.8. 21 this week was Scotty’s zenith.
Dressed like Blofeld from Bond, I guess he was supposed to be Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, Joanne from Grimsby was beautifully made up as Morticia. The theme from the TV show clicked in and then this Fox Trot began. I had to tell you it was a Fox Trot because it was all a bit panto, Anthony Smith of Bristol’s hand poking out from a coffin keeping time and clicking along for the duration of the dance. Panto aside the routine had some nice basics and pivots, steps that would have saved Scotty had all the juddgies gone with Lord Len’s advice. Maybe it was the duck whistle and Scotty on his back flailing like a beetle that swung it the other way. It was, as juddge Brigadier Smith said, a dance perfect for radio.
Steaming up on the rails in this contest is Mark, at last finding a dance that suited, a Jive to ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ that scored a whopping 35, not quite the top of the scoreboard but second place at this stage is a great place to be. Hottie Hauer didn’t look hot. Her green frock flailed nicely but what had she dunn to her face? Warts, black teeth, Sunday morning hair. Scary!
Mark wore black and white shoes, navy slacks held up by purple braces that matched his bow tie. His short sleeved shirt looked like a kaleidoscope had vomited on it. Enough of that. The dance was quick and slick, his tempo and timing en pointe, this is the dance for the young. He stepped, skipped, cartwheeled away with freedom even throwing in a butterfly jump that Robin Cousins used to do on ice. Very impressive. To go a step further Mark needs to relax now and let the dance come to him. Whilst he knew the choreography there were times when he was looking for Hottie’s lead, going with her, not the music and his innate sense. And he can stick his butt in a bit too. Get straighter.
In the summer of 2013 I went to see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria in London, a musical written by Stephen Schwartz, Stevie Black to you and I, the story similar but not the same as The Wizard of Oz. It is a popular show, the lead witch, Elphaba, green, the offspring of The Incredible Hulk and Mrs Shrek. One of the main tunes is a song called ‘Defying Gravity’ and blow me down with a feather, here it was again, another Tangotastic song to add to the inspired choices of the producers.
Frankie and Kevin from Grimsby hit the lucky button with this one because, the song apart, the production of this routine was stunning, nay spectacular, and with it the series had its first real ten, an over marked 37 points the year’s best score so far. For the record all Donny High’s points have been erased from history.
Frankie was green in the face, red lipstick enhancing her beauty. Her frock was green. KFG’s outfit was green. The lights were green. It was crying out for Kermit and the Frog Chorus. Or a real leprechaun. That would have been some stunt. Instead we got a fast and frenetic Tango, of sorts, kicks and swivels, pivots and attack, Frankie trying desperately to hold her frame. You can see her fighting it. They went at a pace around the floor dodging the cauldron, missing the pumpkins, the black cats had been and gone. With 25 seconds left on the clock they stopped dancing and, on cue with the lyrics, Frankie had her Superman moment, taking to her broomstick and being hoisted towards the sky, a mass of green curtains cascading from her shoes.
As they said about the Charge of the Light Brigade, magnificent but not a Tango.
It was a fitting finale to a spectacular show.
November 6th 2014