Monday, October 25, 2010

Strictly: Stockings and suspense

Two reasons the US Dancing with the Stars doesn’t work. They use props to disguise that they’ve not got the dancing chops and the celebrities are overmarked so much that you wonder what happens to our Len and Bruno on their transatlantic flights.

Now on Strictly Come Dancing, we’re getting props aplenty: this week the Play School windows with Matt and Aliona, the “strumpet” wine glasses with Felicity and Vincent, the flying rig for Ann Widdecombe. Plus we’ve had card tricks and even wellies. There was a time when Len used to object if they had so much as a cape.

We’re also getting very high marks: couples this week, a month into the three-month series, came within whiskers of getting 10s.

But not unreasonably so. Unlike previous Strictly and unlike all Dancing with the Stars, the dances have boomed into life immediately and the standard now is what we’re used to seeing much later in the series. I’ve even had a brief glimpse of that intangible moment that makes Strictly so good: the dance that blows you away. While Kara Tointon’s routine was niggle-marked by the judges, she had the music. Wasn’t just doing the steps well, she was dancing the music.

Reminds me of when I knew John Sergeant was going to be trouble. On one of those “we’ve just met for the first time, really” items, his professional dance partner Kristina Rihanoff asked if he could hear the music. “I’m not deaf,” he said. Despite his known Broadway dance experience and the way his frame is as ruggedly athletic as mine, that’s when I knew he’d be out in a week.


Things you might not want to know: Strictly’s results show is indeed recorded on Saturday nights while we’re all out but naughty people allegedly post the outcome online around 10:30pm. I haven’t looked. Let it be between you and your conscience if you bookmark the forums. I would offer that betting shops have probably figured this trick out by now.

Things you have no reason knowing: I am the only man on Earth who does not, um, respond to stockings and suspenders. I think they look silly. Consequently Erin had the worst costume of the night for me.

But then it was a poor night for frockwatch: it’s always a little bit rubbish when Tess Daly gets the best outfits.

Still, if the dresses were lacking, the dancing wasn’t and that’s probably the best way around, sulk, stomps foot, shrugs like a teenager. And the dances are good: it’s hard to remember how much conversation and nipping out to put the kettle on we used to be able to have during last year’s routines.

You do wonder if the standard can keep up - and whether it’ll be a bit dull if they all get to 10s in week five and have nowhere else to go for the rest of the series. I’m not saying a word about 11, but we’re all thinking it.

We just need to get rid of the deadwood now. And with Peter Shilton gone, we’re making a start.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Strictly Shock: Bruce was funny

Let's not get carried away. But Bruce Forsyth was funny enough that I looked to see whether there was a new writer on the credits. What do you mean, you didn't know there was a writer?

This time last year I would've seized on this because the dancing itself was giving me problems. Writing on Radio Times, I did wonder first whether RT would be all that impressed with my criticising every inch of the show. They were. If that's the way it is, they said, what else can you do? After a few weeks of that, though, it became that I wondered whether you'd be all that impressed. Another week, another criticism. I was running out of gags.

But it feels a world away now because this new series is flying. We're seeing real dancing already and moreover it feels like real competition. So soon. And with so many frontrunners: Matt Baker, Kara Tointon, Pamela Stephenson, Scott Maslen. All of them doing well and in fact much better than they should be so soon into the run.

I want to add Felicity Kendal into the list of people doing well but I can't watch her. No human being should be able to bend like that. You know those bent over double back-spraining moves? I can't make that move going forwards.

I can look before she dances, though, and she does consistently get the good frocks. So does Flavia. I swear to God that Ola's costume made her look fatter this week: it cannot be so, it is not physically possible to make her look fat, but it tried.

Again, I'm not a man at all. Men should be newsy, right? Let me have a go. Tina O'Brien got a bye this week because of her chicken pox but if she's still unwell next week, that's it. Chicken pox usually lasts 7-10 days (see? You're getting hard facts here) so it's surely touch and go whether she'll be back at all, let alone whether she'll be back in time to rehearse enough.

You're wondering what's going to happen with Brendan Cole too, aren't you? He's out next week: he's flown home to New Zealand following the death of his father. But Michelle Williams will be dancing: she's reportedly going to be partnered for one week by Ian Waite.

That'll be confirmed, presumably, in tonight's Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two. Last year this series was better than the main show; this year the main show is catching up with it. So now it's only the Sunday night results show that needs fixing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Strictly: Silenced is Goldie

Silenced is Goldie and my eyes can’t see quite why. I wasn’t a fan, I don’t especially mind he’s out, but he could move a bit and so far Peter Shilton is just the bloke who gets to stand there watching Erin Boag dance closer up than the rest of us.

Do you ever think you’d forget to dance? That you’d just get lost watching your professional partner dance so stunningly? A poet once performed close-up poetry on me, her nose practically touching mine. Mesmerising. Not all that hygienic, but mesmerising. If I were a celebrity partnered with someone as good as these dancers, I would just find myself enjoying their dance and entirely forgetting mine.

Oh, come on, you’ve thought about it too.


Maybe it’s because I’m completely untouched by football that I don’t appreciate Peter Shilton and can only take it on trust that he has in some way done something important for someone, some time. It was vital, I know that. It was more important than anything I’ve ever done, I actually do know that.

I should say that while I wouldn’t miss him and I won’t miss Goldie, it’s nothing personal in either case. The only feeling I had when Goldie’s name was finally announced was a mild case of immense, total and overwhelming relief.

Because I didn’t see Strictly until Monday night and the power of Twitter meant that I knew the outcome where Angela, with more self-control and anyway she's a Facebook user, did not. I hate knowing the future.

Much easier knowing the past. Such as the way in every previous Strictly series we’ve had a few duff yet entertaining weeks as these folks find their feet. How it takes a good month before we start seeing anything interesting and the reason we watch is promise and anticipation more than any great reward.

But to give this year’s series credit, we’re on the second week and it already feels as if we’re deep into the contest. Maybe there’s still no utter wow of a dance but there is spectacular, there is strong dancing and there is a sense of competition fight in people.

We’re also somehow finding favourites sooner. Last year I hung on to hoping Craig Kelly would get better because I just liked the guy.

This year I’m a little the opposite. I don’t happen to like Ann Widdecombe so I’m not engaged with her routines, much as I can respect how she’s handling it. I don’t happen to like Paul Daniels, but that’s not his fault, that’s just an opportunity for a tea break.

There does seem to be more personal comments and jibes this time around. Daniels got described as Yoda - like it not did he, a lot not he like - which seemed unnecessarily cruel when he’s a bit more like Golum, really.

The jibes surprise me a little, the newfound use of dance props reminds me more of the US Dancing with the Stars than Strictly: if Erin brought out those mannequins now, would it still be Muppetgate?

Yet the biggest surprise was the mess of the results show with Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman. Do you see the logic of how how the saved and the unsaved couples were announced? If there’s anything shiny floor entertainment shows are not, it’s complicated. Yet splitting things up, looking like they’d recorded it all in one go and edited it around, I felt I parked my interest until they’d brought out the two muggins facing the chop.

Claudia Winkelman’s name came up in a couple of meetings I had the other week and in each I was unable to convince people that I don’t rate her because I fancy the woman. Look at how quick-witted she is, I argued fruitlessly. Yeah, but wait to see how good she’ll be on the results show. How much better she’ll be than Bruce Forsyth.

I hate not knowing the future.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Strictly: “There was nothing average about that...”

True, Saturday’s show wasn’t as good as Friday’s but this is already a better series than last year’s. Enough so that you can relax into it and immediately enjoy those familiar Strictly staples.

Such as the contractually-negotiated introductions. Jimi Mistry is “movie star Jimi Mistry” when he walks down the stairs, much as Jo Wood was an “entrepreneur” last time. Then “Patsy Kensit has done a lot of things in her career,” began Brucie as lawyers fretted about her CV and BBC producers fretted over how Bruce’s jokes would dent the ratings.

Those producers have made more visible changes than any before them and generally they’re very good changes. It is hard not to miss the old spangly purple title sequence but the new one has style and flair and it is impossible to miss the new Enormous Lettering for the celebrities’ names.

We’ve got a new set that keeps the action in one place with Tess’s backstage area now only elevated so it feels inclusive, it feels like it’s part of the action. It does also feel a little cruel to make the dancers have to dart up those stairs before they’ve caught their breath. And – tell me you didn’t think this – the new arrangement and the new camera angels on the dancers bouncing up those stairs are, um, intended to keep a certain half of the viewing audience interested.


We’ve not had a dance that really carries you away yet but the way the new set was lit in fairytale blue for Pamela Stephenson’s dance came close. It is quite an amazing set: that blue for Stephenson, then a sea of twinkly lights for Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow.

It’s not really the Strictly set, though, it’s the Earth Defense Directorate from Buck Rogers. Or at least it was when Michelle Williams and Brendan Cole danced.

Bruce maintained that Michelle Williams was the finest singer with the surname Williams, only as a gag against Robbie but unthinkingly also forgetting both Andy and Dar.

But then Bruce also inadvertently set up the most tellingly ambiguous comment of the weekend. After his spiel about the judges being average, Len told Jimi Mistry that “there was nothing average” about his dance. Breath was held, but he meant it as a good thing.

Which is nice. Even nicer is how we can already disagree with the judges. How they are already seeing different dances than we are. If you watched with someone else, how often did you turn to look at each other and say “Eh?” A clue: it would be exactly the same number of times we saw standing ovations.

Nobody warranted a standing ovation, few were very good, some were terrible. You knew Paul Daniels was in trouble from the start when his wee little magic trick would’ve had three-year-olds shrugging.

He wasn’t bad enough to stop your mind wandering during his dance. And he’s not good enough to get your mind wondering if he’s going to win. Ola Jordan will be available for bar and bat mitzvahs from about week 2. She’ll provide her own costume, but you may not be able to spot it.

It is startling how often the costumes in Strictly cause problems. Kara Tointon must have true precision dancing skills the way the poor woman managed to catch a heel in material as thin as superstring. And that after having her entire personality erased by the makeup and hair styling department.

Erin Boag, Felicity Kendal and Katya Virshilas got the best out of the costume department while Flavia Cacace did best by the hair stylers with gorgeous vivid red streaks in her dark hair.

I’m not a man at all, am I?

I did spot that thing with the camera angles.

A couple of things to tell you. There’s no Strictly blog on this year, that’s why I’m waving at you from here, but there is a lot of very good Strictly material on that site. I’ve just cut a series of videos for there showing the celebrities and their professional partners posing for the Radio Times covershoot. You can see that, plus the photos and considerably more at

Whereas I just went to to check the spelling of Katya Virshilas’s name and the spangly new site has remarkably off-putting photographs. Someone at the BBC has discovered Photoshop’s Sketch and Stylise filters. They must be stopped.

Is that harsh? Am I obsessing too much with the new set and Flavia’s hair? As soon as I can figure out how to do it, I’m switching off the thing that means you have to register to shout comments at me here. This does mean we can expect a lot of offers for sex aids and financial windfalls, some written in Chinese. But if we just ignore them, they’ll go play somewhere else.