Grace Dent on TV: Strictly Come Dancing female duo with Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman is crazy but might just work

It was not a high-excitement spectacle, more visual chewing gum

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Winter is coming.

There is no surer sign on British television of the slow mosey to Christmas than Strictly Come Dancing. Celebs, who may or may not have crippling January tax bills, tepid love-lives or a blinding desire for public attention, smothered in fake tan and sequins, begging for your vote.

For those reading this who are not aware of the Strictly phenomenon – perhaps you have been in a hostage situation since before 2004, or have recently awoken from a coma – I shall now explain its wonder. In the 1970s, Come Dancing was a stuffily glamorous, semi-professional ballroom-dancing competition, beamed from regional venues (often Blackpool), where women wearing American-tan nylons and ostrich-effect feathers would dance the paso doble with grinning blokes in shiny trousers.

It was not a high-excitement spectacle, more visual chewing gum. It served the purpose of being snoozy family viewing, offering nice frocks and a chance for my Dad to look up from his newspaper as some woman from Cleethorpes was being launched 3ft into the air before landing in the splits, and remark: “This is the dance me and your mam do down the Rose and Crown every Friday.” This joke, for me circa 1978, was never not funny. Clearly these were gentler times.


What Come Dancing lacked was celebrities, sex and sass. I use “sass” as a word sparingly but today’s Strictly Come Dancing would be a tepid affair without the withering countenance of judge Craig Revel Horwood. “Your dance?” Craig will sneer at the poor, very keen celebrity who has practised morning, noon and night to please him. “It had all the Ls… It was Lifeless, Lacklustre and Laboured!” In my mind’s eye, I imagine Revel Horwood tied to a chair in a BBC basement as he is given a very stern talking-to on the subject of last year’s winning professional, Aljaz Skorjanec, being matched with Alison Hammond, a woman who is double his body weight. Or the fact that the reformed Essex playboy Mark Wright has been matched with a Venezuelan identikit model of his fiancée Michelle Keegan. Or the abject sadness that dancer Aliona Vilani must feel every time a move requires her partner Gregg Wallace to get really hands-on. Or the fact that the wacky auctioneer Tim Wonnacott from Bargain Hunt, he of the kooky waistcoats, is being permitted to dance at all. A polite person wouldn’t mention any of these things, but Revel Horwood probably will and winter will feel all the more gloriously frosty for it.


Other celebrity dancers include Frankie Sandford from The Saturdays, possibly hoping to make the impact, solo, on the British public that her girl group never has. My favourite celeb dancer is Jake Wood, who plays Max in EastEnders, he of the catnip underpants, a man so powerfully attractive to the women of Albert Square that even the female detective who came to quiz him recently about the murder of a young woman, whom he was secretly shagging, ended up secretly shagging him. As I, like all true soap fans, have no way of differentiating in my mind between soap characters and the actors playing them, I shall enjoy Max Branning dancing in Strictly Come Dancing very much, and will feel let down if he has not impregnated anyone by late November.



Of course, the first task of this series of Strictly is tactfully and fondly to say goodbye to Sir Bruce Forsyth, who at 86 has finally allowed us to stop clutching our faces while praying silently that he will soon reach the end of his autocued joke, and that it will bear some connection to the beginning. Bruce’s big goodbye from the show last Saturday was nicely done and far different from the kind most female presenters enjoy when leaving their jobs. For them, it usually involves simply never being called again after the age of 45 and being replaced by someone without neck-wattle.

Bruce’s replacements, Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, have already gained withering comments from ex-Strictly professional dancer James Jordan, who is currently locked pointlessly in an MDF prison in Borehamwood, appearing on this flop season of Celebrity Big Brother. Jordan believes that Bruce should have been replaced by a man. “Like who?” said White Dee from Benefits Street, a fellow housemate. “Like, Michael Barrymore,” said Jordan, “I mean, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX, people!” I would love to hear more of Jordan’s opinions on famous folk whom the public might take warmly to their hearts as presenters of one of the biggest family shows on British TV. Bosnian warlord Radovan Karadzic? Gorgeous George Galloway? That woman with the specs who threw a cat in a wheelie bin? Actually, no, that’s a woman.

It’s interesting to see Britain in 2014 gently coming to terms with the idea of two women at the helm of a popular show. Mel and Sue, let loose on The Great British Bake Off, have a lot to answer for. It’s funny to think that, in the initial series of Bake Off, not much was made of their womanly wit. It was far more seriously sponge- and scone-driven. I hope the producers now have the guts to let mischievous Claudia properly off the leash to play opposite Tess, the ardent straight-woman. I’m proud of these girls.

Until next time… keep dancing!