John Sergeant: The happy hoofer

His paso doble may be a bit wonky, but John Sergeant's self-deprecation will win him a whole new television career. David Randall reports
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The Independent Culture

This evening, after a night and a day of almost unbearable suspense, the nation will learn if John Sergeant – whose good-natured lack of co-ordination on the dance floor and nifty footwork in a series of self-deprecating interviews have conveyed him to the verges of national treasuredom – will proceed any further in the vehicle for his new-found fame, Strictly Come Dancing.

Telephone voting closed at 9pm last night, and, a short while later, Sergeant was told his fate, and the Sunday programme recorded. The rest of the country, including the millions whose support has carried him to the ninth week of the contest, will discover in this evening's broadcast if the 64-year-old will have to keep plugging away in the gym in preparation for more shows, or withdraw, smiling his winsome smile, to the lucrative pastures that await.

Last night he danced, with his Siberian-born professional partner Kristina Rihanoff, a style known as "American Smooth", which managed to fully justify neither of those adjectives. But it was his best performance to date, and the technical deficiencies so obvious to the judges have not stopped the 64-year-old grandfather from gathering millions of votes. Web groups have even been started by his devotees. Contributors such as Angelsplishsplash, and Strictlyarmchair have paid tribute to his cuddliness. Esther Rantzen wrote a piece disarmingly headed "Why all women love an ugly man", and the Daily Mirror went as far as describing him as a "pin-up". Sergeant's response has been to give a series of "What, me? A sex symbol? Ha, ha, ha" interviews – thus, in the Strictly Self-Effacing contest, not putting a foot wrong.

But the judges on the show have taken a rather more critical line. Each week, after the former political reporter has twirled self-consciously in the show's elaborate limelight, they have passed damning judgement on his efforts in what they insist with straight faces is a dancing contest, as opposed to a bit of tea-time fun and games for the whooping classes. One said: "John is outstanding at dancing really badly," and another added: "This isn't Help the Aged, you know."

These verdicts have begun to rankle with Sergeant, and, amid signs his celebrated bonhomie was developing a brittle side, last week he hit back. "It is funny," he said, "how judges both in real life and on Strictly Come Dancing lose touch with the views of ordinary people. Here we have a classic example of this; as a political correspondent I know this."

Last night, after these mid-week exchanges, an accommodation of sorts was arrived at. Sergeant looked less like he'd been hit on the head with a mallet, and the judges offered crumbs of praise. The dream goes on.