'Come Dancing' on last legs

THE BBC yesterday denied that it is planning to axe the cult television series Come Dancing. The show, Britain's longest-running TV series and long the butt of jokes about sequins and flares, has been revamped in recent years but the audience has continued to decline.

The present series of the 46-year-old strictly-ballroom programme ends on Monday night, and sources inside the BBC claim it will be the last.

The rumour has come as a shock for the 2.5 million loyal fans and has been described as another example of the BBC's new guard scrapping traditional programmes with low ratings.

"They're being very PC at the BBC, and this programme is just not politically correct," said Norman White, secretary of the Ballroom Dancers' Federation. "I just don't know what half the country's comedy programmes will be like without the gags about mothers sewing on sequins."

The BBC moved swiftly to calm growing anger by claiming that reports of the show's demise were "premature". "It is not true to say that Come Dancing has been axed," said a spokeswoman.

She said a new series had not yet been commissioned but it was "under consideration". She said the BBC was "re-thinking" the show's format, but added: "No final decision has been taken."

Rosemarie Ford, the programme's presenter, regards it as a fait accompli. "It is tragic, unbelievable," she said. "We battle every year to get this show on, and we have finally lost that battle."

Despite the fluffy exterior, the programme is intensely competitive and is seen as a shop window for ballroom dancing - one area where the UK can still thrash the opposition. Three of the four main international titles are held by British couples.

The UK has 18 couples competing professionally at international level and a further 20 amateur pairs. Each year more than 2,500 couples compete across the country and another 3 million people simply dance.

Fans are confident the dancing will continue, whatever the show's fate. "Ballroom dancing was there before Come Dancing, and it will be there after it," said Mr White.