Ian Burrell: Strictly scandalous – Beeb short-changes viewers again

Share
Related Topics

"What is the point in having a public phone-in if the popular ones get pressured off anyway? They may as well just let the judges decide," commented contributor DgembaDgemba on the website Digital Spy yesterday after John Sergeant's abrupt departure from BBC1's
Strictly Come Dancing.

Sergeant's decision to quit the Saturday night prime-time show has, once again, thrown into confusion the whole notion of viewer participation in British television. Just as after the premium rate phone-in scandals of last year, audiences have been left feeling short-changed, their text votes contemptuously disregarded.

No one would argue that Sergeant is any twinkle-toes. Four years older than Mikhail Baryshnikov, he displays all the mobility of Lloyd Scott, the London Marathon contestant who chooses to run in a deep sea diving costume. But that's not the point. The public voted for the former BBC and ITN political editor to be allowed to carry on dancing.

Instead of respecting that decision, the BBC apparently encouraged a furious and very public backlash against the public vote by the judges. "Insiders" for the show briefed the tabloids on how much anger there was behind the scenes that Sergeant had not been given his marching orders.

Judge Arlene Phillips was said to be livid that the actress Cherie Lunghi had been made to quit in favour of the journalist. "Arlene thinks it's a joke that John is still in it. It's ridiculous that Cherie had to leave as she's a much better dancer," the insider told the Daily Mirror. Similar claims were made of the head judge, Len Goodman, who reportedly thought the public vote for Sergeant "makes a mockery of the competition".

Viewers were yesterday scratching their heads at the apparent pomposity of a show that is intended as light entertainment and best known for having uncovered the fact Natasha Kaplinsky can perform a creditable rumba and Mark Ramprakash can do a decent salsa.

"Now that they've taken the show so seriously it makes them look so incredibly pretentious and appear to be trying to make out this show is a somehow worthy exercise in exploring the art of dance," fumed one online respondent. "Forgetting it's supposed to be about entertaining the public and giving them what they want to watch on a Saturday night."

The problem with Strictly Come Dancing, according to David Wood, of Broadcast magazine, is that the BBC was determined it would be a bona fide talent contest, awarding genuine dancing merit and – most importantly – fulfilling the corporation's public service broadcasting credentials and thus justifying the licence fee.

The problem was that those paying their £139.50 for a licence were not considered worthy arbiters of dance-floor talent.

"When things go off message the BBC really can't stand it," said Wood. "They've got rid of John Sergeant because it was becoming untenable for the show to operate within the guidelines that had been set out for it editorially."

He contrasted Strictly Come Dancing with the ITV show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! which he said was a straightforward "popularity contest" rather than an assessment of the contestants' grace and technical ability.

The BBC was at pains to make clear it had not forced out Sergeant, a battle-hardened veteran of the Westminster lobby who many times locked horns with Margaret Thatcher. Jay Hunt, the BBC One Controller, said: "John has told us of his plans to leave and we are very sad to see him go."

The BBC allowed a situation to grow in which Sergeant, despite saying that "it was always my intention to have fun on the show and I was hoping to stay in as long as possible", felt that he was so unwanted, he'd had enough.

In effect, the public wish has been overruled, just like when it was confirmed last year that BBC staff had disregarded a phone vote to name a Blue Peter cat Cookie, calling it Socks instead.

It seems that the BBC cannot bring itself to trust the public. The corporation remains desperate to encourage audience participation, conscious that such interactivity ticks boxes in terms of its public service role. Yet it seems that those viewer contributions achieve nothing, except to add a few pennies to the coffers of the mobile phone companies.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most