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Strictly: Murder off the dance floor

I'm killing off that bloody Forsyth and no one can stop me

I’m killing off that bloody Forsyth and no one can stop me

Yes, I’m sure it’s the presence of Sophie ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ Ellis-Bextor, especially in her flapper dress last night, that’s making me think that every year, Strictly gets more like an Agatha Christie ensemble piece. You’ve got all the stock characters. The pretty young things, the old rogues, the ageing glamour pusses, the screechy Welshmen and comic Geordies. Then there are all the Johnny Foreigner dancers. Ruskies and damn commie bastards. They may shake a fine leg at the old cha cha cha, but you can’t trust any of them. 

The thing about Strictly is that everyone is outwardly chummy and charming when we all know they’re all actually enormously competitive. Plus they’re stuck under hot lights in a sweaty, enclosed space wearing uncomfortable clothing. I, for one, would have very little difficulty imagining Anton du Beke as a murderous gigolo. Brucie was “missing” last night, and a girl could dream someone had bumped him off, his body lying unnoticed inside a tanning booth backstage for the fifteen hours it seemed to take to get through all the dances. The facade was that he had “flu” of course. But Tess and Claudia have been after the top compering job for years, I’m sure of it.

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Strictly: the final furlong

Bruce-articleTwo weeks to go. Two dances per couple tonight. It strikes me, this year more than most for some reason, that, much as I love it, Strictly is almost identical year after year. Watching a clip of Brucie’s “jokes”, I’d defy anyone to guess which year we were in. Or decade, come to that. He and Len have missed the post-Savile memo about how cringingly inappropriate lecherous remarks  by old men to young women are (ditto casual homophobia, but at least in that regard Craig and Bruno can hold their own, as it were).

There’s a change in the celebrities obviously, and some of the professional dancers. The female member of the judging panel has varied (Arlene/Alesha/Darcey). But the male judges, Dave Arch and his orchestra, the set, dances, make-up, props and costumes remain reliably, comfortably the same.

The producers tried something new last week with the dance style mash-up, which was fine, by and large, but just as at the end of every episode of the Simpsons, all was back to normal afterwards.

The thing that makes me smile most of all are the slips-of-the-tongues over the “Sunday show” (that’s actually filmed straight after the Saturday one). Zoe Ball saying to Alfie Boe on Friday night It Takes Two “So we’ll see you performing on the results show tomorrow. Er, Sunday.” Far too expensive and time-consuming to dress and do full make-up on all the celebs and pro-dancers two nights in a row.

Obviously Tess and Darcey change their dresses between shows. But my hairdresser Helen pointed out that their hair styles change too (it’s put into an up-do if it was down or vice-versa). It must be a frantic half hour backstage for the stylists whilst the phone vote’s going on.

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Strictly: A bit too Special

I like Strictly. It’s the comfort food of Saturday night telly. A glitzy, sequined, orange spray-tanned shepherds pie of a programme. Many people have put a huge amount of physical effort into training for it, but all you need to do as a viewer is watch. Slouching on your sofa, drink in hand, taking the piss. And bitching with other Twitter folk about how much the wardrobe department must hate Tess.

This year, we’re all keeping an eye on Darcey Bussell as the new judge. She’s undoubtedly knowledgeable on dance but her first appearance was marred by (presumably nerve-driven) repetitions of a horsey “Yah?” to every contestant, but that have fortunately stopped now. Perhaps because Craig is sticking pins into her leg under the table.

In the order of things, he and Len have been separated by the Bussell this year, which means Len is the person who gets slapped in the face by Bruno’s histrionic arm movements (which is actually pretty funny). Darcey can be as harsh a marker as Craig, and frankly I’ve got my eye on her after she marked the delightful Lisa Riley much lower than everyone else last week – I don’t trust ballet dancers to be well-balanced around bigger women, and in my (entirely ill-informed) opinion, Riley is top-notch in every respect.

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Strictly Come Dancing: Look at ’em, they’re standing up

It’s the semi-finals and to mark the occasion Bruno is particularly  deliciously and delightfully bonkers, while tonight’s audience have decided to spend most of the hour and a half on their feet apparently… call me a curmudgeon but not every single one of those dances deserved a standing ovation.

So who will be going to BLACKPOOL next week? Well, if Harry and Aliona, and Chelsee and Pasha aren’t in the final there’s no justice in the spray-tanned, sequinned world of Strictly.

There were some great music choices this week (I can never hear too much Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine I’m afraid), but setting the Charleston to I’m Just Wild About Harry was a neat move on Aliona’s part. She also seems to have listened to all Len’s grumbles about her choreography in the past two series and Harry’s reaping the benefits. It helps that he is a great dancer. Artem’s choreography for the Charleston was bolder and more interesting, but Harry and Aliona looked well-matched in their dance, while Holly was shown up by her partner’s superior skills.

Harry and Aliona also turned in a beautiful and romantic Viennese waltz. It was, as Craig noted, rather more melancholy than most and all the better for it.

By comparison I found Alex’s waltz boring. Yes, it was graceful and well-executed, but if you find yourself pondering the professional dancer’s dodgy hair cut instead of the dancing something is wrong I’m afraid.

And not even Gloria Estefan could save Alex’s salsa. She has improved remarkably, but she’s just not in the same league as Harry or Chelsee. And that rather ugly starfish lift thing didn’t do her any favours either.

Chelsee outshone Alex in her American Smooth, which was graceful, brilliant and exquisite, and was mesmerising in the paso doble. It’s going to be a close run thing between her and Harry next week.

Whether it will be Alex, Holly or Jason who joins them on the coach up north is anybody’s guess.

Holly and Artem’s Argentine tango was a pleasure to watch, but the confidence she showed there was sadly lacking from the Charleston (which could have been a real showstopper).

Jason seems to annoy people, so despite a samba that, for once, I didn’t have to watch through my fingers and an amazing Argentine Tango, there’s no guarantee he’s getting within a mile of a VT heavy on Kiss Me Quick hats and rollercoasters next week.

The results show is actually going to be interesting this week – I’ll see you there!

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Strictly Come Dancing: Dear Strictly

It’s more than 12 hours after my once-beloved SCD finished last night. I am still in shock. So much so that this blog is going to be a different kettle of fish to previous missives on the subject. You’ll have to forgive me, dear reader – it has, as they say, Been Emotional.

Dear Strictly,

We’ve had some wonderful times, you and me. When we first met, I hated Saturday Night Telly, with its mix of gaudy gameshows, Dad’s Army, dry documentaries about Cholera and Noel Bloody Edmonds. I knew nothing about dancing and you were much derided for being a throw-back to a dying era. People (hi Mum!) said we would never work.

You came, with your random mix of people off the telly, off the Olympics and quite often off their heads. Your sequins sparkled. Your judges were daring but fair, caring only about the dancing and not about themselves. You had a slightly-neglected old-school host whom everyone was delighted to see again, who was merely grateful to regain his rightful place on primetime telly. More than anything else, you were characterized by your good humour. Sure, people were called “contestants”, but they were participants rather than competitors. They were encouraged to do well and by and large did so, or at least had a ball. Who knew that woman who got bashed about by Phil Mitchell on Eastenders would be so good? That Julian Clary would be so bad? Who even knew who Kara Tointon was?

I loved you, Strictly. But more to the point, everybody loved you. Which meant everybody wanted a piece of you and everybody wanted to be like you. ITV looked longingly at your ratings success as you tore up Saturday Nights. They came up with this thing called X Factor. It was just a tired old rehash of its previous entries into the class that I like to handily term Pop Factory Crap. How could it ever trouble you, Strictly? You were a class apart, you didn’t need all that. You had series after series of Feelgood Glory, where it was simply about the Dancing rather than the ridiculous sideshows.

But tragically, people lapped up the Pop Factory Crap in their millions. And you got scared, Strictly, You thought that every person that watched that wouldn’t want you anymore and that THIS was the future.

So you changed, Strictly. Firstly, you ditched one of your original judges for being Too Old. She was in fact younger than the oldest judge who was a man, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter to you.

BLACKPOOL!

Despite this, we were ok for a while. You still had lots of good dancers and did laudable things like going to Blackpool (BLACKPOOL!). It wasn’t quite like the olden days, but it looked like you were going to get your spark back. 

Where It All Started Going Wrong

Then you got a gift, Strictly. Ann Widdecombe. She couldn’t dance and didn’t care. People were split in their Marmite-style camps. But it was impossible not to have an opinion, so everyone did. Everybody was talking about you, writing about you, watching you again. It felt GOOD.

But it went to your head, Strictly. And look at you now. Bloated and self-satisfied. 100 minutes long! Even my patience is exhausted by the end, so it’s no wonder even the participants have apparently well and truly had enough. Sitting through endless smug jokes by Sir Brucie, who continues to think people watch the show simply for his grandstanding, tired old nonsense. Through puerile VTs prior to each dance designed simply to fill time with stupid, children’s tv-style antics? Through look-at-me use of props that add nothing to the dancing (except for Artem and Holly’s number, which was clever and beautifully choreographed)? Continue reading

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Strictly Come Dancing: Brace Yourselves!

It’s back! The countdown to Christmas begins with the proper return of Strictly Come Dancing (I’m ignoring the pre show the other week when we saw which professional had been landed with which celeb). Even the announcer beforehand seemed to be camping it up for the start of the Strictly season.

Unlike X Factor’s drastic revamp, Strictly has kept things pretty much the same. Bruce’s ‘jokes’ remain as strained and awkward as ever, and his carer, Tess Daly, continues to wear the weirdest of outfits, prompting the weekly, “what has she got on?” from Mrs OMITS. I do like Bruce, though. There’s something comforting about having him still as a regular Saturday night feature on our screens (I know it’s Friday, but you know what I mean). My Mum doesn’t agree. She is visiting for the weekend, and watched it with us. At one point, Bruce quipped “I nearly went off there.” I distinctly heard “I wish you would”, emanating from the aged P.

The judges remain unchanged too, though Craig Revel Horwood has had a new hair cut foregoing the mullety look of last year. Len Goodman’s still a bit grumpy (‘You’re getting on my wick already”, he said to the audience after they booed a negative comment), Shy and retiring Bruno Tonioli needs to work on his confidence but I’m sure will come out of his shell as the series continues, and Alesha Dixon provides a generally supportive and matey flavour to the comments  from someone who’s been there and done it. I like Alesha, but I do hope she manages to sort out her tenses this year -“You was excellent” does tend  to grate a bit after week five.

For the first weekend (half on Friday, and half on Saturday) no one leaves the show, but their points do get carried forward to next week when someone will be kicked off. I know she hasn’t danced yet, but my money’s on Edwina Currie as the first to go. Not sure why, other than I find her irritating. Always have. Mind you not as irritating as Ann Widdecombe last year, and look what happened to her.

One of the strengths of Strictly is, I’ve always thought, Dave Arch and his Orchestra. That band can do anything. The vocalists are consistently amazing, often delivering performances that outshine the originals and add to the sensitivity of the dancing. Amazing stuff.

This year, we do get the option of live commentary from Karen Hardy and a celeb (tonight, Katy Brand) on the red button, but I instantly forgot that, and didn’t avail myself of their services.

Holly Valance (emphasis on the ance) and Artem kick things off with the cha cha cha, and for a first dance, put in a pretty solid performance. Holly said that her experience of cavorting around in pop videos doesn’t make her a dancer, but it obviously gave her a physical confidence that your present correspondent never developed during ‘music and movement’ at school.

Len said, ‘not the best first dance I’ve seen’ (booo), ‘but it was close’ (hurrah!)

Dan Lobb (from Daybreak – I know – I’ve never seen it either)) and Katya Virshilas do the waltz, and to my untrained eyes, seemed to do pretty well. Craig wasn’t pulling any punches though, even for a first night; ‘hideously rigid topline’ and ‘transformations were clunky’ or something.

Next came Lulu and Brendan Cole with a cha cha cha. Hopes had been high for Lulu, who looks in great shape, and is a proper showbiz legend, but who looked devastated to be given Brendan has a partner. Oh dear. It all went very wrong. Len succinctly summed it up; ‘lots of boombangabang, but nothing to shout about.’ Craig was even more focussed in his critique; ‘disaaaaaaaaster’! Alesha was more encouraging, but then she can’t criticise Lulu can she?

Audley Harrison and Natalie Lowe performed a waltz and he was surprisingly light on his feet for such a large chap. Len liked it, though Craig was back in the ‘disaaaaaaster’ zone, moaning about his hands or suchlike. I’d be careful laying into his hands too much, to be honest, in case he gives you a closer look, Craig.

Robbie Savage and Ola Jordan were next.  Hmmmm. I like Ola, and it turns out we share the same birthday, so she gets my vote. The Savage fella, I’m less sure about. To my mind, being known as the dirtiest player in the Premiership is nothing to boast about, especially when one looks like a preening fop, and this bad boy image is going to get rammed down our throats until he’s voted off. They danced to – ahem – ‘Bad Boys’. A bit of strutting and some dodgy pelvic thrusts, and Craig rightly pointed out that it was all about the look rather than the dance.

Anita Dobson & Robin Windsor turned in a very nice waltz. You can tell the performers – they have a distinct advantage over sportsmen and other celebs who don’t have that experience of expressing themselves on stage. The judges loved it.

It was the turn of Russell Grant and Flavia Cacace next. I must confess a bias here as Flavia is my favourite professional and looked stunning.  I wasn’t really looking at Russell Grant, though I hear he did quite well for a ‘comedy’ turn and will probably be very popular. Mrs OMITS queried whether you could see his testicles down the leg of his trouser, but, as I say, I wasn’t looking.

In the round up clips at the end of the show, Holly Valance looked even better than she had first time round. By then we’d realised what everyone else looked like, and she and Anita Dobson were in joint first place, with Lulu, rightly, and unfortunately, languishing at the bottom of the table.

Tonight, the remaining celebs get to Dance. Will the collision of Edwina Currie’s and Nancy Del Olio’s egos cause a rethink of the laws of physics? I can’t wait to find out.

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Strictly Come Dancing: Runners and riders 2011

The new series hasn’t kicked off properly yet, that doesn’t happen for another three weeks, but last night everyone showed up, booted, suited, sequined and spray-tanned, for the ‘mix n match’ celebrities to pro-dancer event. Reassuringly, very little has changed since the end of the last series, which was won by Kara Tointon and Artem ‘the chest’ Chigvintsev. Bruce Forsyth has been knighted in the meantime of course, but nothing about that man has really changed for forty years, it’s just the women he twirls who get replaced with a younger model. Tess Daly remains his Strictly Anthea Redfern, and last night was given a twirl in a slightly alarming canary yellow jumpsuit. But, hey, this is not a show for those who enjoy the understated. The judges looked exactly the same, in a good way, other than Alesha’s most peculiar pony tail (and the award for best description goes to Velocity Girl’s mother on Twitter who said she looked like: “a cheap Barbie doll rip-off where they can’t get the hair right”).

And on that note, of Alesha I mean, I’ve been pondering the still slightly radioactive issue of the removal of Arlene Philips as a Strictly judge. I support older women on telly to the hilt. Always loved Moira Stewart, feel Mary Berry kicks culinary butt as a judge on the Great British Bake Off  (as does Prue Leith on Great British Menu). But the problem with Arlene was that I didn’t really like her judging style, and not because of her age. She’s gorgeous of course, and she rocks as a Hot Gossip choreography legend, but when she was commenting on performances in Strictly, I found her over-worked, tortured ‘puns’ to be excruciating to listen to. Not worse than the pantomime donkey, Bruno Tonioli of course. So I’m sorry everyone. I like Alesha and I don’t really miss Arlene.

My favourites are the acerbic tongued Craig Revel Horwood and the down to earth, reassuring hand-on-the tiller head judge Len Goodman. And I think all four of them work well together.

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