They crossed a line ... Beeb should have been stricter
Idon’t believe that ‘celebrities’ — be it in politics, sports, or showbusiness — should be expected to be a role model for the rest of us.
Just because you happen to be brilliant at football, for example, doesn’t mean that you should live by a moral, or social, template intended to present an image of you which advertisers and sponsors like, but which isn’t really you.
Being very good at something doesn’t mean that you are, necessarily, a good person. Living the lifestyle expected of you by others usually involves hypocrisy and not being true to yourself. And at some point — depending on how successful your career is
— something goes terribly wrong and your whole world comes crashing down.
At the beginning of the new series of Strictly, the vast majority of the audience wouldn’t have heard of Seann Walsh. He had a following of sorts on the standup circuit and had done some television, but hadn’t come close to the breakthrough, breakout show that would push him into the big league.
I had actually seen a couple of his routines, which centred on his booze intake and desultory lifestyle: the sort of routine which works in small clubs and as a support act for second/ third-division headliners.
But it wasn’t a mainstream routine; the sort of routine you need to be able to carry off if you want to make it in television.
But I presume the people who decide who will be on each series of Strictly — and they always want a mix of established names and relative newcomers — saw precisely what they were looking for in Walsh: a young man in the early stages of a career which, for a few years, had been on the cusp of taking off. He seemed a reasonably safe bet: a little edgy, maybe, but nothing that would unsettle the audience.
And this is what this story comes down to: the audience. Strictly belongs to that very select number of programmes which are intended for the entire family. It is a ratings monster: the sort of programme which is a Monday morning water cooler conversation in offices, factories, school gates, playgrounds, buses, shops, hairdressers — everywhere, in fact. The sort of programme which is as cool for grannies as it is for teenagers.
It is actually a very old-fashioned show (which is why it was originally handed to Bruce Forsyth); the sort of programme which isn’t expected to dominate the headlines because of a photograph on the front page of a tabloid newspaper, followed by a letter from a spurned partner, which painted a very unflattering picture of her now ex-partner.
Strictly isn’t Love Island, or even Celebrity Big Brother — programmes which thrive on stolen kisses, betrayals, crisis and OMG moments.
Strictly is meant to be nice and safe. The type of programme which doesn’t raise awkward questions from the younger members of the family or potentially embarrassing moments live on air.
And it certainly doesn’t want a situation in which competitors are suddenly being judged on their behaviour off screen, rather than their dance routine.
Which brings us to the question which has dominated mainstream and social media all week: should Walsh and Jones have been kicked off the programme because of their “inappropriate behaviour”?
I think they should have been. Not, I hasten to add, because of what they did, but primarily because of the nature of the programme itself.
There is a difference between “family” programmes, whose whole purpose is to allow the family to relax and unwind, and more grown-up, or “adult”, programmes.
I’m not judging Jones or Walsh, but I do believe that they crossed a particular line and, in so doing, took Strictly somewhere it doesn’t need to be. I know that some people argue that the programme-makers will love the publicity. The programme doesn’t need it — not with the viewing figures and wholesome reputation it already has.
And nor should it be left to viewers to punish them by voting them off (even if they perform well). The BBC should have stepped in to protect the brand.
Indeed, the BBC — more than most institutions — should be very well aware of the problems that arise when you don’t step in and take a stand.
The “push them out/keep them in” debate has been bad for Strictly. And if — and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss their chances — they aren’t voted off, then it raises an entirely new problem for audiences, future contestants and the BBC.
Namely: how much can you get away with before the axe falls? And how much will contestants risk for the sake of publicity in the next series?
One thing is certain: one way, or another, Walsh will be playing to larger audiences when he returns to the stand-up circuit.
Dance off: Seann Walsh and Katya Jones. Below, Katya and her husband Neil