They crossed a line ... Beeb should have been stricter

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW - Alex Kane

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

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