Ruislip & Eastcote & Northwood Gazette
Dancing in the dark
Bring on the bling. MARION McMULLEN looks back at the first steps of Strictly Come Dancing which even some of the judges thought would be a flop
THE call of “It’s a 10 from Len” was heard across the land as Strictly Come Dancing waltzed into the nation’s living rooms for the first time.
Head judge Len Goodman was joined by Hot Gossip and West End choreographer Dame Arlene Phillips, Italian dance expert Bruno Tonioli and director and choreographer Craig Revel Horwood to mark the dancing skills of the first line-up of just eight celebrities.
They included news presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, classical singer Lesley Garrett, comedian Jason Wood, TV presenter and antiques expert David Dickinson, actress Claire Sweeney, EastEnder Christopher Parker, former England rugby star Martin Offiah and Holby City’s Verona Joseph.
Craig quickly made his mark as the show’s resident baddie and once informed Countdown’s Rachel Riley “I thought you were wriggling around like a slug in salt”.
Craig revealed in a BBC Radio 5 live documentary that he thought the show would be a disaster when it first aired in 2004.
“There were no fanfares, we were creating the show from the beginning. I said, ‘It’s a terrible idea, what an awful idea. It’ll be car-crash television’.
“I said ‘It’ll be the end of my career’. And I really thought it would be off in three weeks. Len and I, after the first show, said ‘That was absolutely terrible. No one’s going to think that’s a good idea. How can it possibly be a good idea getting a celebrity to try to learn in one month what it’s taken most dancers since the age of three to do in 10 to 15 years?’”
But despite the reservations and the low budget, viewers kept coming back for more and more and now there are more than 50 versions of Strictly Come Dancing in countries all over the world.
Fan favourite Len, who stepped down as head judge in 2016 after 12 years on the show, became famous for his familiar “Seveeeen!” score. He also had a great line in colourful catchphrases – including “pickle me walnuts”, “winner, winner, chicken dinner, finger-licking good”, and “spank me gently with a wet chamois”
His unique blend of knowledge, innate kindness to contestants, straight-talking and occasional grumpiness endeared him to millions as did his years of ballroom dancing – he began aged 21 and was British champion by his late 20s.
He once said: “I’m not a celebrity. I’m just a dance teacher from Dartford, who got really lucky and got asked to be on a very popular show.”
He added: “Strictly did change my life. I started ed at 60, which for most people is almost ost the end of the line for working, but for me it was a whole new adventure.” ure.”
Professional d a n c e r- t urned- u r n e d -
Strictly judge Anton Du Beke was among those who took part in the first show in 2014 and said it was originally planned as a very different programme. “When we went in for our first meeting, it was called Pro Celebrity Come Dancing. It was supposed to be sort of a take on the old golf shows,” he said. “The pros went ‘How long do you see each dance lasting, a whole record?’ I said ‘It’s three minutes. Nobody wants to see three minutes of terrible dancing’”.
The BBC was no stranger to dance competitions with Come Dancing running on and off for nearly 50 years. The cinema box office success of film director Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 movie Strictly Ballroom led to the Beeb’s new offering being called Strictly Come Dancing and the Saturday entertainment show offered celebrities, showbiz fun and glamour.
Tess Day and the late Sir Bruce Forsyth hosted the show and judge Arlene Phillips said watching Bruce warming up the audience before filming was a masterclass in entertainment.
She said: “His quick use of comedy to avoid disaster on a live show was beyond compare.”
Len remembered: “He was so kind and encouraging to me and the other judges and all those involved in the show. I used to pop round to his dressing room and chat about stars he met – there was no one I mentioned he hadn’t met.”
Bruce would encourage nervous celebrities on the show telling them “You’re my favourite” and he would often give a quick burst of his own tap-dancing da skills.
Tess said: “From the moment we met, Bruce B and I did nothing but laugh our way through a decade of working workin together on Strictly Come Dancing.” Danci
Journalist Jour and TV presenter Natasha Ka Kaplinsky and her professional dance partner Brendan Cole glided across the dance floor to victory in the inaugural ina series of Strictly.
They beat actor Christopher Parker and dancer Hanna Karttunen in the final with a quickstep to Frank Sinatra’s Sinatr The Lady Is A Tramp, a samba to Love Is In The Air and a showdance showd special to Dirty Dancing hit (I’ve I’v Had) The Time Of My Life.
Natasha Nata topped the leaderboard five w weeks in a row before the final, but lat later revealed she turned Strictly down when she was first asked because becau she wanted to be taken seriously i in her job on BBC Breakfast.
She said: “I honestly tried every single excuse not to do it, but I was cajoled cajole and in the end I ran out of excuses. excuse I was absolutely petrified.” Natasha Nata returned to present the second s series with Sir Bruce
Forsyth F later that same year while Tess was on maternity leave. l
The dancing queen that year was w Waterloo Road star Jill Halfpenny. Hal