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They came: they danced: they “gave it their hole”

My back's just gone

My back's just gone

Strictly Come Dancing 1 – BBC: September 18th

The Exorcist has many scary scenes: but none more than when Satanically possessed schoolgirl Linda Blair’s head rotates anti-clockwise through a full 360º. Old Nick seems to have worked the same trick on the professional guy dancers on Strictly: I swear the top halves and the bottom halves, and boy do I mean bottom, if not completely disconnected can at least twist in opposite directions as far as your average airfix aeroplane elastic-band ‘engine’. This generates a great sense of uncertainty and suspense: if they point their toes as they unwind one expects them to drill through the floor into the BBC basement; if they hold their arms out – recalling an old Hancock sketch “don’t bother to open the ballroom doors – I’ll go out through the fanlight.”

Strictly’s back: bling-king marvellous and has heat-sequin missiles like Brain ‘Snakehips’ Fortuna generating more torque than a top Formula One car; enough to fear that one day on an upbeat number one of these guys is going to spontaneously combust – mid-Cha-Cha. The women professionals are as usual an inspiring challenge to the laws of adhesion: we watch entranced but with a little shameful disappointment at the miraculous way the tiniest scraps of glittering cloth remain strategically and demurely in place under forces of dress-stress that would make those in the front row of a rugby scrum seem like a walk in the park. Energy and enthusiasm have always been a part of Strictly’s attraction and if at first glance with a couple of exceptions, the celebs in the new series burn more like 5 watt night lites, the pros are dazzling away there like 500 watt spots. Hook these guys up to the national grid and we’d halve our carbon footprint.

Brucie’s back and with a new-found political correctness: not only has he taken a pay cut but his jokes are now made up of guaranteed 100% recycled material. Twice. Tess ‘take-1’ Daly is a gorgeous mum and the judges are their usual sweet-natured, kind-hearted selves. Always sartorially adventurous, Bruno exceeded even his own previously high standard, for this first programme pioneering a new look in what appeared to be a suit in lacquered black bin-bag. Craig Revel Horwood I’m relieved to find has not lost his talent for inventing neologisms – this week describing long-jumper (the sport not the pullover) Jade Johnson’s somewhat histrionic use of her hands as ‘spatulistic’. This was as evocative as it was mean about appendages that were in fact more like articulated coal scuttles. They should call Strictly the ‘bitchmaker’ – it brings out the worst in all of us – especially me.

Scoring remains deliciously BBC-tech i.e. very, very low – with the numbered beach-bats being brandished with all the usual unfathomable po-faced solemnity. You have to hand it to new judge Alicia ‘well-done’ Dixon – not only has she got to make sure she doesn’t mix up her 5 bats (think about it) but she also has to keep a clear head sitting between Grumpy Goodman and Bouncy Bruno. Arlene must have been relieved to escape until she learnt that her consolation prize for being bounced from the bats, was to do some very silly things with a bunch of policemen and cricketers. It was nip and tuck whether Arlene, the cops or the cricketers were the most bewildered not just at what they were doing, but why.

There is a rumour going round that one of the big perks in landing a part in Eastenders is that you get automatic entry into one of the Beeb’s ‘reality’ shows: here Tricky Ricky Groves (Garry) is joined by Alison Cassidy (Sonia). Ricky escaped this week with only a Craigism of looking like a “spare part” after a not-bad waltz partnered by Erin Boag in a dress that made her look like an upside down mermaid. If the scoring debacle and Sargent saga were last year’s extra-prog publicity coups, it would be nice to think this year’s might be boxer Joe Calzhage giving Craig or Bruno a slap. It could happen: Joe’s game but wooden tango was described by Cuddly Craig as the most boring tango he’d ever seen. Keep it up Craig baby – I’ve seen this guy flatten blokes who treated him with respect.

I’m not quite sure which the night’s dancers basked in the sunshine of Alicia’s praise that he should be proud because he’d “given it your hole” but perhaps we should not dwell on the image. Len ‘Benny’ Goodman fell into his usual trap of being just a bit too technical in his terpsichorean analysis when he observed that Lynda Bellingham looked as if she’d got both legs down one side of her knickers. Now I’m a great fan of Lynda B ever since gravyboat days, she is one of our finest comedy character actors – but horses for courses and here, making the fatal mistake that you can escape the indignities of Strictly by not taking it seriously, she raised the biggest laughs of the night with a terrifying facial expression throughout her tango evoking Medusa and dancing for all the world like John Sargent in drag. She was not helped by the mercurial whims of the costume department who dressed her ‘old’ in what looked like remaindered between-the-wars curtains.

Rav and Aliona (Wilding and Vilani) may sound like pasta but they had the tough spot – kicking off with a Tango that if it didn’t make the pulse race, avoided making the heart sink. In one of the more delphic observations of the night Len complimented cheeky chappie Chris Hollins on holding partner Ola Jordan so close you could not get a “slither of bronco” between them. Now Lenny is old enough to remember the bad old days when the top brand lavatory paper was shiny, hard and scratchy and called ‘Bronco’ brand – the reasons for both the texture and the name being beyond comprehension. If dear reader you can find an alternative interpretation for this curious expression – do share.

Martina Hingis looked athletic but not especially elegant and truth be told appeared to need the handrail to walk down the stairs. Hands apart, so to speak, Jade Johnson was both athletic and graceful; but clearly the revelation of the night was Ali Bastian from The Bill. The only celeb on the night with a natural sense of balance and graceful movement to the music, Ali looked the business. This is no mean feat with a partner, who seems a really nice, if slightly obsessive guy, but just happens to look like Harry Connick Junior’s creepy wild-eyed serial killer Darryll Lee in the movie Copycat.

So on to the same 8 couples tomorrow having a stab at Latin American. That should be good. And next week is full of mouth-watering anticipation. By way of a trailer: Richard Dunwoody looks about as at home as a jockey who has mounted his horse backwards; even Cruel Cuddly Craig with a flash of schadenfreude wished Brendan “good luck darling” with Jo Wood; Phil Tufnell’s performance in the group dance elicited compliments on his tongue; and the remaining couples look full of ptotential in either the laugh at or marvel at category.

Can Winter be far away now that Strictly-time is here? Wouldn’t miss it for the world – though I’m gonna be out of the country for the finale at Christmas. Ho hum.

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