Saturday, September 20, 2008

So, where do we go from the Mercury?


I'm not kidding. I have never successfully managed to watch a whole episode of it, but there's something about this programme that fascinates me.

Firstly, one must remember how much of a dog Come Dancing became before its resurrection, out of the blue, all those many years ago before Natasha Kaplinsky was known to anyone who didn't get woken up by BBC Breakfast News every morning (lucky swine rzzrt fzzrt). I vaguely remember watching it wither away at half-eleven on Tuesday nights, the entire enterprise looking tired and tattered as various couples, all of whom seemed to be from Slough, waltzed about a bit before having to be talked to by Rosemarie Ford while Bruce Forsyth tried to look interested.

Secondly, one must remember just how crap a job the BBC was making of Saturday nights before pulling this, Doctor Who and Let's All Save Andrew Lloyd-Webber's House out of the bag. Please tell me that someone else out there suffered through week after week after wretched bastard week of Fame Academy? Please? And this particular resurrection seemed to be sparked by the magic half-hour that was Bruce Forsyth's spot as guest host on Have I Got News For You, which seemed to single-handedly revive the art of the light-entertainer in Britain, resurrecting Bruce and marvelling at his incredible craft and showmanship. (There's more profound thoughts to be had about that, I suspect, and I don't doubt that other contributors to this place might well have them. They're probably not quite as positive as mine...)

Thirdly, what the fuck kind of a name is Strictly Come Dancing? Yes, I get the whole simultaneously reminding people that they quite enjoyed Strictly Ballroom while helping them forget how shit Come Dancing used to be, but... how exactly does one Strictly Come anything? (I'ma try and credit the internet with perhaps a smidge more maturity than I should on this) It is not a phrase that makes sense in, like, any way at all. (I should be able to remember the precise names of the parts of speech whose illogical combination means it doesn't make any sense, but I can't. Dammit)

Fourthly, there's something about the competitive element of the whole thing that genuinely does intrigue me, and it's the balance between competition and household names that seems to fuel its popularity. Fame is not a real guarantee of success here - it's been won twice by cricketers, for pity's sakes. It's a programme that gathers momentum through the weeks - compare this with, let's say, The Apprentice, which was flagging badly by the end of the last series as one realised that watching unpleasant people sell fish is much the same as watching unpleasant people sell cakes, which in turn is peculiarly similar to watching unpleasant people sell ice cream. It seems to thrive on the uneven nature of its playing field and the caprices of the voting public, watching contestants rise and fall through the weeks.

Fifthly, on the occasions I've seen bits, I've usually been sent scurrying from the room by the sheer blinding horror of the SCD house band. One of the big problems with Fame Academy was that the arrangements the singers had to perform along to were generally flat, lifeless codswallop, a vague approximation of pop cobbled together by people who don't really like pop very much at all; if you want to take things particularly far, you could view it as an attempt by music retailers to flog all those Best Of Top Of The Pops compilations they have littering their £2 bins via a kind of mass indoctrination.

Anyway - this year, I'm gonna try and follow it. Here. On Rocktimists. With any luck, each week I will blog about the episode as soon after it ends as I possibly can, and hopefully you and I can come to some kind of understanding about life, the universe and Anton du Beke's deeply unsettling smile.


I'll have to check back after the programme to see precisely how SCD organises itself, but from what I can gather the early parts of the show see male and female competitors eliminated on alternate weeks; this year's series starts tonight, with the men.

Your red-hot favourite for the boot must surely be John Sergeant. He has an advantage over the previous news-men to have competed (Bill Turnbull and Nicholas Owen) by not being completely insufferable, but, well... has there ever been a time when he wasn't all stooped and hunched in posture? He looked fairly browbeaten back when he was not noticing Margaret Thatcher standing right behind him, and that was 20-odd years ago now. Even if they're opening with waltzes, one must surely think that his feet are likely to fail him.

His one saving grace, however, might be that the men's field overall looks rather ropey. It seems difficult, for example, to imagine Don Warrington or Phil Daniels managing to put much of a run together, and it'd hardly be a surprise to discover that, for all his novelty trousers, Gary Rhodes isn't much of a mover either. A swift glance down the list of past competitors reveals that SCD is no country for old men or women - Brian Capron, Gloria Hunniford, Esther Rantzen, Carol Vorderman, Willie Thorne and David Dickinson have all been early fallers in the past.

The rest of the men make a slightly more intriguing proposition. Andrew Castle is no spring chicken, but he is a former professional athlete, and, having once seen him waiting for a taxi, I can confidently say he has the straightest back known to man. Seriously, the feller stands like he's had a lamp-post shoved up his jacksie. He's strong, upright, and somewhat annoying. He will almost certainly fall out with at least one judge, possibly two. This ought to take him through to the middle weeks, if nothing else.

Sharing many of his qualities - former athlete, solidly built, tosser - is Austin Healey. For some reason, recently-retired sports irritants have a habit of doing rather well at this lark - both Colin Jackson (who, to be fair, isn't so much irritating as infuriatingly bland) and Matt Dawson have reached the grand final of SCD in the past. Mark Foster is also a recently-retired sportsman, but his prospects seem somewhat harder to calculate - he was Britain's flag-bearer in Beijing, but his performance in the swimming was rather disappointing to say the least, and so far as I'm aware he has yet to declare his position on the European single currency - this could be very crucial in terms of how the public takes to him.

Rounding out the hims, we have Tom Chambers, this year's obligatory cast member from Holby City (for our purposes, Holby City, Casualty and Hollyoaks are all exactly the same thing). Via a combination of mental arithmetic and guessing, he's going in week 7.

In any case, a winner looks much more likely to come from the women's side of the draw. Actresses Cherie Lunghi and Gillian Taylforth seem the most likely early casualties, through age if nothing else. Heather Small might also go swiftly, if only cos it's difficult to figure out where exactly her votes will come from - but lest we forget, it's been three years since "Proud" was last re-released. And we're hosting the Olympics in four years time. Never underestimate the dark hand of Lord Coe...

Similarly, don't be ruling out Christine Bleakley. She's not the youngest in the field, and it's hard to argue that she seems the most natural dancer, but one suspects that she's the one in whom the BBC has the most vested interest, being (as she is) the co-host of The One Show. Her fellow presenter, Adrian Chiles, is rather too well-known (and overworked) to compete on SCD, but Bleakley definitely isn't. A good run here, however, might well change all that, not to mention allowing a nifty bit of cross-promotion between the two programmes. We'd not suggest they're going to rig anything here - certainly not in this post-The Mint climate - but keep your eye out for winks and nudges...

It'll be interesting to see how Lisa Snowdon and Jodie Kidd do - models haven't exactly over-performed here in the past - but, in all likelihood, your main contenders are Jessie Wallace and Rachel Stevens. Stevens, at first glance, looks like a ringer of gigantic proportions. Having spent the majority of this decade a-singing and a-dancing, firstly in S Club 7, then in her subsequent solo career, one would imagine she might have just a teensy bit of an edge in terms of experience over her competition. This, after all, hardly hindered Alesha Dixon on her way to the title last year. However, Rachel has one major problem - she's Rachel Stevens. If ever there was a woman more thoroughly settled into the role of being second-best, she has yet to make herself known to me. There's just something very not-winner-ish about Rachel - a peculiar lack of charisma, wit, personality. She's basically a very nice girl who looks a lot like Felicity Kendal.

Which leaves us with my tip for the winner, Jessie Wallace. Do not underestimate just how popular she was in her days at Kat Slater - her on-screen pairing with suddenly-not-annoying Shane Richie dragged Eastenders clean out of the doldrums and back to the top of the British soap pile, until it sort of got run into the ground a bit. She's got actual proper stage experience and actual proper theatre training. She still turns up in the tabloids a fair bit. We dunno if she can dance yet, of course, but in terms of profile she currently trumps her opposition by a fair distance and, for now, that seems like the most solid foundations upon which to base one's tippings.

Now all I have to do is sit tight and wait for the appallingly-soundtracked festivities to commence...

1 comment:

mike said...

Tom Chambers grew up in our village and is always popping back; his parents still live here; and there's a big Vote For Tom campaign about to brew on our village blog, starting with the time-honoured Everybody Gather Round The Telly In The Village Pub session this evening. Ooh, we're that stoked.