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Come Dancing's Peggy Spencer
Peggy Spencer: The queen of Come Dancing
Strictly Come Dancing compels millions of people to stop what they are doing and turn on the television. While actors waltz and sportsmen jive, the format of dance on TV might not have happened had it not been for Norfolk resident Peggy Spencer.
Watching people dance on television has been one of the most popular genres over the last 50 years. Come Dancing appeared on television in 1949 and continued to appear on and off for almost 50 years.
Peggy Spencer, MBE, who now lives in King's Lynn, had a huge involvement in Come Dancing after starting dance classes in the south of England.
Peggy's dance credits appear alongside some of the biggest names in music history, such as The Beatles, and she was even awarded a This Is Your Life red book, by Michael Aspall.
As is her prestige in the dancing world, Peggy was also asked to present the now famous Strictly Come Dancing, but turned it down.
Finding her feet
It's common for people not to know what they want to do in life, but Peggy knew exactly what she wanted to do, but dancing wasn't her first choice of career.
"I didn't set out to be a dance teacher at all, I wanted to be a politician. Then the war came and it put an end to my learning," said Peggy.
Peggy still teaches dance in King's Lynn
Instead of dwelling on the fact that she wouldn't be able to get into politics, Peggy noticed that people needed cheering up in very hard times.
"We used to go to this air-raid shelter and there were some lads that used to sit there and do nothing. I thought they'd never know what it was like to go to a party, so I set one up,” she said.
This was how Peggy's days as a dance teacher began.
“We hired a café and cleared the tables and chairs to the edge of the dance floor. I taught myself to dance from a book. I was always just one page ahead of the people I was teaching," she said.
"I realised what a wonderful thing it was to give - I knew what I wanted to do.
"My dance classes grew and we were soon to big for the café. People wanted escapism during the war and dance and music was perfect for them."
When the war was over, Peggy set up a number of classes in village halls around Kent. The classes became so popular, she had to put on more and more to keep up with demand.
"I started putting people into groups and then made them compete against each other - this became formation dancing. The competition soon became nationwide and the standard got better and better," she said.
Such was the interest of dancing across the country, producers at the BBC decided to dedicate a show to it. This was to be known as Come Dancing.
"I worked with my formation dancers for 50 years. The people took part in it as themselves. There were butchers and bakers and they competed against other towns. If your town had lost the night before, people were devastated," said Peggy.
After 50 successful years on and off the television, Come Dancing came to an end. Changing attitudes towards dancing meant that producers of the show thought it should be scrapped.
"I did everything I could to get it back. I went to the head of the BBC, but as far as he was concerned, dancing wasn't on the agenda," said Peggy.
The launch of Strictly
In 2004, the BBC decided that dancing was definitely back on the agenda as they introduced the series Strictly Come Dancing. Celebrities would be paired with professional partners in a new form of dance contest.
"I was thrilled when I had a call from some producers who were going to bring back Come Dancing with a difference.
Bruce Forsyth presents Strictly
"They asked if I wanted to take part and help present it! I refused. I felt old and said they should get someone younger, much more alive and appealing than me to bring the youngsters in.
"So they chose Bruce Forsyth," said Peggy.
Despite turning down Strictly Come Dancing, Peggy still has a lot to do with dancing. At 88 years young, she still regularly teaches dance in King's Lynn.
Peggy has taught dance all over the world and even did some choreography for The Beatles, but it wasn't until she got to Norfolk that she realised what she had achieved.
"I suddenly realised what people thought of me. I had never noticed until I can to King's Lynn. Working in a big city, it's all speed and getting through - not the same as here," she said.
"Coming to Lynn and hearing the feelings of people, I realised how much I had done and the hundreds of people that I had taught."
There comes a time in every celebrity's life when you know you're in the big-time. For Peggy, this came when she had a call from a familiar voice. The voice was of Paul McCartney from The Beatles.
Your Mother Should Know by The Beatles
“I thought it was someone pulling my leg. He said, 'Peggy, I've had a dream. I dreamt of a white staircase leading to heaven, with a white piano at the top. The Beatles in white tail-coats, followed by dancers in beautiful white dresses. Can you set it up for me?'
"I said, yes!"
Peggy choreographed a waltz for the dancers to perform with The Beatles and they were taken to an old RAF hanger in West Malling, Kent. This was the first time Peggy would hear the 'waltz' that Paul had composed.
"He hit play on this battered old tape and it played Your Mother Should Know. I said to Paul, this is not a waltz. A waltz has three beats to a bar and you've done four.
"We re-choreographed the Waltz for the music and showed The Beatles how to kick.
"We walked to the back of the stage to climb to the top of the stairs that we would come down and realised, no-one had built steps to get to the top! Filming was cancelled for the day, but we came back a day or two later and filmed the video," said Peggy.
Big red book
Peggy's achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 1993, Peggy was shocked to receive a This Is Your Life book from Michael Aspel for her contribution to the dance world.
"I was absolutely stunned. When Michael put the book in front of me I didn't know who he was and elbowed him out of the way," she said.
Peggy received a This Is Your Life book
The awards didn't stop there. As well as winning hundreds of dance trophies over the years, Peggy and her husband Frank were both honoured by the Queen with an MBE.
On top of that honour, the couple won eight Carl Alan Awards, which are voted for by professional colleagues and Peggy holds each of them very dear.
Peggy has been dancing for more than 70 years and has no intention of stopping. Her dancing shoes have taken her across the world, meeting everyone from royals to musical royalty and she still loves it to death.
"Music and dance go together like fish and chips," said Peggy.
last updated: 19/02/2009 at 15:29