Well, we know that autumn’s really here when another band of courageous celebs don their glittering costumes and take on the challenge that is Strictly Come Dancing! It’s now well and truly part of the seasonal calendar, and has successfully reinvented Saturday night on the BBC.
Strange, but perhaps not so strange, to reflect that 60 years ago on 29 September 1950, Strictly’s predecessor, Come Dancing hit the air. It ran off and on from 1949 (regional launch) to 1998, making it one of TV’s longest running shows, and its removal was greeted with howls of horror from British ballroom dance fans.
It boasted an array of really famous presenters too. From Peter Dimmock (the future mastermind of the televisation of the 1953 coronation) and Leslie Mitchell (the British Clarke Gable-lookalike presenter of early BBC TV) to Angela Rippon, Judith Chalmers and Terry Wogan (and you can’t get much more famous than Sir Terry!). Its over-the-top glamour – even in black and white – fascinated a grey and gloomy Britain still in the grip of post war blues.
But strange, because in Britain the public perception is still one of surprise that anyone – but in particular a man - can dance. And yet, according to the Arts Council, dance is now the top UK leisure pursuit.
It has also been at the heart of our BBC TV schedules from the earliest times. In 1937, the BBC had Charles B Cochrane’s ‘Young Ladies’ in full-on variety mode, glamorous ballroom dancers, plus a young Margot Fonteyn in her tutu. Later, dance was the staple of every entertainment show – even Morecombe & Wise put on the top hat and tails, and Angela Rippon slid (almost) effortlessly from serious newscaster to dance presenter via her high kicks with Eric and Ernie!
So, in spite of ourselves, we really have been, and are, a nation of dance lovers. We aspire to its elegance – remember Audrey Hepburn singing in My Fair Lady ‘I could have danced all night’. Cue the whirling of countless sequinned dresses and straight-backed men in tails on Come Dancing.
But not too much… John Sergeant could never dance but we loved his indefatigable insistence on Strictly Come Dancing that he would try and try. We want sublime dance skill, but we also want a little deflating of its self-conscious pursuit of poise and perfection. What Strictly has cleverly pulled off is a bridge between these two TV dance extremes.
So to paraphrase Bruce and Tess: Keep dancing, BBC.
Robert Seatter is Head of BBC History
The Strictly Come Dancing Costumes are on display at BBC Television Centre until 11 October
Read a blog post from Dave Arch, the musical director and conductor of the live band for Strictly Come Dancing, on the TV blog.