Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1 2019) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Do we need “Strictly Come Dancing” more than ever in the UK this year?  The whole country is bewildered every time they pick up a newspaper or watch the news, it’s a disorientating time,  nobody is trusting anyone in charge and even the weather seems to have abandoned the seasons.  Perhaps we really need the unchanging format of “Strictly” starting in the late summer and occupying our Saturday nights up until Christmas.  With the first episode coming in last night at 140 minutes maybe it is just opiate for the masses, that is if an opiate can be delivered with such sparkle and razzmatazz!

It is a largely unchanging format, with just a few tweaks here and there which amps up the ante so slightly that we don’t really notice it until we see a clip of an episode from some years ago.  It’s revved up to fever-pitch level now, yet unlike the too brash X Factor, it still feels welcoming and homely.  The launch night of Strictly is probably the biggest night for entertainment in UK TV and whereas in the past I might have felt not too bothered if I watched it (although I always have) I found that yesterday I had an air of anticipation about me all day, almost counting down the hours to the first spin of the glitterball.

The major change this year is the introduction of a new judge,  a decision which has caused controversy as Motsi Mabuse is sister of one of the professional dancers, Oti.  Let’s get this out of the way first.  Motsi is good, one episode in and she is an asset to the show.  I never totally warmed to Darcy Bussell’s confirmations of what other judges have said, “the boys are right”, her odd tangled sentences and obsession with a strong core.  Motsi gave some good advice throughout, looked as if she was loving the whole experience and I never actually noticed the bit when she was judging her sister.

 

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We now know that it doesn’t matter that we do not know who the celebrities are, or in the case of vlogger Saffron Barker what they do, other than her saying “I create so much content” in a way that made her sound as if she was saving lives in Africa.  We are going to get to know them very well over the next few months (especially if you watch daily sister programme “It Takes Two”, something I’ve never done consistently but I can feel myself wilting already).  Last year I livened  up the 140 minutes further by scoring the contestants myself and comparing them to the judges scores.  It wasn’t possible for me or the judges to pick the winner early on last year, I noticed from last year’s blog that I had the winner, Stacy Dooley, fairly in the middle of the table, as did the judges.  Looking back at those 2018 scores this was a stronger night, dance-wise, with some really surprising early performances and because it was so unpredictable it made it essential TV.  So, like last year here is my Strictly Scorecard in ascending order.

James Cracknell & Luba – In a night of the unpredictable you really could see this coming.  Olympic Gold medallist James looked almost rigid with fear each time you saw him and his tango looked really stilted with wrong posture and too much standing still.  Has any Week 1 Strictly Dancer looked like they enjoyed it less? (maybe Judy Murray).  Motsi gave him some very good advice, but you can’t help feeling like other tall sportsmen in the past (Mark Foster) springs to mind, he isn’t really going to get it.  The judges also had him at the bottom of the table.  My score – 2  Judges score -11.

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Anneke Rice & Kevin – Anneke claims never to even have had a go at dancing before, which seems a little surprising that she has got to the age of 60 with decades in the entertainment business without having to shake a tail feather but if that’s so she deserves some credit for her cha cha cha to the Laura Brannigan song “Gloria” with the name changed, rather cringily, to “Anneke”.  Kevin did his trick of doing a lot so it didn’t appear that Anneke was doing not so much.  My score – 3 Judges score- 14

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Mike Bushell & Katya – It’s a brave move to do a jive on the first week and I don’t think I am ever going to bond with Mike as a contestant.  He fits nicely into the “Breakfast Time” category of people who last longer on this show than they perhaps should, buoyed by the votes of Breakfast Time viewers up past their bedtimes.  They went for a comedy feel, which was all a little frantic, and I’m not sure that the comedy was necessary as some of the movements were really not too bad and there was a surprising amount of content for a week 1 jive, but I didn’t really like it that much.  My score – 4.  Judges score -22

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Saffron Barker & AJ – I think the judges saw something different to me here.  It wasn’t bad but they were very enthusiastic about Saffron’s tango.  Maybe I was distracted by her Ariana Grande style high ponytail which flicked around so much that it lost the sharp staccato which is the trademark of the tango.    My score -4. Judges score -27

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Chris Ramsey & Karen – Performed a cha cha cha which had arms thrown all around the place and was stilted, but there was some hip movement and he looked like he was really enjoying it.  I think Chris will score highly for likeability and hope he will be around for enough week to build on these early glimmers of potential.  My score – 5 . Judges score -13

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David James & Nadiya– Ex- England goalkeeper David did a foxtrot to football anthem “Three Lions” and is going to face the problems all of tall sportsmen.  He did, and I don’t think the judges picked up on this, present his partner very nicely throughout the dance.  My score- 5.  Judges score -17

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Viscountess Emma Weymouth & Aljaz– Loved the pre-dance clip of them feeding giraffes at Longleat and giving rhinos a mud bath, this celebrity who I had never heard of had won me over quite a bit before she started dancing her cha cha cha.  There was real evidence of being able to dance here but it was all a little uptight, which given that it was week 1 is really what we should expect.  You can tell that she is going to get better and that’s one thing that Strictly viewers like (don’t be too good in the first couple of weeks).  My score – 5.  Judges score- 19

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Will Bayley & Janette – Paralympian table tennis player really threw himself into his quickstep from the off.  Head judge Shirley said his musicality was “off the charts”, although according to Shirley there were quite a few things that were “off the charts” in this season opener.  My score- 5 Judges score- 26

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Emma Barton & Anton – People are already saying that EastEnders actress Emma is Anton’s best chance to win this competition for the first time, hopefully he will not overdo the “comedy” which has kept him in even when his dancers haven not been up to much.  There’s certainly potential although their jive looked a little sedate compared to some of the other dance routines tonight.  Was this Anton getting the jive over and done with on a week when it doesn’t count as much?  My score -6.  Judges score- 23

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Catherine Tyldesley & Johannes – Pro dancer Johannes’ first dance with a celebrity was a very solid Viennese Waltz to “I Got You Babe”.  It was a bit skippy in places and there was the odd moment of disorientation after all that twirling.  My score – 6.  Judges score -20

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Alex Scott & Neil – Ex Arsenal/England footballer and now TV pundit Alex had the job of opening the show with a  pacy quickstep to “I Get A Kick Out Of You” (see what they did there?) in a costume which was pretty stunning.  Loads of personality if a little light on content.  Partnered with Neil Jones who has also not mentored a celebrity before and until tonight was best known as one of the victims in last year’s headline-grabbing “love rat scandal” and who inexplicably responded to the media attention by posting pictures of himself naked and draped over rocks.  My score- 6.  Judges score -21

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Dev Griffin & Dianne – I was really pleasantly taken aback by Radio 1 DJ’s foxtrot to “Build Me Up Buttercup”.  A real easy style to the dance that they always say is the most technically difficult of the ballroom dances performed with a surprising amount of lightness and grace.  My score -6.  Judges score -30

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Karim Zeroual & Amy – Hyperactive CBBC presenter Karim was always going to sell his dance and his cha cha cha was very strong with elements of other street-based styles which made it edgier and very impressive.  My score -7 Judges score -31.

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Michelle Visage & Giovanni – I love Michelle Visage.  I love her as a judge of “Rupaul’s Drag Race” I loved her on “Celebrity Big Brother” and I love her campaigning on behalf of gay rights over the years.  A 51 year old American mother of two needs to get round the voters early on as there is history of Americans and older women going out earlier than perhaps they should have done on this show and boy did she do it with a sassy cha cha cha full of attitude and great body movements.  I know that my heart is going to be willing Michelle and Chris Ramsey on week after week and that I’ll feel a little despondent when they both leave the show.  My score – 7 . Judges score -30

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Kelvin Fletcher & Oti– This is the big story of launch night.  Kelvin stood in after biscuit heir Jamie Laing injured his foot on the pairing up show.  So with less time to rehearse maybe we weren’t expecting that much from this ex-Emmerdale actor other than he looked good in his tight fitting costume.  But wow!  He and Oti pulled out a samba (a dance which so often goes belly up, especially for male celebrities) out of the bag which was the best dance we have ever seen on Week 1 in Strictly.  This took everyone by surprise and would have instantly silenced anyone saying that Oti stands an unfair advantage with her sister on the judging panel.  This made for terrific TV, and because he stood in at the last minute and because he seemed equally astounded by his performance the public are really going to get behind Kelvin who will not suffer from the “too good too soon” fate of some past celebrities.  On this showing and with this little rehearsal they might as well hand him the glitterball now and we can all find something else to do on Saturday nights before Christmas.  My score – 8 Judges score -32.

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My score for the first night show:

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(it didn’t even feel as long as usual)

Strictly Come Dancing began on Saturday 21st September at 7.00.  It is currently available on the BBC I-Player.

 

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Strictly Come Dancing 2018 – BBC1 – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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It’s back! Here comes the first TV show to be reviewed on this site twice.  Last year I wrote about The Movie Special, which I think was Episode 3 and complained that the series opener had “seemed to go on forever and was just a conveyor belt of people you either vaguely knew or hadn’t heard of.” 

Well, it was a fairly miserable Saturday night weather-wise last night so I, probably alongside most of the rest of the UK settled down for how long was it140 minutes !!! of the BBC’s (glitterball) jewel in the crown.

If last year I thought the contestants were not well known this year they are even less recognisable to the average television viewer.  There was almost a palpable despondency in the nation as contestants were named over consecutive days in a ploy to get our interest but which for many compounded their confusion.  What has happened to the big name contestants of yesteryear?  Or was that in fact just like long hot British summers of the past (not counting this year of course when we really had one)  something  that we all claim to remember but which never happened.  Certainly if you look down the cast lists of the first couple of series there are names you will struggle to recall.  Also, with the proliferation of easy-money celebrity reality shows perhaps on “Strictly” they have to work just too darn hard for their money.

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The show began with the professionals competing with water spouts on a mash-up of what we know now as the Moulin Rouge version of Elton’s “Your Song” peppered with some operatic voices.  This began outside at (I think) Somerset House and by “the magic of television” (and a Strictly Come Dancing staple) was transformed mid-way through into the studio.

With a long evening ahead of me (and a long week behind me which could have caused Saturday night fatigue- a posh way of saying falling asleep on the sofa) I  decided to be my own judge and give scores to the celebrities and their first offerings.  So here is my very own Strictly Score Card in ascending order.

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Susannah Constantine & Anton – Week one and Anton has decided once again to play up the comedy in this samba.  The “visual trick” of appearing as if she was wearing a voluminous dress didn’t work as we could see instantly see she was just standing behind it.  Anton camped it up to the hilt but couldn’t hide the fact Susannah was being dragged around.  The weakest dance by some way but viewers vote for the pair at the bottom of the leaderboard and especially for Anton so we can expect more of this for some weeks to come.  My score 2.    Judges score 12

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Seann Walsh & Katya – Seann is a comedian but I have not seen him before.  Tangoed to Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback” and was all the things Craig Revel-Horwood hates, stompy with splayed hands and overly aggressive.  Head judge Shirley Ballas suggested he “tidy himself up a bit” which seemed a bit off.  Two or three off the bottom of the judges’ leaderboard   is always a dangerous place to be when they start factoring in viewers’ votes so Seann will need to up his game a little next time if he isn’t going to be first off.  My score 4.  Judges score 18

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Katie Piper & Gorka – Waltzed to Adele’s “When We Were Young” and was a bit jiggly and stumbly.  In the bottom two of the judges score but I think she will garner a lot of public votes (as will Gorka).  My score 4.  Judges score 17

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Lee Ryan & Nadia – “Blue’s” Lee Ryan is always a little unpredictable on this kind of show.  He’s done a lot of reality TV in the past and you’re never sure what you are going to get or if he will last the course.  He’s taken a long time to do Strictly seeing as bandmate Simon Webbe did it quite a few years ago.  He also tends to muck things up when they seem to be going well, which may win the audience over.  I thought his waltz to the Eagles seemed quite safe and wasn’t that good but the judges were more enthusiastic.  My score 4.  Judges score  22

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Kate Silverton & Aljaz– Certainly won’t be going anytime soon as this combination will be popular with the voting public.  News and current affairs people always tend to last longer than their abilities suggest as viewers like seeing them let their hair down and Aljaz is one of the most popular of the professionals.  This cha cha cha to “Kiss” took a little while to get going but there’s potential there.  My score 5. Judges score 20

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Vick Hope & Graziano – With this pairing of probably the least well known of the celebrities and a new male dancer they really had to come up with the goods to put them on the map.  The choice of a potentially audience-pleasing jive might have been a little too much too soon but I actually thought she did quite well.  My score was as high as Bruno’s, the others marked lower putting her very much in the danger zone.  I would imagine that a slightly less demanding and frantic dance will lift her out of this next week, so perhaps lucky that we are not just voting on Week 1.  My score  6. Judges score 18

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Lauren Steadman & AJ – Winning a gold medal in Australia just before training will certainly endear her to the voting public.  Their waltz had nice spins but otherwise felt safe.  Judges liked it more than I did. Got the first mention of the Dame Darcy Bussell staple “a strong core”.  What has AJ done to his hair?  My score 6. Judges score  25

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Ashley Roberts & Pasha – Judges put this Viennese Waltz jointly on the top of the leaderboard.  Ashley will really have to prove herself to the British public with a dance background which led to a stint of judging on ITV’s “Dancing On Ice”.  We have fallen in love with her once before on “I’m A Celebrity” but she is really going to have to ensure she is quite high up the leaderboard week after week.  American competitors tend to go “before their time” on this show.  Came up with the truism of the week when she said of her dance “It’s just steps but it’s so hard.”  I like Ashley but I never totally rate the sheer twirliness of the Viennese Waltz so that might be why my score was lower than the judges.  Got the first “Gorge-ous” from Craig.  My score 6.  Judges score 29
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Graham Swann & Oti – Not being a cricket fan I’d never even seen this competitor before  the launch show and he didn’t look like he would be up to much.  There is the thing that cricketers do well on this show and have won twice and get good audience support but I was expecting “Dad dancing”.  To pair him with Oti was genius as each season she proves herself to be a great teacher and choreographer and this once again showed in an enthusiastic samba to cricketing theme “Soul Limbo”.  My score 6.  Judges score 22strictly201812

Stacey Dooley & Kevin – I wouldn’t have known who Stacey was had I not seen a clip of her “Armageddon” documentary on “Gogglebox” the night before.  Did a crowd-pleasing quickstep with Kevin.  My score 6. Judges score 24

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Joe Sugg & Diane – Youtuber Joe looked absolutely petrified every time you saw him in the background behind Claudia so wasn’t expecting much yet he turned out a much better than anticipated jive with lots of good kicks.  My Score 6.  Judges score 27

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Dr Raj Singh & Janette –  A man who is going to be working long shifts in a real (not television) hospital during the week doing his day job and the odd spot on morning TV and fitting his training in around this.  You might as well give him the glitterball now and let’s move on to having Christmas.  The public will love him.  His cha cha cha to Whitney’s “How Will I Know” was overly gimmicky which was unnecessary as he was dancing really quite well.  Earned him the Dame Darcy Bussell difficult sentence of the week award (there’s always at least one) when she praised him on his smile; “Don’t wipe that ever off”.  I think we knew what she meant.  My Score-6. Judges score- 27

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Danny John-Jules & Amy – I love the theme to “Top Cat” which they turned out a very proficient foxtrot to.  Opened the show so deep in most viewers distant memories.  He’s going to be a strong contender and an obvious all-rounder.  Don’t know much about him, never watched “Red Dwarf” but surely there’s considerable dance background there.  Seemed very balletic.   My score  7.  Judges Score  27

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Faye Tozer & Giovanni – A predictably confident, long-legged cha cha which I really enjoyed but after over two hours of this I was decidedly wilted.  Chosen to close the show so obviously had impressed in rehearsals and put jointly on top by the judges.  My score  7. Judges score-29

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Charles Venn & Karen – Don’t watch “Casualty” so had never seen this actor before the launch show.  I think his cha cha cha to “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” was decidedly undermarked as it was dripping in style- although was it the red suit that distracted me.  Only Bruno marked it as high as I did and Shirley said it was too disco.  Perhaps that’s why I thought it just edged ahead as my favourite of the night.  Certainly one to watch.  I was a big Ore Oduba fan from the start a couple of years ago.  He had the same sort of easy style  and he really grew into the show. I think Charles could do the same here.  Don’t forget last year’s winner Joe McIntyre also came from the BBC hospital wards of “Holby City”.  My Score 7.  Judges score 25.

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So no clear favourite after just one dance but as always I am going to be with this show for the duration.  When the cast were announced I wondered if I might give it a miss this year.  I did a one-man protest over the moving of Bake Off to Channel 4 last year and refused to watch and then wavered and had to watch the first four episodes one after another on Catch-up.  I watched the launch show but it still hadn’t totally convinced me (too set-up even for a show that pretends it’s Sunday when it’s Saturday night).  This first episode has brought me well back into the Strictly fold.  There’s going to be a whole lot of dancing to watch this autumn.

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Strictly Come Dancing is on Saturday evenings on BBC1.  The first episode is available on the BBC I-Player catch up service.

 

Strictly Come Dancing – (BBC1 2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this ratings dominating titan of Saturday night entertainment before. I’ve certainly been watching it since its arrival on our screens in May 2004.  (Have you seen any clips of that first episode with the judges squashed on a small table with the whole thing looking decidedly low budget compared to what we have become used to now?) When the TV channel Watch screened the US equivalent “Dancing With The Stars” I used to watch that too, despite knowing few of the contestants and it feeling tortuously long.  Because we no longer hear much about that show in the UK I just had a look and have discovered it has been re-commissioned for Season 26.  (It’s aired more often than over there) and that 286 celebrities have taken part so far and that the current cohort includes singer Debbie Gibson and ex child-actor from the lovely “Malcolm In The Middle” Frankie Muniz. There, Len Goodman is still on the judging panel (alongside Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba).  You will also find the new home for UK version ex-dancers Artem Chigvintsev, Gleb Savchenko and Mark Ballas, the son of our new head judge Shirley.  So, there you go, a bit of fact-finding for you!

And onto last night’s Strictly, which was the Movie special, the first of the “big” nights where the BBC pulls out the stops (the others being the Halloween Special and the trip to Blackpool).  We can expect film-themed dances and great things in the costume and make-up departments.  For me, the weak link in last night’s show were some of the costumes.  The Buzz Lightyear outfit didn’t really work and looked like something off the shelf of a backstreet fancy dress shop (not sure how you could do it otherwise, to be honest) and I was trying to work out how the fat mouse fits into “The Jungle Book” until I discovered Aljaz was supposed to be Baloo the Bear.  Nothing was quite right about the Revd. Richard Coles’ Flash Gordon, costume, make-up nor performance.

strictly2But I’m being niggly because I do love Strictly.  The format is great.  It is just incredibly long at the moment.  The first episode seemed to go on forever and was just a conveyor belt of people you either vaguely knew or hadn’t heard of.  I much preferred the second episode last week as you had something to compare the celebrities with and the shortening of the time available to learn the dance for the second week throws an interesting spanner in the works which can shake things up.  I wasn’t that happy over the celebrity who went home, but I didn’t vote so I can’t complain.  At this stage of the series by the time I’ve got through the show the time allocated for voting has long gone.  There’s a too liberal use of the pause button in our house- it was about 10.00 pm by the time we finished it yesterday.

What I do like about Strictly is how many of us customise the show.  I’ve known people who press the fast forward button through all the judges’ comments (well actually it was all the judges apart from Craig), or through all of the training,  or all through all of the links (particularly when dear old Sir Bruce was in charge), or through the professionals’ group dance.  Probably more than any other show we use  our remote controls to turn it into the ideal package for ourselves.  I actually watch the whole thing but on the Sunday night results show I often fast forward the special guest performance and the bit when they’re sat on the sofa after having been saved by the public. 

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Is it possible to pick a winner this early on? Not really.  We need to see the celebrities grow and begin to settle into their dance journey.  The audience often tires of those who are really good early on (so beware Debbie McGee and Aston Merrygold), will support the no-hopers only for a while (although too long in the case of Anne Widdicombe, Judy Murray and Ed Balls) and will eventually favour those who we can see blossoming as the season progresses (as evidenced by the last three winners Ore Oduba, Jay McGuinness and Caroline Flack).  The “biggest names” tend to do well but are unlikely to win.  People who present early-morning television often do better than they should.

They got to hold the glitterball- winner of the last three seasons

It’s Series 15 and surely by now we’ve seen pretty much everything that we would expect to see (we haven’t seen anyone pass actually out at the judge’s bench due to stress and exertion but US viewers will no doubt recall the fainting of Marie Osmond!).  There were some thrilling dances last night including Aston Merrygold’s “Trolls”-based Cha Cha Cha, Alexandra Burke’s American Smooth (not up to the amazing Paso Doble of the week before) and the most heartwarming was Susan Calman’s take on “Wonderwoman”.  I would imagine that Brendan Cole’s partner’s chances would be a bit diminished by him challenging head judge Shirley Ballas (I like her) and getting told off by Bruno, but then Charlotte Hawkins probably should have gone out last week.  TV chef Simon Rimmer, Revd. Richard Coles and Ruth Lansford should all be fearing the dance-off but it’s the early days of Strictly and you just can’t tell………………..

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Still, I’m sure that everyone watching will talk about the show to at least one other person so it recalls the magic of television past when we weren’t all going it alone with box sets, catch-up and things we’ve recorded “so don’t talk about it yet!”.  The juggernaut rumbles on and I love it!

strictly12I couldn’t not have a picture of Brucie. 

Sir Bruce Forsyth 1928-2017

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In case anyone doesn’t know “Strictly Come Dancing” is on Saturday evenings on BBC1.  It is available to watch on the BBC I-Player.