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Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Strictly for elephants

It seems two hundred years since last I attended Dotheboys Hall. Actually it was more like one hundred and sixty. Ah well: how time drags… Among the many useful things I learnt – and here I don't really count formal lessons – were to smoke a cigarette smokelessly, and to spend time in the local pub, during school time, without making pub staff and teachers suspicious.

But I do not rate these 'aping the grown ups' activities highly; in no way did they add to my adult enjoyment. There were, though, three things that stick in my mind as having been worthwhile. The first was to play a reasonable hand of contract bridge, it being one of the few card games requiring skill, that can be enjoyed whether you win or lose. The second was to play a pretty fierce game of chess, and the third was to be able to waltz, quickstep, and foxtrot to a high standard. You see, in my young day, we actually enjoyed holding someone of the opposite sex closely, while moving elegantly together. For the last fifty years, dancing has been carried out in lines, or as far from your partner as possible. This seems a pretty pointless exercise when licensed cuddling was once available. Is romance totally dead?

I have seen occasional snippets of Strictly Come Dancing, a programme, as I understand it, that takes 'celebrities', matches them with professional dancers, and expects them to dance competitively against other, similar couples, on a knock-out basis. Many of the dances hark back to an earlier, more graceful time and there is some elegant and accomplished dancing indeed. A further 'nuance' is that, although the dancing is assessed and marked by a panel of professional dancers, the decision on who stays in and who is eliminated is determined by the vote of the home audience.

One might expect the audience to follow the professional judges, but it doesn't seem to work like that. John Sergeant, an amusing and erudite journalist is not, apparently, built to be a ballroom dancer, yet the audience seems to like him enough to prefer him to people with genuine skill, and aesthetic appeal.
He's been called a "dancing pig" and a "ballroom chancer" whose moves are "like seeing your grandad give a turn every Saturday night", and so far John Sergeant has borne it all with irrepressible good humour and a clodhopping clack of his Cuban heels.

But yesterday the former BBC political editor['s] … baby elephant moves on Strictly Come Dancing … won the adoration of the public and the frustrated irritation of the show's judges.
I wonder why audiences do this sort of thing. Is there an element of encouraging the less talented? One can read more about L'affaire Sergeant here.

Everyone knows that the first Strictly Come Dancing, in 2004, was deservedly won by Natasha Kaplinsky. This win did no harm at all to her career, although it caused other problems… It is less well known that Australian TV immediately copied the format and called it Dancing with the Stars. I confess to watching a few episodes – being Down Under at the time - having been surprised at the inclusion of Pauline Hanson, a right-wing Aussie politician, best summed up as being a rather less graceful, less charming version of the scintillating Sarah Palin. She had once held a parliamentary seat - Oxley - for a short time, and was promptly dubbed, by some erudite Aussie wag, 'The Oxley Moron'. Shortly afterwards, she was jailed for some irregularity. Oh dear! She never recovered.

Anyway, she progressed steadily through the competition, displacing many others with more grace, talent, and charm, until she reached the final. One wondered whether or not she would end up winning, either due to her political appeal, or to the perverse, larrikin, convention-adverse nature of the average Australian. In the event, she lost and (I think) a young man of considerable talent, whose name escapes me, deservedly prevailed.

I do not wish to draw parallels between John Sergeant and Pauline Hanson, but might there be a similar audience belief in supporting the underdog? Everyone, including, I suspect, the audience that voted for the Oxley Moron, could hardly have thought her a good dancer. Did they want to humiliate her, poke fun at the judges, or simply demonstrate their independence?

We shall have to see what happens in the end. Will genuine ability win through or will the engaging charm and wit of John Sergeant overcome the British audience's supposed love of fair play? I can hardly wait to read about it.

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Well! Blow me down! I hardly expected John Sergeant to withdraw. See

While other commentators are raging about the judges, other competitors, and the bullying tabloids, I have only to point out that Pauline Hanson didn't do the honourable thing, Down Under, did she?

When I blogged 'I can hardly wait to read about it,' I didn't expect this...

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