13 October 2011


The judges lost some of their credibility for me this week, you know. Over many years of Strictly Come Dancing, they've contributed their own slice of panto by declaring that the public are voting for the wrong couples, and that it is a dancing contest rather than an entertainment show.

We had this with John Sergeant. Last year we over-memorably had it with Ann Widdecombe (though in truth, she left at the right time - after every other dancer not good enough to win the competition, leaving behind four who were, plus Gavin Henson), and presumably this year we're going to get it too.

The problem is, the judges have seemingly thrown in the towel and bought the entertainment argument. How else could you explain their marks for Russell Grant?

He is Strictly's elephant in the room this year, and that's not a comment made unkindly. With the appropriate and christ-motheringly predictable Dancing Queen in the speakers, he paraded and camped about in a pink feather boa and royal blue windcheater of kinds, the usual daffy grin on his face, while Flavia Cacace did all the work. Oh, of course, it was funny, and entertaining, and all the other things in the remit of Saturday night telly.

But the judges fell for it, as if they couldn't be arsed arguing for another year. So up went the 6s and 7s, and everyone cheered. Hooray!

Cacace was livid - eyes down, mouth downturned, headshake - when she and her partner Jimi Mistry got the boot last year. He was in the bottom two alongside the considerably inferior Michelle Williams, and the public got rid. They essentially dumped him because he was a middling actor of limited recognition with a northern accent and the glamorous American pop star who kids once worshipped will always get the nod. One assumes Cacace will be equally livid when her partner boots aside abler contestants as this year's contest go on, because it's going to happen.

Grant hasn't done a ballroom dance yet, and maybe he'll be good at that. But as the ballroom dances demand discipline and drama, and he's having to use the "look at me, aren't I just so much fun" dollar as his ticket into the next week, he's got his work cut out. I like him, he is personable - and lordy, there are some others taking themselves fantastically seriously this year - and just wants the thrill. He's going to have to work harder to maintain it though. The public will only keep him there for so long, the question is whether it'll be too long.

He is easily the most interesting contestant in these early stages. The rest are busy putting themselves into the usual groups. The natural dancers - Jason Donovan, Holly Valance, Anita Dobson; the triers who will get better - Chelsee Healey (eugh), Robbie Savage (highly praised and then bizarrely undermarked last week), Alex Jones (looking good), Harry Judd; the outsiders with mild potential - Rory Bremner (he's my new decent bet as a winner, actually), Dan Lobb; and the ego-driven lumps of uselessness - Audley Harrison, Lulu and Nancy Dell'Olio.

Those last three are excruciating to watch off the floor, let alone on it. Harrison's introduction as "Olympic champion boxer" immediately reminds everyone that he had ten rubbish years as a pro afterwards, and when in the bottom two against the unlucky Edwina Currie last week said he'd be sorry to "get back on the plane home", therefore also revealing that he didn't even live in the UK any more. He's better than the last boxer to appear, but at least Joe Calzaghe ended his stint on both arenas with a world title and a glamorous dancer girlfriend.

I've always disliked Lulu. Her first dance was hilarious, the epitome of the arrogant showbiz starlet who assumes that 40+ years on stage and screen would be enough to get her through it. You could tell from when she was first paired with Brendan Cole that she didn't respect him, and the opening dance proved it. That seemed to act as a wake-up and she improved last weekend, but it would be fantastic to see her ditched by the public as quickly as possible. They tend not to forget.

As for Nancy Dell'Olio, well, what a mess. "Lawyer and media personality", they call her. No. She's Sven Goran Eriksson's ex and that's the only thing that's got her on the show. And I know Len Goodman is in his 60s and she's a good deal younger, but I wouldn't have relished an accidental sight up her skirt when she stood on the judges' table last week. I'm sure they give Anton du Beke these duds deliberately. His demeanour and reaction to the the judges' rightful hammerings wins Dell'Olio half her battle. I can only assume the recruitment team looked at the Pamela Stephenson phenomenon last year and tried to replicate it - trouble is, Dell'Olio has no talent, not a great grasp of English, zero charisma, little visible work ethic, adores herself too much and has no history with the British public.

Strictly has made me like Alex Jones for the first time, have sympathy for Rory Bremner as he manfully tries not to use impressions on the live show to curry favour with anyone and remind myself that there never was a better time for EastEnders than when that manic grin of Anita Dobson was behind the bar. Jason Donovan should win, but right now up to half a dozen are in contention.

12 October 2011

The perfect blend

I don't do movies at all, but in the process last week of going through the latest cinema releases for the benefit of radio listeners, I noticed something that interested even me.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is a new movie now showing somewhere near you. Check local press for details, and all that. It stars Katie Holmes and, among others, Guy Pearce and Alan Dale.

Or, if you prefer, Mike Young and Jim Robinson.

I watched The King's Speech on DVD earlier this year and enjoyed Guy Pearce's turn as Edward VIII. I knew that he'd made it in Hollywood after leaving Ramsay Street, but as someone who held the tiresome - and, rather insulting - received wisdom that all Aussie soap actors were somewhat limited in their abilities, I assumed this was a one-off.

But Alan Dale too? Well, of course, he made it on telly in America with Lost and The West Wing after Jim Robinson suffered his final, melodramatic coronary, but even so, seeing these two former budget telly colleagues next to each other on a big new film that presumably the world will watch is somewhat quirky. And, while it may not necessarily endorse Australian soapland as a major breeding ground for global acting greats, it certainly enhances what has always been a rather demoralising reputation.

Simultaneously, Jason Donovan is the bookies' favourite for Strictly Come Dancing (more on that another day). Kylie Minogue and her little sister are still pop superstars with occasional diversions into reasonable acting roles when they feel like it. I expect there are numerous other actors from that background now doing very nicely indeed both in terms of their work and their reputations.

For me, undoubtedly without any fairness at all, the Aussie soap will be associated with hams for as long as that scene where Sharon Davies, trying to slim into model shape by just Not Eating, fainted into the swimming pool with all the natural grace of a giant redwood getting stuck mid-fall on an obstinate twig, remains in the memory. My father's incredulous snort when that scene was completed will live with me forever.

None of this suggests that Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is any good, though as the lead role is played by a child, it will probably receive some kind words, irrespective of what is merited. The sequel, Still Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, Cobber will feature comebacks for Kristian Schmid, Ashley Paske and Lucinda Cowden. And there will be an offscreen role for Len Mangel, obviously.

EDIT: I've found it! This is Neighbours legend, this, right up to the bit where Bev gives the lecture about not "paying too much attention to the images promoted in advertisements"...