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Thursday, October 28, 2021

How young they all look! Revisiting the original series of Strictly Come Dancing

The studio audience were seated at cabaret-style tables rather than in rows. Daly did post-dance interviews in a ramshackle corner of the backstage area with clothes rails and mirrors. If today’s breathless chats are conducted by Ms Winkleman in the “Clauditorium”, this was presumably the “Tessing Room”.

Lighting was unflatteringly bright, as if someone had left an overhead fluorescent tube on. The ballroom had the feel of a hotel lobby or leisure centre function room, giving everyone a queasy pallor. Camerawork was much less slick than what we’re used to now, missing footwork by focusing on faces or veering behind pillars at key moments.

The couples had six weeks’ training ahead of the launch show, meaning they hit the floor running. The standard of week one routines was higher than we get today, when the newly formed pairs have just a fortnight to rehearse. However, their improvement as they progressed through the contest was much less marked back then. Overall, the dancing was nowhere near as good and accordingly, scores were lower. The highest total of the series was 37 out of 40 for Kaplinsky’s sizzling samba. A perfect 40 wouldn’t be awarded until series two (for Jill Halfpenny’s famed jive).

It’s always been trickier for male celebrities, since they have to lead, so women rose to the top straight away. The first ever leaderboard was topped by opera diva Lesley Garrett and her partner, Anton du Beke, who doesn’t seem to have aged a bit in the intervening years. It seems he’s always worn a tie in the training room, though. Women occupied the top four places, men the bottom four. Take that, the patriarchy.

It’s not really a spoiler to say that the late Jason Wood would be eliminated first. Dickinson doing a disco dad cha-cha-cha to Sex Bomb was traumatic. Revel Horwood gave it a two, bless him, and bobby-dazzler Dickinson was sent home next. Actress Claire Sweeney, who had considerable West End experience, was the first celebrity to face “ringer” accusations. She duly finished fifth, despite being the second highest scorer on average.

England try-scoring specialist Martin “Chariots” Offiah came fourth, setting the trend for rugby players doing surprisingly well (see Matt Dawson, Kenny Logan, Austin Healey, Gavin Henson and Ben Cohen). Ugo Monye will hope that’s an omen for this year.

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