Alex’s End of Year Prizes 2016

Happy Boxing Day one and all! Hope you are having a lovely Christmas so far, whatever you may be up to (cue festive emojis 🎅🎅🎅 🎁🎁🎁 🎄🎄🎄). Today’s blog sees the third annual giving out of my End of Year Prizes. 

2016 has, it’s safe to say, been an odd mistress of a year, but has been regardless packed full of some great music, TV, film and books. 

So plump a cushion up, make a cuppa and grab some more Fox’s biscuits / Quality Street / Twiglets as I dish out my awards to the great and good of this year…


AND THE WINNER IS: DNCE for “Cake by the Ocean”!

It was a very close run thing deciding between this and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” as my overall favourite of 2016. However, the former Jo Bro, Joe Jonas, rose from the embers of his Disney Channel past in his new band this year, with a unabashedly upbeat, funk driven pop anthem that was just a little bit rude but a sneakily charming track regardless.



10 years ago, with the relative underperformance of their third album “Studio 1”, it would have been incredibly easy to dismiss the notion of the 90’s coolest girl group ever doing another album. But following on from a successful stint supporting Backstreet Boys in 2014, Melanie, Nicole, Shaznay and Natalie reconvened to record and self release their blinding fourth album and top 3 smash “Red Flag”, as well as sellout a headline tour (which I met them on in Southend. Go 9 year old me!). And 2017 promises to be even more exciting for the ladies as another new album is in the pipeline, as well as supporting Take That on their summer stadium tour. Bring it on, bring it bring it on now!


AND THE WINNER IS: Joanna Lumley!

The ever ageless, ever fabulous national darling not only hit the big screen in style this year (more of which later), but also continues to reposition herself as a one woman Michael Palin with her brilliant travel series on ITV, this time taking in Japan and the Transsiberian railway, with all the captivating, witty and engaging insight we’ve come to expect from her.


AND THE WINNER IS: Strictly Come Dancing!

In a series that’s been, as now departed head judge Len Goodman put it, better than a bit of cheese with a pickled walnut, this year’s Strictly has dazzled as the strongest and most memorable series it’s had in years, with a high entertainment factor, dazzling contestants and a brilliantly gifted Glitterball trophy victor in BBC sports commentator Ore Oduba (that Jive. Nuff said). And serious props especially, has to be given to any primetime Saturday night show that gets former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls doing a samba to Gangnam Style. More than a SEVERRRN from me for sure.


AND THE WINNER IS: Sue Perkins for “Spectacles: A Memoir”!

Again, very close run battle this category, with Miranda Hart’s long awaited “Peggy and Me” also in contention for the title, but the now departing host of “The Great British Bake Off” and one half of one of Britain’s funniest double acts with Mel Giedroyc published an autobiography that was as riotously hilarious as it was genuinely touching. The chapter recounting her filming of a TV show about off road Land Rover driving in Asia with Liza Tarbuck is an absolute hoot in particular.


AND THE WINNER IS: Olly Murs for “24 HRS”!

Seven weeks after we heralded it the best album of his career, Olly scored his fourth consecutive UK number one album, and is now hurtling to another platinum disc with a record that stays true to his very ethos as an artist and performer that is packed with hits in waiting as usual, but with his most mature and confident approach to date. Expect this to be another million seller by this time next year!



The Northern legend who started his career as a tea boy for Stock Aitken Waterman in the 80s, before going onto become an actual pop legend in his own right with “Never Gonna Give You Up” on both sides of the Atlantic in 1987, made a blinding return to the top of the UK charts this year with the excellent “50” album, his first new material in over 10 years. With a new tour planned for next year, he remains as timeless now as he did 30 years on from his debut.


AND THE WINNER IS: Tom Fletcher!

McFly frontman, singer, songwriter, guitarist. Vlogger. Twice winner of Dad of the Year. Wedding speech legend. Joining that little pool of Tom’s endless talents this year was “children’s author”, as following on from his “Dinosaur that Pooped” series of picture books with bandmate Dougie Poynter, he published his beautifully heartwarming first novel for young readers in “The Christmasaurus”. This time next year he’ll take to the stage for a sold out run of a live adaptation of the book at Hammersmith Apollo – which if this preview at this year’s Royal Variety Performance is anything to go by, will be equally epic.


AND THE WINNER IS: Absolutely Fabulous – The Movie!

So as we mentioned earlier, Joanna Lumley is (sort of) a double prize winner this year, as along with her partner in crime/comedy Jennifer Saunders, they returned in some serious style as Edina and Patsy for a successful big screen jaunt of Ab Fab that proved to be as hilarious as the original TV series was. It’s a two hour caper with gags and cameos a plenty.


AND THE WINNER IS: Michael McIntyre!

One of Britain’s best stand ups of the last decade ventured unsuccessfully into judging Britain’s Got Talent and hosting a short lived chat show, but he finally came into his own this year with the launch of his “Big Show” variety series filmed at the London Palladium for BBC One, which has already had two successful runs and returns for a third in 2017. The “Celebrity Send to All” game in particular (here’s Geri Halliwell’s one), is the most inspired feature in a primetime entertainment show since James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.



In a year full of some almighty returns, the Southampton boy who bought UK garage to the world’s stage all the way back in 2000 made a triumphant return this year after half a decade out of the spotlight here in good ol’ Blighty. He scored himself a number one album with his comeback release “Following My Intuition”, highly praised live turns from Glastonbury to Ibiza, and top 10 hits a plenty with “When the Bassline Drops”, “Ain’t Giving Up” and “One More Time” to name but a few. And with 2017 boasting a sold out arena tour and further future hits to come, Mr David is well and truly the comeback kid.



It’ll be hard not to think of 2016, in years to come, as a year when we lost some of the most recognised and best loved figures in music, TV and film. As I sit here writing this today, the world is coming to terms with the passing yesterday of George Michael, at the age of 53.

But the one that had the most profound effect on me this year, and who is the deserved winner of my Icon Prize is David Bowie, whose first anniversary of his death at the age of 67 is but a few weeks away now. 

It’s easy to dissolve into platitudes, but his music, his innovation, his artistry and his vision broke down barriers and paved the way for much of what followed in the pop culture spectrum in subsequent decades, and it’s unlikely to be bettered or replicated by anyone. He will remain an icon for years to come.
Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone for reading and supporting the blog this year. See you all in 2017!

Much love always,

Alex  😄 😄 😄 x x x


Strictly the Best: My Top 5 Routines as head judge Len Goodman bows out on top

This weekend’s final of BBC One’s ever entertaining pro celebrity ballroom contest Strictly Come Dancing will be topping off a series to remember. Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton’s spectacular Jive. Louise Redknapp and Kevin Clifton’s seriously hot Argentine Tango. And Ed Balls doing a Salsa to Gangnam Style. I’ll say no more.

But it’s also tinged with sadness, as this is the last series for the show’s evergreen, quick witted head judge Len Goodman. Yes, after 14 series of hollering “SEVERRN!”, pickling of walnuts and “all that mucking about”, he will raise his score pavelboards one last time tomorrow and of course, on this year’s Christmas Day special.

With that in mind, I thought I’d present to you my own “10s from Len” and take a look back at what I believe to be the show’s five greatest routines of all time…


I’d watch bits of the first series of Strictly when it arrived on screens in spring 2004. But it was when the show returned for its second series that autumn that I became a fan. And this fun, fast and uplifting jive from the EastEnders actress and original professional Darren – that also scored the first perfect 40 in the show’s history – was why.


The McFly drummer proved he had the moves as well as the rhythm when he went onto win the show’s ninth run in 2011, and he had many memorable dances that saw him top of the leaderboard week after week, but this dazzling and athletic quickstep he and Aliona did to The Pretenders’ hit “Don’t Get Me Wrong” was his personal best for me.


Len himself once said that if the regular ballroom tango is a man dancing with his wife, then the Argentine tango – fierce, fiery and full of passion – is the man dancing with his mistress. It’s probably why it’s for me, when it’s done really well, my favourite dance on Strictly. When Girls Aloud star Kimberley reached the final in 2012, she and Pasha gave plenty of striking attitude and poise, with a great routine to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”.


It’s safe to say the rumba gets the hardest rap of all the dances on Strictly, partly because of how precise all the moves have to be and the slow, sensuous nature of it all – ask any male celebrity who’s done it, they always say it’s hard going. But Rachel – who, biased though I may be, was robbed of the glitterball trophy in 2008 – and Vincent’s seriously sexy and sophisticated routine to Paul Weller’s “You Do Something to Me” for me is the gold standard when it comes to this particular dance.


Pasha has made it to the final three times in the past, but he finally struck glitterball glory in 2014 when the ever lovely Caroline Flack was his partner. She got consistently better and better week after week. But it was their spectacular and sprightly Charleston to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” that was the crown in their Strictly jewel.

The live final of Strictly Come Dancing is tomorrow night at 6.40pm on BBC One. “Strictly Len Goodman”, a tribute to the show’s departing head judge is on BBC One next Friday, 23rd December at 7pm, and the Christmas special of Strictly is on Christmas Day at 6.45pm. Twitter: @bbcstrictly

My Ultimate Christmas Toys of Childhood

It’s fair to say I had some pretty spiffing Christmases growing up. Being in a family of seven as well, always meant that our living room on Christmas morning was a Technicolor haze of wild wrapping paper strewn abandon, like some sort of elf convention on steroids.

But we also had our traditions as well – we were always allowed one present before church, and then endured an agonising wait in our forever overheating Peugeot – named Betty for reasons best known to my dad – whilst our parents gasbagged to various friends and relations before we could finally get home to unwrap the rest of them.

It’s these memories I always think of most fondly of at this time of the year, especially with my niece and nephew who excitedly tell me about what they’re hoping to get from Santa this year. With this in mind, I thought I’d revert to my 5 year old self for this blog (pictorial evidence of actual 5 year old self napped out on Christmas Day above. I loved that jumper I’m wearing) and unwrap and recall my ultimate Christmas toys from childhood.

I think I may have talked before on this blog about the Christmas when the then Thomas the Tank Engine obsessed 4 year old me got the Hornby clockwork set of Thomas with Annie and Clarabel, with an “Island of Sodor” layout set up by my dad on Christmas morning. 

The following year, I got the big boy electric upgrade, with the classic 4472 LNER Flying Scotsman passenger train set. It only ever saw daylight the grand total of three times during the course of my childhood – and on all occasions under supervision from Dad (although really it was probably just an excuse for him to play too. Needless to say I still have it in our loft in supreme condition to this day.)


That same Christmas that the LNER’s finest steamed into my presents was also the same year I got this bad boy. Pingu was one of my favourite TV shows growing up – I watched my much loved VHS tape of it countless times over to the point that, if you are fortunate enough to meet me, I can do impressions of all the voices from it perfectly.

This playset of his igloo house from the series, along with figures of Pingu, his baby sister Pinga and Robby the Seal meant I could reenact my favourite episodes time and time again, and this was also my “before church” present that year as well. I believe my sisters all had jewellery as their “before church” present. The joys of being the only boy…


People of my age will doubtless remember the eternally grinning, frighteningly insincere Stepford wife-esque Anthea Turner making Tracey Island, the headquarters of Gerry Anderson’s cult puppet series Thunderbirds, out of household items on Blue Peter in the early 90s. 

I had one better however. I had the mini diecast models of the various Thunderbird rockets, but I also had this bad boy, which for some reason was renamed Thundercop 2 despite looking for all the world like the actual Thunderbird 2. An all spinning, rotating, bleeping and LED flashing haze of joy, I had many a happy hour playing with this, pretending I was one of the Tracey brothers – or Brains.


I was always one for a good board game or two over the festive season when I was little – a tradition I really miss and want to bring back in some ways. And one Christmas, my godparents got me what I believe to be quite simply, the God of all board games.

 MB’s Guess Who was a genius guessing game, with you and your opponent using “yes/no” questions as a process of elimination to determine who your mystery person on your tiled board was. (Mine was always Maria, on account of the fact the boy on the box pictured above looked a bit like me, 90s curtain hair and all).

This is on here purely for a funny family story – and by that I mean the stuff of legend and relentless ribbing in our house for several years after. One year – I have a feeling in one of the later childhood Christmases – myself and my sisters all got a furry white clockwork mouse, not too dissimilar to the one you see above.

I was born after Anna, our parents’ beloved Golden retriever passed away, so I, like Harmony Parker in The Queen’s Nose, was always a bit desperate for a pet of my own, to no avail despite my constant pleas to my parents.

However, I was less Harmony and more Lenny in Of Mice and Men when it came to tending for my clockwork mouse. To the point where, an hour after christening it Lawrence (after Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen from Changing Rooms), I wound the clockwork mechanism a bit too hard and broke it. Thus resulting in my sisters renaming him as “Ken Broken”, much to my 9 year old disgust.

What were your favourite Christmas toys from childhood? Leave your comments below or Tweet us @ThePensmith10 and let me know!