An open letter regarding recent events on Strictly Come Dancing

Hello all,

It’s hard to have escaped anyone’s notice that this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing has suddenly become talked about by everyone and anyone this last week – and not necessarily for the right reasons.

I have now been watching the show since it’s second series (the Jill Halfpenny series to everyone else) in the autumn of 2004. Never before have I witnessed one of my favourite couples – and a hell of a lot of others – being voted off way before it was their time to go.

I think anyone who was reading last Sunday’s edition of #StrictlyLiveBlogging for the results show will have seen the shock that registered with me and many others when I learnt Aston Merrygold and Janette Manrara were in the dance off, and then that Craig and Shirley had voted them off. (And on a completely different tangent, for the first time all series, views and reads of the live show results blog outstripped the live Saturday show blog. Small mercies etc).

Admittedly, we are talking about a light entertainment BBC TV show here, and not life and death or political uproar. But as Holly Willoughby put it during the week, I can’t help but feel robbed by the events of last weekend, and so now I am going to have my say on what happened. I realise I will probably not be popular with some of what I say, such is the joy of the interweb, but I’m going to anyway.

Firstly then, to address one thing that has always got on my knackers immensely where Strictly is concerned. The ‘They’re quite good at dancing on virtue of what they do for a career – BURN THEM AT THE STAKE’ brigade. Every year this rotten, overtly pernickity lot have a target from that year’s crop who, as a result of negativity baiting from this lot, don’t perform as well as they rightfully should. Rachel Stevens took their bullets in 2008, as did Denise van Outen in 2012.

On account of backflipping quite a lot in JLS and now in his solo career, Aston has been their cannon fodder this year, and unfairly so, when he himself has said several times he’s self taught. And speaking as a JLS fan, I don’t recall them doing a Waltz to ‘She Makes Me Wanna’ or ‘Beat Again’ at any stage. Just saying. So I dare say the amount of click bait surrounding this since this series started, and accusations of him being ‘smug’ (couldn’t be further from the truth to be honest) have been a contributing factor in what happened last weekend.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love the comedy moments like Ed Balls doing a Samba to Gangnam Style or Russell Grant emerging from a closet dressed as a Fabergé egg. But if Strictly was full of those it wouldn’t be the show it is, same as if it was all naturally good dancers and dances it wouldn’t be the show it is. It gets the balance so right in that respect.

And then there is the fact that Strictly is about a good journey. Just look at Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton last year. OK, there were a couple of wobbly weeks for them after their American Smooth and Jive got top marks, but they came back stronger than ever from their dance off and won the whole thing. I saw the same journey for Aston and Janette until what happened happened last weekend. And in all seriousness, OK the Viennese Waltz wasn’t their absolute best dance but it wasn’t as awful as some people made it out to be, and certainly didn’t deserve the scores it got which I feel negatively impacted on the public votes.

And another thing that has made me irritated to read all week are the ‘You should have voted for them’ brigade, using that as some smug justification come sweeping generalisation of the people unhappy with the decision. It’s irritating especially for people like me who were voting for Aston and Janette every single week, last week included, and for seven weeks of loyalty are now rewarded with them not getting to do a Jive or Charleston or Argentine Tango (all three of which would have been amazing).

Which then leads me to the two people who, I feel, are even the reason I am now writing this particular blog. Step forward Ballas and Revel Horwood. It is obvious from recent weeks that Alexandra Burke and Debbie McGee are the ‘favourites’ of both Craig and Shirley, and they have duly begun a campaign of overmarking them (in some cases doing cringey bowing down before them) for quite average dances in a desperate bid to ensure they are in the final. 

I don’t dispute that they are great dancers, and in fact they’ve turned out some great dances thus far, but as with Danny Mac last year, who got overmarked heavily on quite average routines, that’s all there is. Where’s the story? Where’s the journey? Where’s the real competition keeping it interesting? Because I can’t see a story or journey, other than a painfully obvious glitterball victor come mid-December. It’s frankly a bit joyless.

Both Craig and Shirley – and the BBC – can deny it until they are blue in the face, but their deliberately tactical undermarking towards Aston and Janette last weekend is what put them in the dance off and ultimately off the show. And furthermore, if the BBC have any sense and are actually looking at the feedback online that Shirley has had since joining the show, not just for last weekend, but also the way she has been towards other contestants and pro dancers that have gone or are still in the competition – Charlotte Hawkins and Brendan Cole for one – they would do the sensible thing and either bring back Len Goodman or have Anton Du Beke as head judge for 2018. A technical judge of ballroom she may be, but a likeable personality as Messrs Goodman and Du Beke she has proved not to be thus far, instead exerting her power as head judge with all the conviction of a particularly smug school prefect with a clipboard and badge to prove it.

The person I have especially felt sorry for this last week is Janette herself – she’s one of the best Strictly female pros for me, an excellent choreographer and a wonderful personality, and yet she is taking most of the rap for her and Aston now being out of the show. But I also feel sorry for Mollie King and AJ, who equally didn’t deserve to be in the dance off with them last weekend, but are now the forgotten party in all of this. But, whilst I do love Mollie, and have loved virtually all her dances, in all honesty she’s not a contender in the way Aston was. And now the association with this dance off is probably going to have a knock on effect on how she’s voted for for the duration of her time in the show, which isn’t fair to her or AJ.

Aston and Janette have since said this week that they’ll film the dances they would have done for upload on YouTube eventually, and that he’s setting up a dance school with his fiancée Sarah in the new year. I am a firm believer in good things prevailing for good people eventually, and just as JLS proved to be the real champions with the better career 9 years ago, so too, I predict, will the same occur with his dancing. Everyone could see what Aston was capable of and he will undoubtedly shine and Janette will too.

As for this weekend’s #StrictlyLiveBlogging and the rest of it to come this series, that is still going ahead as planned, readers. But know that I am doing it whilst ensuring that Susan Calman and Kevin Clifton get my vote for the rest of the way. Someone’s got to have a journey to upset the judges’ favourites, and they are my chosen ones from this point onwards.

#StrictlyLiveBlogging returns this Saturday and Sunday evening here on the blog.


An open letter to Bob Shennan, controller of BBC Radio 2 re: Ore Oduba.

Dear Mr Shennan sir (ooh. Sounded like Basil Brush),

Hello to you. My name is Alex and I am 28 years old. About five years ago now, with my ever advancing age (mid 40 year old in a twentysomething’s body. Just saying), I made the glorious leap to listening to BBC Radio 2, the station you have been controller of for the last eight years. Ah yes, that oh so glorious leap, as Miranda Hart once observed, that you take when you stop pretending to be a teenager or down with ‘da yoof’, knowing full well you’re never going back to Radio 1 ever again. 

Radio 2 is just my cup of tea on all fronts. Whether it is Chris Evans getting me up in the mornings, Ken Bruce playing another round of Popmaster (one of these days I will call up and do it, chart nerd that I am), Sara Cox delivering some 80s grooves on a Friday night, Dermot O’Leary easing me gently into Saturday morning after a lie in, or Claudia Winkleman winding down my Sunday evening. (Although your recent schedule shift means I have to listen to Anneka Rice’s Happening on catch up, in lieu of her being shifted to a midnight slot. Is this how you treat a national institution, I ask? I digress). It’s their like the audial equivalent of slippers and a warm blanket.

But one addition to your schedules recently has me quite the happy and excited. Prior to his (well deserved) victory on Strictly Come Dancing last year, I quite liked Ore Oduba in his slot as sports reporter on BBC Breakfast. Of the times I was able to catch the show on a day off from work, I always felt – and still do – that he had a natural charm and flair that only a consummate professional can have (as well as being a dab hand with a jive and an American smooth. Again, I digress).

When Ore filled in for Steve Wright on his afternoon show for a week in August, it also turned out he was quite the natural on the airwaves. Friendly with a nice easy style, and actually just the sort of disc jockey (yes I said the word disc jockey. Again, 40 year old in twentysomething’s body) your station has needed in its schedules for a while.

So the news that he was going to be filling in for Claudia Winkleman’s Sunday evening slot whilst she did Strictly – that’s 12 to 13 whole weeks people – coloured me very excited. And last Sunday my excitement was confirmed to be well placed. Ore has proved himself not just able to fit comfortably into filling in for staff absences, but to be more than capable, I think, of having his own show full time (Ore, if you are reading this, because I know you are one for being overwhelmed by praise, please don’t cry good sir. Just speaking as I find).

Now Mr Shennan sir (again, Basil Brush. What is with that?) whilst I’m not suggesting Jeremy Vine needs bumping off the airwaves any time soon, or that Simon Mayo needs to drive off for longer than the drivetime slot (although Vanessa Feltz needs vacating greatly. Some things are best left in the 90s), consider this. If the personality and appeal is there for a presenter, surely it’d be silly not to make the most of such an opportunity?

No pressure of course, you understand. And my Strictly live blogging duties for the results show on Sunday night aside, Ore Oduba has a guaranteed listener in yours truly. Here’s to hoping I am not alone in such an activity.

Yours with kind regards etc,

Alex MacGregor.