Operation Winkle

Monday, October 9, 2006 by

So, blog favourite Strictly Come Dancing is back, but as someone whose enjoyment of daring routines is tempered by the desire to avoid all potential for car-crash telly (I always left the room when Fiona Phillips took to the floor last year), I find myself in my usual mixed state of enthrallment and discomfort when it transmits.

However, the return also means the nightly magazine of Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two, a fabulously showy, indulgent, shameless, daring and – most of all – funny spin-off, consisting of interviews, analyses, flirtatious gimmicks and previews. The manner of this programme’s chucklesome, engaging manner is down almost entirely to arguably the most underrated hostess on television.

I’m a massive fan of Claudia Winkleman. I think she works cameras, earpieces and guests with a togetherness and sharpness which puts better-paid, higher-profile anchors to absolute shame. The first episode of It Takes Two saw her take on the assessment of icy judge Craig Revel Horwood (“One word Craig – ‘uhhhhh!’”) after his scathing attack on the over-exposed Matt Dawson’s opening routine, while also chirpily allowing ex-contestant Bill Turnbull – whose personality underwent a superb makeover through his participation last year – to reminisce about his own period under the choreographic gaze of many millions of dancing fanatics.

As we’ll undoubtedly see over the 13 further weeks ahead, Strictly Come Dancing will win in terms of viewers, skill, gloss, drama and actual talent, but will lose in terms of column inches. While the guff about The X-Factor (a show I cannot bear to watch under any circumstances whatsoever) will rule the tabloids, Strictly Come Dancing will supply the entertainment without heading for insult or bluster beyond the scripted idiocies of Revel Horwood and the equally hypercritical-for-effect Arlene Phillips. And at least these two are faced with a right to reply from celebs with nothing to lose and a partisan studio audience, as opposed to the fearful wannabes whom Cowell and co will destroy from top to bottom without any prospect of an argument or back-up.

Ray Fearon, a natural performer whom Coronation Street should have cherished more, is my early tip to win Strictly Come Dancing. As for Claudia, she could yet get the “promotion” to the role of Bruce’s stooge ahead of the clearly guileless (although not useless) Tess Daly. But frankly, holding your leg up to Brucie and asking Spoony if he danced differently when DJ-ing isn’t rocket science, even for the caveat of Saturday night primetime on BBC1. If you have a talent for conversation, then the big Saturday night billing isn’t the right vehicle for you.

So, Claudia should stay where she is. She is in command and control, and is utterly brilliant. The proof of that is the amount of laughter heard behind the scenes when she issues a curt one-liner; the type of which we only heard via Phillip Schofield whenever Trevor & Simon were doing a turn. The whole half-hour is based on fun, and it produces such every time – and for that the hostess needs all the credit she so far doesn’t seem to get.


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