I'm a "Strictly" fan. "Strictly Come Dancing", that is, for those who don't recognise the term. I can't handle the bear-pit of "The X-Factor" or those "we will make you a star"-type programmes, but "Strictly Come Dancing" is highly entertaining, involves people who already know what celebrity means, and usually features some very good dancing - especially by this stage in the competition.
This year I've been suffering a bit with "Strictly", though. One of the contestants was Ann Widdecombe, the retired former MP for Maidstone. She's a very short, very stout, very stiff (physically and in character) sixty-something with a very high opinion of herself, and she has been painful to watch. She simply cannot dance. Last night she and her professional dance partner (the rather odd but very patient Anton du Beke) were finally voted off. Next week is the semi-finals. The worst dancer they've ever had on the show nearly made it to the semis.
The public are very odd sometimes.
I don't agree with most of Ms Widdecombe's views, but that isn't why I've found it so hard watching her progress. She is, all questions of politics and religion aside, a game old bird, and she's stuck at this like glue for ten weeks. I respect determination, even in people I disagree with. But oh boy, she was so awful; and she got worse and worse, when other weak contestants have got better.
As far as I can gather, people have not voted for Ann Widdecombe out of liking or loyalty, or enjoyment of her dancing; they've voted for her partly because they are laughing themselves silly at her, and partly out of a desire to blow a raspberry at the judges. I haven't come across anyone who actually thought she deserved to win.
The unfortunate judges, whose job is to watch and guide the contestants and give them a critique of each week's performance, have over the years been shifted in the audience's view from being respected for doing their job to being abused for it. At first they tried to give Ms Widdecombe sensible advice, but she has been completely resistant to their tips (partly, in fairness, because she was physically incapable of acting on most of them), and the audience, having decided she was the best joke they'd seen all year, proceeded to boo and harrass the judges at every turn for daring to criticise their darling, and to cheer them to the rafters if they ever made a friendly comment (nothing so unlikely as actual praise, but remarks such as "I thought it was funny").
There were a couple of other very bad dancers in the initial line-up, but also a lot of middle-of-the-road also-rans. Many of the also-rans were far better than Ms Widdicombe; they were voted off ahead of her. Michelle Williams, for example, could have progressed a lot further (& I did enjoy watching her learn to control her enormously long limbs - tall women dancing rock!), as could Jimi Mistry and Tina O'Brien. None of them was terribly likely to be the final winner, true, but it is unpleasant to see someone who is working their a*se off and making real improvment ditched by the voting public in favour of a spectacle as ugly as Ms Widdecombe's attempts to dance.
Ms W herself appeared to think she had become the Nation's Favourite (rather than the "f*** it" brigade's) because of her charming personality and sense of humour; I don't think it ever occurred to her that many of those laughing were laughing at, not with, her. But laughing at a stout old lady making a fool of herself isn't entertainment...
And now, finally, she's gone. Thank you, heaven.
This leaves us with a line-up for the semi's of four very capable dancers, plus the gormless Gavin, who is slowly getting a bit better but still isn't anywhere near the rest. He's is also a preening wally, convinced he's flippin' terrific for no good reason except his enormous personal vanity. So I hope he's one of the semi-final knock-outs next week.
Who the other should be, I'd hate to guess. Who it will be, even harder. The voting public don't seem to be too hot on Scott Maslen, who is a funny-looking chap from the soap "Eastenders", although at his best he's excellent. Pamela Stephenson becomes more elegant by the week and Kara Tointon has looked like a dancer since week one. But Matt Baker has been a real surprise for me. I watch "Countryfile", so I had seen him in action many times, but I would never have guessed I'd end up with an out-&-out crush on him. I mean, he's an amiable enough fellow, and presentable in a skinny way, but if you'd asked me who was the best-looking "Countryfile" presenter I would have said "Adam Henson" without hesitation. Now, suddenly, I see that Mr Baker is in fact a sex-god... There really is nothing so gorgeous in a man as being able to dance.