Strictly Come Dancing’s golden oldies sparkled in the spotlight as the contest kicked off in earnest with the first live show of the season (BBC One). Angela Rippon, the oldest dancer in Strictly history at 78, earned the year’s inaugural standing ovation with her pro partner Kai Widdrington for a spirited cha-cha to Get the Party Started as interpreted by Shirley Bassey.
The party truly was getting started. After last week’s launch episode, competitors were taking their inaugural twirls on the floor. An action-packed, fun-filled instalment brimmed with tears, cheers and withering stares – and that was just judge Craig Revel Horwood assessing Les Dennis’s tango to the Human League.
Whatever about lumbering Les, Rippon isn’t here to make up the numbers. Her 1976 dance routine with Morecambe and Wise – the moment a stunned nation discovered newsreaders have legs – remains iconic in British television, and she seemed keen to deliver more of the same at Elstree Studios.
“Iconic” was also the word Widdrington had used in the build-up, revealing the two had cooked up a routine that would defy expectations.
“Being in Strictly is unlike any television programme I have worked in in the last 50 years,” said Rippon during her training montage, revealing that in rehearsals, she was more “Rigid Rippon” than “Sassy Bassey”.
Still, it all came together once the lights dimmed. Rippon and Widdrington, wearing matching silver costumes, grooved to Bassey’s take on the Pink! hit – a performance that culminated with Rippon pointing a leg skyward.
“That high kick!” gasped presenter Tess Daly. All Revel-Horwood could add was. “Jaw-dropping.”
“Have fun – that’s what we did,” said Rippon, who was delighted to receive a score of 28, temporarily putting her on top of the leaderboard.
The second oldest dancer, 69-year-old comedian Dennis was likewise determined to create a splash. He has expressed the hope that Strictly will boost his profile with younger viewers. Gen Zers tuning in will undoubtedly have sat up and paid attention as he and pro partner Nancy Xu bopped to The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me.
The judges tried to be polite. “You know, you gave it a go,” shrugged Revel Horwood. Dennis received 16, rooting him in last place. He’s surely a candidate for an early exit when the eliminations begin in week two.
Rippon’s fellow newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy did better, performing a cha-cha to Boom Shack-A-Lak by Apache Indian. A masterclass in dad dancing, it put the Channel 4 journalist in pole position to be this year’s Ed Balls: the “flailing upwards” celeb who wins a place in the public’s affections through sheer enthusiasm.
Yet, for all his exuberance, Guru-Murthy was a long way from headline news. Bragging rights went to the final dancer, Casualty actor Nigel Harman. With pro Katya Jones, he performed a paso doble soundtracked by Smells Like Teen Spirit – and it was pure Nirvana.
“I wouldn’t want to be in the competition with you around,” purred Revel Horwood. Harman moshed his way to the top with a score of 32.
Harman has put himself in the frame for the Glitterball Trophy. Of course, Strictly, week one isn’t about winners and losers. This was a chance for the celebs to place first-night nerves behind them and for viewers to get a sense of who would be worth cheering across the next three months.
It wasn’t spectacular – first night rarely is – but it was fun, and that’s what mattered.