Strictly’s approach to its older contestants lacks some respect

What exactly is the point in casting a near-70 year old and then making a mockery of all his hard work, asks Susanna Lazarus

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I know what you’re going to say: Why shouldn’t older generations have a chance to compete on Strictly? You’re being ageist. What about John Sergeant? Anne Widdecombe? Some of the show’s finest moments have come from proud owners of freedom bus passes. I know, I know – and they’re all valid points, but there was something about Saturday’s episode of Strictly Come Dancing that made me feel uncomfortable.

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Watching poor Tony Jacklin panting and sweating as Tess and Aliona flapped around him had me wondering just what he was doing putting himself through a dance as energetic as the Charleston. And as he shuffled and slid his way through what Craig said should be “lively” and “frenetic”, it didn’t seem funny – and I certainly didn’t find it entertaining to watch.

By the time the judges had their say, the whole episode had drifted towards routine humiliation. Bruno allowed a hint of glee to creep across his face as he announced, “The most exciting thing about that was the jumper”, while Craig summoned his trademark acidity to declare it “limp, lame and lack lustre”. Neither had a single encouraging word to say and, in fact, it was Bruno who hit the nail on the head: “It wasn’t really a Charleston, was it?”

And it wasn’t. 69-year-old Tony’s efforts were brave but barely stood up against those of sprightly Sophie who bagged a whopping 36 points. It’s not much of a competition when one back flips and the other can barely speak by the final steps, is it?

Of course, Strictly’s not just about the competition. I know that – I’ve been watching it for the last ten years. I laughed myself to tears watching John Sergeant and duly fell in love with Anne Widdecombe as Anton dragged her across the dance floor. At 63 and 64, they both had buckets of charisma and made their respective contests the roaring success they were (so much so that Sergeant had to withdraw from series six for fear of winning the thing).

But with John and Anne there was an obvious, gleeful enjoyment. Last night poor Tony looked like a man whose confidence was being steamrollered.

To their credit, the remaining two judges had some nice things to say. “At 69, to come out and dance a very energetic dance, I commend you for that,” said Len, clearly a little star struck by his golfing idol, meanwhile Darcey reassured Tony he’d made an improvement on last week’s waltz.

But together the panel gave him just 13 points, three down from his opening dance, with stony-faced Craig awarding a measly two. “It gets worse,” lamented Tony, and worse it got when he landed in the dance off with Julien MacDonald. 

At 42, the Welsh fashion designer had agility on his side but his tango was jilted, awkward and stompy – in essence, a horror to watch and against any other competitor a guaranteed ticket home. And yet versus his elderly rival, Julien came across positively twinkle-toed – and it didn’t take long for all four judges to bring Tony’s brief stab at dancing to an advisable end.

Now, I’m not suggesting a cast iron “no over-60s” rule. I’m not even saying Tony shouldn’t have competed – if he wants the challenge, that’s his choice and at times it must have been great fun to try his hand at a new skill, albeit one he wasn’t particularly good at.

But I do think Strictly’s approach to its older contestants lacks some respect. What exactly is the point in casting a near-70 year old and then making a mockery of all his hard work? Couldn’t Craig have found one encouraging word to say? Did Bruno have to laugh? Couldn’t they both have taken a leaf out of Len’s book and given Tony a pat on the back?

Had they done so, his dancing may have made for easier viewing. As it stands, I’m glad Tony left the competition, if only to avoid his best efforts being ripped to shreds every Saturday night. 

 


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