When I was a child I read a lot of Agatha Christie. All 66 of her whodunnits. My mum started me off on Hercule Poirot’s Christmas when I was 11, and I sat in my bed for hours reading the story of a man done in at a posh festive party.
One minute the guests are sashaying under the chandelier; the next the lights go out. When they come back on, there is a body, a pool of blood and police at the door. I even remember the name of the victim – Simeon Lee. You never forget your first murder.
In life, all of us want the chandelier without the corpse. The perfect party is where we arrive, laugh, chat, dance to loud music and then get home again safely. But those are the forgettable nights. And Strictly Come Dancing does not do forgettable.
So when the lights went down on the first programme, one of us had to go. They used a polite word – “elimination” – but to everyone else at the party it felt like murder on the dance-floor. Iwan Thomas was the first victim.
To make it worse, he then had to drag himself back up as the credits rolled and lurch around to We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters, possibly the most appalling choice of exit music since a bride and groom in Cardiff asked for the theme of the Robin Hood movie (“Everything I do, I do it for you”) and ended up walking out of church with the speakers playing, “Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen”.
Iwan, a former sprinter, was a great sport in every sense, as was boxer Anthony Ogogo who followed him. To clarify, just in case my Agatha Christie analogy has confused anyone, neither man actually lost his life. Yet what happened felt just as final.
Which brings me to my point. For all the ticker tape, the immaculate layers of foundation and lip balm, the lights bouncing off the almost-mirrored tips of many a black dancing shoe… Strictly is a programme that revels in the brutal ending. It positively Revel Horwoods in the gruesome dispatch.
After each body-in-the-library moment, we file out of the studio meekly, trying to unsee what has just befallen one of our friends. In week two a producer greeted the survivors with the magical line: “Everyone OK? What a brilliant show!”
As a child, reading all those Agatha Christie books, I loved trying to guess whodunnit. But after a while I found another game just as engrossing. Read the first chapter slowly, and as the guests all assemble under the chandelier, try to guess who will be the victim.
Which is how we start every Strictly. We party, we laugh and we dance as spotlights chase the air around us. We glance around the lavish scenery and smile. But our hearts are in our mouths because we know what’s coming. When the lights go out, we stop breathing and wonder who has been taken. Sometimes you need a murder for a brilliant show.
Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC1 today (Saturday 24th October) at 6.35pm