It seems hard to believe, but Len Goodman is about to pack up his tux, surrender his paddles and give away his chair at the Strictly Come Dancing judging table.
Announcing the decision in July, he commented: “This adventure began when I was 60 and now that I’ve reached my 70s, I’ve decided after this year it’s time to hand the role of head judge to someone else.”
Len’s last Strictly Final has been and gone, but we’ve still got the Christmas special to say one final goodbye to the head judge. Here are the se-VEN things we will miss very, very much.
1. His wary expression when Bruno Tonioli starts gesticulating
That’s the look of a man who has been hit in the face one too many times.
2. His excellent delivery of puns and wordplay
Are they off the cuff, or does he sit at home at night, pondering whether Claudia Fragapane has gone from “gymnastic to fantastic”? Does he stare down at his porridge and wonder how to work “oaty” into a pun about Oti Mabuse? Does he circle 5th November in his calendar and jot down, “It’s firework night and you’ve come back with a bang”?
Whatever he does to prepare, Len has a way with words – and who can resist his smile of satisfaction as he delivers a Len-ism? Here are some of our favourites:
“That was a mango of a Tango. Delicious” – Jay McGuiness and Aliona Vilani Tango to When Doves Cry
“There are two things I don’t like in this world: babies crying and hip hop” – Kellie Bright and Kevin Clifton Samba to Boom! Shake The Room
“I don’t know about Long Tall Sally, that was Fast Foot Danny” – Danny Mac and Oti Mabuse Jive to Long Tall Sally by Little Richard
“I was expecting Fred and Cringe. I got Fred and Ginge” – Judge Rinder and Oksana Platero Quickstep It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
“Tickle my bum and call me Donald!” – Helen George and Aljaz Skorjanec Viennese Waltz to At Last
“It was like a cow pat on Countryfile. Hot and steamy” – Anita Rani and Gleb Savchenko Tango to Cell Block Tango
3. When he gets grumpy at the audience
Len embraces his grumpiness (I mean, his Twitter handle is even @GrumpyLGoodman, so that’s commitment).
But we can see why Len gets annoyed at studio audiences: he has been doing this for 50 years, so why do they feel the need to boo when he gives constructive criticism?
4. Talking of which, Len knows his stuff
Strictly’s head judge is passionate about technique. He’ll go mad for a Maypole in a Samba or a “tasty heel turn” and he loves to see dances full of little details and classic moves.
With his extensive knowledge, Len won’t take any nonsense – woe betide the pro dancer who tries to slip in an illegal lift.
But unlike Craig Revel Horwood, Len likes to give praise, if he can. Rather than revelling in nastiness like a pantomime villain, he always seems regretful when he has to give a dancer a scolding or bring up a technical problem. There’s usually a silver lining with Len, who gave Ed Balls some pointers while readily admitting: “You may not be the judges’ favourite, but you are the people’s champion.”
5. When he clashes with Craig
You can tell just how much Len cares that the contestants get fair feedback and fair marks. Most of the time he’s content to agree to disagree with Craig, but when the stakes are high – and when he thinks Craig is totally wrong – he can get FURIOUS at his fellow judge, bellowing at him: “WHAT ARE YOU ON ABOUT?!”
One row over a Rumba got so heated that Bruno Tonioli ran over to hide behind presenter Tess Daly, who joked: “Stay here with me, darling, it’s safer.”
It’s a good thing Darcey sits in the middle to keep the peace.
6. He’s always game to join in
Oh yes, that’s Len in the back holding a jar of pickled walnuts. At 72 he may not be as sprightly and light on his feet as he used to be (leaving the more adventurous moves to Darcey, Bruno and Craig), but the head judge still finds joy in dancing and is always game to take part.
He comes into his own during Len’s Lens, often jumping to his feet to demonstrate where the celebrity dancers have been going wrong for the benefit of Claudia Winkleman and his millions of fans at home.
Plus we hear that he’s due to perform a special farewell dance during the Christmas special. So watch this space…
7. He is the father (or grandfather) of Strictly Come Dancing
It has always seemed that the other judges have looked up to head judge Len like an old, wise grandfather. He’s been there since the beginning, and he is a key personality in the show.
Replacing him will not be impossible – the show is larger than Len – but whoever is chosen will have big (dancing) shoes to fill.
Goodbye, Len – may your walnuts always be pickled and may you always keeeeep dancing.