Why were Torvill and Dean such a big deal in 1984? How Britain went mad for Bolero

As their story arrives on ITV this Christmas, it pays to remember how the skating legends united a divided country

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The biopic of sporting legends Torvill and Dean is set to be one of the drama highlights of the 2018 Christmas schedules.

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Screenwriter William Ivory’s feature-length telling of the Olympic fairy-tale about two working-class kids from Nottingham who changed figure skating forever with their iconic Bolero routine in 1984 a familiar rags-to-riches tale.

But why, 35 years on, is Jayne and Chris’s story of Olympic gold still so steeped in our culture? And why are their achievements so peculiarly suited to primetime TV in 2018?

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Poppy Lee Friar (Ackley Bridge) and Will Tudor (Game of Thrones) star as the ice skating couple who won Olympic gold in 1984 with their iconic Bolero routine (ITV)

As Torvill and Dean touched down in Sarajevo in February 1984 to compete in the Winter Olympics, back home millions waited for the darlings of the rink to seize their big moment. The public was praying for a victory, hoping it would unite a beleaguered, battered Britain.

Margaret Thatcher had just entered her second term as prime minister and looming on the horizon was the miners’ strike, which would dominate the year and leave a nation divided like never before.

As is often the case, when the real world is dark, people look for light and escapism.

Watching the news in 1984 was all doom, gloom and rising unemployment figures, but stay tuned and you’d be dazzled by a fresh breed of brash, bold pop stars strutting their stuff on Top of the Pops cheekily flouting the establishment, or be treated to glossy US imports like Dallas showcasing aspirational lifestyles and opulence.

Mainstream culture was full of colourful characters and confident, shiny optimism – completely at odds with what was happening in the real world.

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A country in crisis was in desperate need of positivity and inspiration, and Torvill and Dean provided all that and more. Theirs was a story with a happy ending. A glimmer of hope. Basically, a bit of good news.

I was eight when Torvill and Dean won gold and remember them being ubiquitous at the time. These shy, unassuming youngsters were on every chat show and every front page, their reserved nature and goody-goody image concealing the passion and artistry that gave birth to that famous four-minute routine watched by 150 million people worldwide.

A generation of kids spent their school playtimes prancing around the playground badly humming Bolero pretending they were on ice skates, or chucking on a bit of old purple curtain and dramatically throwing themselves across the living room carpet, attempting to imitate the routine’s dramatic climax as the clip was played on TV for the umpteenth time.

Or was that just me?

It’s hard to exaggerate their impact. Ravel’s Bolero even became a top 10 hit, released as a single to ride the wave of the piece’s newfound popularity, sharing the charts with the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Duran Duran.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean on Dancing on Ice

As well as the transfixing talent, the couple’s chemistry made their relationship a constant source of speculation. Were they? Weren’t they? Will they? After Charles and Di but before Den and Angie, Torvill and Dean earned a place as one of the most beloved couples of the decade. Even though they’ve denied ever being properly romantically involved, at the time we were all willing them to become a proper couple. It’s a question that’s still asked to this day.

I didn’t pursue a career in figure skating (thankfully for everyone) but I remain a huge Torvill and Dean fan. I’m still smarting after they were criminally undermarked during their Olympic comeback a decade later in 1994 (the travesty!). I never miss Dancing on Ice, though I get slightly irritated by the celebrity skaters even daring to attempt Bolero themselves (what do Chris and Jayne make of that, I wonder?).

Looking back, they were an important part of my 1980s’ childhood, capturing the imagination and proving that, with the right mix of talent, dedication, ambition and magic, nice guys (and girls) could finish first.

They also gave an anxious country, beset by divisions and infighting, something to smile about. Maybe the drama itself can achieve the same thing? Now, where did I put that purple chiffon…

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Torvill and Dean is confirmed to air on ITV on Christmas Day (Tuesday 25th December) at 9.15pm