Since it first hit our TV screens in 2004, 'Strictly Come Dancing' has become arguably the biggest jewel in the BBC's crown, regularly pulling in over ten million viewers and frequently beating its ITV Saturday night rival, 'The X Factor', in the ratings war.
'Strictly.....' is the show that made 'proper' dancing hip and cool to a whole new younger generation with the kids now happily talking to their parents and grandparents about a waltz, quickstep, tango and paso doble. It is a programme and concept that works so well on so many levels being first and foremost, good, clean, family entertainment on a Saturday evening. The pairing of professional dancers with a diverse array of celebrity non-dancers of all ages and with very differing fanbases, be them football or rugby fans, fans of the 'soaps', or those tuning in to see how an ex-politician or newsreader might fare on the ballroom floor, all contributes to sending the ratings sky high. Then there is the competitive element of the show that we all love, the ability of viewers to influence the outcome each week, coupled with the fantastic glitzy outfits, the music and, the humour - provided not only by some of the hopeless celebrity contestants but also by the principal host and national treasure Sir Bruce Forsyth and, by the judging panel(Len Goodman, the camper than camp Bruno Tonioli, 'the pantomime baddie' and equally camp Craig Revel Horwood and the now departed Alesha Dixon). Package all of this together and it makes for a most potent formula that has a nation gripped and talking about little else for the best part of three months.
And it did not take the show's producers too long to realise that the concept which works so well on the small screen could work equally well in a 'live' setting touring the country's biggest indoor arenas. So for the past five years, barely more than a few weeks after the television show has reached its climax, 'Strictly Come Dancing Live' has taken to the road for hugely successful sell-out performances across the nation that this year included two dates at the Manchester Arena just the other week.
Adhering firmly to the old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', very little gets altered from the TV show to the 'live' touring production, save for a few tweaks here or there but basically it's a seamless transition from the television studio to the big arenas. The one major difference though is that there's no Brucie involved in the 'live show but at eightysomething, you can forgive him for deciding to opt out of the rigorous touring schedule. His place has been taken in the past few years by his TV co-host Tess Daly, then by ex contestant and television presenter Zoe Ball and now this year the 'live' Strictly show is anchored by former X Factor host, Kate Thornton.
The crop of celebrity dancers this year are, with the exception of ex-Olympic swimmer Mark Foster, all contestants straight from the most recent television series and so there is this year's winner Harry Judd, runners-up Chelsee Healey and Jason Donovan, EastEnders legend Anita Dobson, former footballer Robbie Savage and the glamorous ex-girlfriend of Sven Goran Eriksson and, easily the most hopeless of the celebrity dancers by a long shot, Miss Nancy Dell'Olio. The professional dancers picked for the current tour are almost as high profile these days as their celebrity counterparts and most are recognisable simply by their first names alone with line-up featuring Aliona, Kristina, Artem, Katya, Natalie, Robin and Pasha. Sadly, much to the disappointment of many a male fan of the show, there is no Ola or Flavia to set the hearts racing.
It's a three man judging panel on the tour this time around with the hugely popular Len, Bruno and Craig all on top form in Manchester, providing much wit, no little sarcasm and some big dollops of innuendo, largely served up by Messrs Tonioli and Revel Horwood and it is the latter who also deserves much credit for being responsible for putting the whole touring version of 'Strictly.......' together.
On the dancing front, it was little Chelsee Healey who , predictably though deservedly, won the first of the two contests on her Manchester 'home turf', as voted by the 15,000 strong audience via their mobiles. Miss Dell'Olio also proved to be a surprise big hit on the night, not though by virtue of her dancing skills which remain non-existent but, for the way she sportingly went along with the joke(at her expense) and also played -up superbly to her diva-like reputation that saw her at one point, carried into the arena, a la Queen Cleopatra, by two 'servants'(Artem & Robin), on a chaise longue. The ongoing banter between Miss Dell'Olio and the three judges, particularly Craig, was frequently hilarious and she definitely displayed some fine comedic skills so who knows what might beckon for her now.
A most enjoyable and fun night was concluded with all involved - celebrity dancers, pro dancers, the judges and host Kate Thornton - taking to the dance floor for the finale and boy did Bruno and Craig relish the opportunity to strut their stuff. If you missed 'Strictly....Live' this time around fret not as almost as with the same degree of certainty that the earth is round, the show will no doubt be back next year.