One doesn’t normally look to Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One) for topical satire but that didn’t deter co-host Claudia Winkleman. “Still to come, Tyler West and Dianne Buswell are playing bank robbers,” she said. “My advice? Go for the dollars. The pounds, not so much.” Perhaps Liz Truss was watching from Birmingham with a face like thunder.
That Bonnie and Clyde jive was among the highlights of this second live show. Jazzy and jam-packed with content, it had head judge Shirley Ballas hailing West as “the real deal”. Impressively, he’s running the London Marathon in the morning. I just hope he’s still got some energy left after all that flicking and kicking.
West was eclipsed only by CBBC’s Molly Rainford, who closed the show with the dance of the night - a slick, stylish, umbrella-wielding quickstep which fairly flew around the floor. Rainford was last week’s highest-scoring female celebrity. Now she was the top performer full stop, becoming the only contestant to score in the 30s both weeks so far. The 21-year-old already looks a likely finalist. It’s surely only Rainford’s relative lack of fame which could count against her.
There has been much discussion of how Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds and her partner Nikita Kuzmin would cope with their height difference in the traditional ballroom hold. Now we found out and it was beautiful to behold. For a romantic waltz, Kuzmin cleverly adapted the steps to accommodate their varying stride lengths and unveiled a special lower hold. Without full body contact, the Ukrainian pro couldn’t guide her as he might otherwise, yet their routine was expressive and full of emotion.
Dancing might be a different discipline but Simmonds isn’t letting her disability impair her on dry land either. She’s been targeted by online trolls and admits the cruel comments have affected her but you’d never know it here. Judge Motsi Mabuse got goosebumps. Ballas was visibly moved. It made for a magical landmark moment.
Former footballer Tony Adams was in danger of relegation but gave himself a fighting chance with a comedy Cockney Charleston. Set to My Old Man’s a Dustman, it packed in lifts, tricks and all manner of “messin’ abaht” with dustbin props. “I’ve not been this happy since I chucked Ann Widdecombe across the floor,” grinned judge Anton Du Beke. Not a bad result, especially on a day when Arsenal won the North London derby.
With the first elimination imminent and half the training time - our 15 pro-celebrity pairings had a week to rehearse this routine, rather than a fortnight as before - the pressure was cranked up. After a high-scoring opener to this 20th series, it was back to earth with a bump for several couples.
Actor Will Mellor jointly topped the standings last time but hit a few bumps with his faltering salsa. A flying earring hardly helped but that’s live TV for you. Fellow pace-setter Hamza Yassin’s jive lacked bounce and retraction. For a big chap, all that jumping was tough on his knees, but Yassin still displayed enough talent and timing to suggest he’ll go far in the contest.
At two-and-a-quarter hours, this show was a whopper. The field being slimmed down and the running time reduced will be welcome relief over the coming weeks. However, the raucous atmosphere in a packed Elstree Studios ballroom was infectious. By the time Winkleman declared the public voting open, it was chaos.
The panel’s scoring was erratic, with several couples receiving a three-point spread when paddles were raised. Mabuse confused Graziano di Prima with Giovanni Pernice, excusing herself with a cry of “All you Italian boys!”. The judges got on their feet to join the dancing. Well, with the exception of panto villain Revel Horwood, whose deadpan poker face was equally entertaining.
Viewers now get their first chance to vote, the dreaded dance-off looms and somebody will be sent home. One of the Adams family, Tony or Kaye, looks doomed to have a Sunday night horror show - although Matt Goss isn’t out of danger either. He’s been harshly marked both weeks and somehow finds himself second bottom of the scoreboard. Brosettes might need to mobilise. I wonder if Truss was one...