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25 November 2008

Guest Post -- John Boyle on John Sergeant

John Boyle, writer, presenter and author of Gallway Street and Laff, is a long-standing member of the writers workshop I attend on Monday evenings. Last night he read out the following as his "literary exercise." I invited him to let me post it here and he kindly agreed.

It's been silly season on BBC Television recently, especially on Strictly Come Dancing. The genial, tubby John Sergeant was being kept alive in the competition only by massive public vote, at the expense of contestants who were much better dancers. Not that that's any claim to fame, for John was a truly awful dancer. Nor should his age - 64 - be any excuse: I'm older than that and even I could have made a better fist of it.

Last week, about 2 weeks overdue in my opinion, he finally did the decent thing and bowed out, having understood that his continued presence was making a nonsense of the contest. To my mind, nothing he did in the show became him like the manner of his leaving it - but I'm in a minority. Ever since, the Great British Public has been baying for the BBC's blood, and for the heads of the hapless judges. I find internet forums a depressing experience at the best of times: like turning over a smooth stone and discovering all the nasty creepy crawlies underneath. On this issue, the comments verge on hysteria. 'Who do these jumped-up judges think they are? How dare they make rude comments about our John? They seem to think this is a dance competition' - well it is, actually, but mention that at your peril - 'when all it is entertainment, a bit of harmless fun. And we like John, in fact we love John, and we want John to win, so we'll keep voting for him if only to stick two fingers up to those bloody judges'. Yes, the public in their wisdom decided this was not a dance competition, but a popularity contest. By that logic, Mr Blobby could have won it, and in my view - sorry, John - he very nearly did.

All this is depressingly instructive about the psyche of the Great British Public. It reveals a deep suspicion, tinged with envy, of elites of any kind: a pathological unease with excellence or indeed any aspiration in that direction. Instinctive support for the underdog is no bad thing in itself, and quite touching in its way. But when it leads on to the glorification of bumbling mediocrity, it makes me question just how British I really am.

1 comment:

  1. With the world in financial crisis, not to mention the ever on-going wars and half the world's population going to bed hungry, it may seem absurd that so much is being written about SCD and John Sargent.

    Still, even as it did during the world wars, life goes on.

    I sympathize with the judges, as they have a far more restrictive remit than the general populous; they must judge - and vote - exclusively on the dancing. However, this is not a dance contest, it never was. In a dance contest dancers dance, the judges judge and that is the end of it. This is an entertainment program, yes it's based on dancing but the great unwashed are solicited for their opinion and the format is constructed in such a way that they get fifty percent of the votes.

    People have always voted for their "favourite", it's just that, up until now, with maybe one exception, the public have been more or less in line with the judges. To some extent the judges are responsible for the public response due to their needless, over-critical, comments that were personal and far to severe. This is what stirred up the public and caused them to gorge on a feast of pure devilment.

    Should the BBC change anything? Certainly not. It's pure theatre and changing the rules would only diminish it. Half the fun of the programme is arguing about just such incidents, for the same reason i don't want refs to have instant access to video-replay in football matches, i want the room to argue on Monday morning.

    It's a modern version of gladiator fighting in the coliseum, but where two fingers overrule one thumb.

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