Culture and arts channel BBC4 has, since 1st January 2023, been rerunning episodes of the long-running programme Come Dancing. Starting with the 1979 series, which saw the introduction of the disco dancing section, the classic ballroom dance competition show seems to have gained something of a following.
A cursory glance at Twitter each Sunday evening suggests that it has gained its own audience in the modern day. The reruns were first billed as a substitute for the popular BBC1 entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing, the revamped celebrity spin-off which began in 2004 whilst it was off air between series. But it has quickly surpassed this function, showing its value in its own right.
While I cannot speak for anyone else, in my household we began watching on New Year’s Day 2023 with a casual interest in seeing a full episode of something we had only really heard about as a curiosity from days gone by. After all, the majority of its original run was before we were born.
What quickly happened, in our non-athletic, non-dancing, non-competitive house, was that it became appointment viewing for us every Sunday evening.
Come Dancing of the late 1970s offers many charms, including but not limited to a light hearted but respectful host in the brilliant Terry Wogan, competent but fun commentators like Barri Haynes and Ray Moore to inform us of a few particulars about each dancing couple as we watch them compete for their regional team, old-time dance music performed live in the venue by an old-school dance band, and even the odd famous face to present the trophy to the winning team at the end of the series.
BBC4, thankfully, continued to broadcast the show once the 1979 series had come to an end, with one edition from 1974, then the surviving episodes from 1977. However, as of Sunday 19th March 2023, these very welcome repeats of a show that was probably considered pretty throwaway at the time of original broadcast, seem to have come to an end.
So, apart from the overview I have given above, what is to love about this programme?
Come Dancing was a show about dancing, in which regional ballroom dance teams, who would otherwise be performing in other national and regional and even international competitions, compete for the Come Dancing trophy at the end of the series. Each episode is a heat in the competition, building towards the semi finals and then the finale.
It could sound a bit dull, however you really don’t need to be a fan of dance in any other capacity to enjoy this. I classify watching the Come Dancing repeats in the same way I do personally taking an interest in some sports only when the Olympics are on: I watch very little sport and take part in none at all. But when there is a big competition, I can watch and appreciate the athleticism, dedication and sportsmanship involved. With Come Dancing, I quickly began to understand and be able to compare between the two regions’ couples performing in the same dance style, noticing the difference between their form, precision, personality etc, albeit in a very amateurish way.
Then we come to the formation dance. This was a thing I never knew I needed in my life until New Year’s Day 2023! This is a segment of the competition in which 2 teams of 8 couples perform a fully choreographed and synchronised dance together, creating movements and shapes both as individual couples within the group and as one unit altogether. There was usually an Old Time team and a Latin or more modern team, giving some pleasing contrast and variety. For some reason unbeknownst to myself, I have become very attached to this segment in particular. It’s the portion of the programme I look forward to the most, the segment on which I have most comment to offer despite my lack of knowledge, and at times the most visually and technically interesting and impressive dance in the whole show.
To sum up, Come Dancing fills a niche which is largely unserved by broadcasters in the modern day. There is something magical about this programme which would likely have seemed old fashioned and perhaps irrelevant even in the 1970s at the time of the repeated episodes’ original broadcast. It has a charm. It is not in the slightest self-indulgent. Unlike many of the entertainment formats of today, it occupies only the required amount of time in the viewing schedule. It does not flesh out an inflated time slot with fluff and filler. It does not patronise its audience either.
This kind of programming, though admittedly it could not be made in the same way in the modern day, still has a place in our viewing schedules. There may not be a large number of surviving episodes, however I believe the BBC should make every effort to locate as many as possible. Would we miss Terry Wogan if they delved further back in time? Of course! But the format itself is strong enough, and most of the elements that many people seem to be enjoying about this revisiting of Come Dancing would still be included.
This is not merely a curiosity. It is something much more tangible and important. And it begs the question, what other long-forgotten entertainment treasures like this lie dusty and neglected on the archive shelves? Please BBC, open up the archives and find us more Come Dancing!