Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

John Sergeant -Have we all forgotten that Strictly Come Dancing is just a bit of entertainment?

It was undoubtedly the biggest story of the day.

As news broke, hardened reporters stopped what they were doing to gather around the television screens.

Headlines flashed up on Sky News during Prime Minister’s Question Time.

The news wires were buzzing throughout the day with updates and website forums were inundated with messages from shocked members of the public.

Hold the front page! John Sergeant has quit Strictly Come Dancing.

His shock departure comes hot on the heels (pardon the pun) of the furore sparked by the exit of Laura White from the X Factor a fortnight ago.

That eviction prompted a petition signed by around 50,000 angry fans and even reached Parliament, when it was raised by Culture Secretary Andy Burnham.

At a time of credit crunching, house repossessions and piracy on the high seas, it’s reality television that is, once again, stealing the show.

So are we taking these programmes too seriously? After all, it’s only television.

Well, try telling that to the millions of viewers who tune in every Saturday night to watch Strictly and the X Factor — to the people who pick up the telephone each weekend to vote for their favourite contestant.

I put up my hands up and admit that I’m something of an addict

Are we taking things too far when politics collides with entertainment? Certainly, in the town of Dungiven, there’s been a sinister twist to the X Factor tale, when posters of teenager Eoghan Quigg, who is doing himself and his country proud, were removed because he dared to wear a poppy. Yes, that is obviously taking things too seriously.

I, for one, am not in a position to criticise those who get so wrapped up in reality television that Saturday nights in the pub or club have become a thing of the past. I put up my hands up and admit that I’m something of an addict. And now that we have our own Christine Bleakley and Eoghan Quigg among the contenders in Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor, that’s an even greater incentive to watch.

And yes, I understand why people feel passionately about these programmes. Let’s face it, with all the glitz and glamour, the under-dogs, the talent, the heart-breaking tales, the tears and tantrums, they make excellent television.

No doubt this story about John Sergeant will run and run. As in the case of Laura White, angry fans of the clod-hopping broadcaster will mount a campaign to have him re-instated. And should that happen, it will knock stories about fuel prices of the front pages.

We are living in a society where the Controller of BBC1 feels the need to issue a public statement about the departure of a contestant from a television show.

And this proves the power that shows like Strictly and the X Factor have over the people. Maybe we are taking it all too seriously, but these programmes lift the spirits at a time of doom and gloom.

Sergeant’s inability to dance was, for many viewers, the highlight of Strictly Come Dancing. Despite his weekly humiliation at the hands of the judges, the great British public kept voting him back in. His Cha Cha Cha may have been appalling, but it was hilarious and we applauded the unconcerned manner in which he shrugged off the harsh criticism.

Earlier this week, he appeared on Strictly’s spin-off show It Takes Two and appeared determined to keep on with the show, despite the raging controversy over his two left feet.

“I’m doing nothing wrong, I’m abiding by the rules of the programme,” he insisted. “And it’s the rules which allow the public to keep me in.”

However, announcing his decision to quit, Sergeant said: "It was always my intention to have fun on the show and I was hoping to stay in as long as possible.

“The trouble is that there is now a real danger that I might win the competition.

“Even for me that would be a joke too far.”

How ironic, that in the end, it was Sergeant who took it all too seriously.

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