1 9 5 0 – 1 9 9 8 (UK)
In 1949 Eric Morley (the godfather of the Mecca ballroom group) suggested to the BBC the idea of a dancing programme with a few gimmicks (which initially meant a bit of roller skating). He created Come Dancing because he wanted to show the public, through the medium of television, what good dancing was all about. He was also very insistent at all times that it would be amateur competitors, not professional demonstrators.
The programme in which outrageously dressed contestants (“she’s sewn all her own sequins”) competed in ballroom dancing events debuted on 29 September 1950 and went on to become the BBC’s longest-running series.
In the early days, the men had to wear a huge cardboard number on their back, which made them appear to be carrying sandwich boards instead of dancing, but they still managed to glide across the floor in style, and early champions were Syd Perkins and Edna Duffield. Ah, who can forget Syd and Edna?
The competition took the form of an inter-regional knock-out, pitting teams from areas such as Home Counties North against the South-West, or some other part of the UK.
But the show didn’t always get it right. In 1963, Eric Morley launched a new dance called the Golli Golli on the show. “This is a brand new party dance which we believe will sweep the country”, enthused the perpetually brylcreemed one. And can anyone remember the Golli Golli?
The list of Come Dancing presenters reads like a Who’s Who of television: alongside Sylvia Peters were Peter West, Pete Murray, Michael Aspel, David Jacobs, Judith Chalmers, Brian Johnston, Terry Wogan, Peter Marshall, Peter Dimmock, Angela Rippon and Rosemarie Ford.
Morley was a self-made entertainment entrepreneur with great drive, and in addition to starting Come Dancing, he was also responsible for the creation of the Miss World contest. He conceived the beauty pageant in 1951 while he was the Public Relations Director of the Mecca group, and in charge of promoting the Festival of Britain.
By 1952 he was general manager of Mecca Dancing and, the next year, became a director of the group. Under Morley, Mecca became the largest leisure and catering company in Britain. He opened dance halls and bingo clubs around the country and was responsible for introducing commercial bingo to Britain (in 1961).
In 1961, Eric turned Miss World into a charitable fundraising activity. Over the years, the pageant has raised millions of pounds for charity and disadvantaged children, particularly for The Variety Club of Great Britain.
Come Dancing ended in 1998. However, the success of the film Strictly Ballroom (1992) rekindled interest in dance and, in 2004, Strictly Come Dancing was born. “Strictly” updated the Come Dancing formula, mixing celebrity contestants with professional dancing partners. The programme became an international success and aided the revitalisation of Saturday evening family viewing in Britain.
Isla St Clair