Saturday, July 09, 2005

Not Strictly African

For reasons known only to themselves, the BBC currently seem to be working on the basis that anything with the word 'strictly' in the title will be a sure-fire ratings success on a Saturday night. So hot on the heels of 'Strictly Come Dancing', 'Strictly Ice Dancing' and 'Strictly Dance Fever', BBC1 tonight brought us the flogged-to-death horse that is 'Strictly African Dancing', a one-off 'special' (and I use the term loosely) screened as part of the BBC's 'Africa Lives' season.

Bruce Forsyth had wisely turned down this particular turkey, and even Graham Norton wasn't interested, so instead the show was fronted by Martin Offiah, who makes Kelly Brook look like a born presenter, and Natasha Kaplinski, who, with her white skin and Eastern European name, naturally kicked off the show by claiming to have African roots herself.

As Martin went on to explain in a stilted voice, whilst squinting at the autocue, "we challenged six celebrities to master traditional African dances". Marvellous. And just which top showbiz names are we talking about here? Well...

There's Tessa Sanderson... Antonia Okonma... Tunde Baiyewu... (no, stick with it)... Robbie Earle... Louis Emerick... and... (fanfare please)... Tupele Dorgu.

Ah yes, household names, each and every one of them.

Natasha went on to tell us that "because they're all originally of African descent, they've also learnt a little bit about their own personal history".

Which is lovely. Of course, Tessa Sanderson was actually born in Jamaica. As were Robbie Earle's parents. But hey, they're black, and that's good enough for the BBC. What's the difference between African and West Indian anyway? Apart from a few thousand miles and two centuries of culture. The important thing is they're all ethnic. And besides, without those two, I wouldn't have heard of any of them, so I can't complain.

Having spent two weeks learning their routines, the celebs were judged by three experts on traditional African dance. And Craig Revel Horwood, who was presumably just there to make up the numbers.

Robbie was first up, dancing "an authentic Zulu dance", no doubt familiar to his ancestors as they left the Caribbean for Newcastle-under-Lyme. He was actually very good. Which is more than can be said for Tupele Dorgu, who apparently plays Kelly Crabtree in Coronation Street, and Louis Emerick, who claimed to be one of the stars of 'Last of the Summer Wine' - a show famed for its ethnic diversity.

Tupele did the kind of courtship dance that could land you in court, while Louis appeared to be dressed in a tutu made out of a pair of old curtains. It's not a look most people could carry off. As Louis duly proved. His dance was apparently all about boasting. Kind of ironic that.

Next up was Antonia Okonma, who I'm told plays Darlene in 'Bad Girls'. She certainly deserved to be locked up for this anyway. And I want to know how many ostriches died to make her outfit. She was followed by Tunde Baiyewu of the Lighthouse Family, who did a dance of thunderbolt and lightning (very very frightening) looking like an extra from the African version of 'Joseph'. A performance which earned him last place over all (not that I want to ruin the suspense).

Bringing up the rear (literally) was Tessa Sanderson, who performed "a celebration of menfolk returning home" which basically involved getting down on all fours and wiggling her bum. Yes, it's true, the BBC are giving us simulated sex on a Saturday night. Tessa claimed she was using padding to make her bum look bigger (yeah right), before reminding us that "it's not over till the fat lady sings". Prompting Martin Offiah to lie through his teeth and respond "well, you're definitely not fat".

After a 45 minute break, presumably to give viewers enough time to call the BBC duty office and complain, we rejoined the celebs [sic] for the result.

The tension grew with an ensemble rain dance (like we need it in this country), before Robbie Earle was announced as the winner - an outcome about as unexpected as the last general election result.

It was then left to the west end cast of 'The Lion King' to cap this celebration of all things African, with a traditional performance of authentic African music. Written by Elton John.