Flashback – November 2008


There have been those iconic Strictly moments which linger long in the memory.

Such as Jay and Aliona's jive. Ed Balls' salsa. And John Sergeant's paso doble.

That's a passionate dance based on Spanish bullfighting. The man is a matador, the woman his cape.

But the interpretation by political journalist Sergeant became known as his "sack of potatoes" routine as he dragged his dance partner Kristina Rihanoff purposefully across the dance floor like, well, a sack of spuds.

For three weeks in a row in the 2008 series of Strictly Come Dancing he scored bottom marks from the judges.

Yet the public loved his performances. And they loved Sergeant and kept voting to keep him in.

This was despite a claim by judge Arlene Phillips that instead of rehearsing he "sits and reads the Guardian."

She added in a BBC interview: "There is nothing that is correct about his performances, he is just getting through the dances."

Nevertheless Sergeant was dubbed "a people's John Travolta."

At first it was funny that he kept surviving to go through to the next round. However, as the competition progressed, it started to get worrying and there seemed a real possibility that thanks to people power Sergeant might actually go on to win.

A string of fan groups sprang up across Facebook in tribute to Sergeant's cumbersome efforts, with one dubbed: "We only vote for John Sergeant to annoy Craig (Revel Horwood, one of the judges)."

The crunch point came on November 16 when the judging panel was forced to give actress Cherie Lunghi the boot instead of Lisa Snowdon after Sergeant once more eluded the dance-off.

Lunghi had delivered some stunning performances and her cha-cha with dance partner James Jordan scored 32 points. Sergeant and Kristina had only received 25 points for their American Smooth routine, leaving the pair bottom of the leader board.

Casting the deciding vote, head judge Len Goodman fumed: "This is terrible. I feel as though I'm kicking someone off the show because neither should be going, but I have to base it on that last performance, and for me the couple that edged it were Lisa and Brendan."

Later an insider was reported as saying: "Len feels it makes a mockery of the competition. He couldn't believe he was forced to send home one of the best dancers."

Lunghi's elimination mirrored Heather Small's fate the previous week, when the M People singer received the boot despite winning praise for her improved performance in the tango.

Sergeant was unabashed.

"It is funny how judges both in real life and on Strictly Come Dancing lose touch with the views of ordinary people," he said.

Bookmakers dramatically shortened the odds on him winning from 100-1 at the start of the show, to 10-1.

But in the end it was Sergeant himself who resolved what was a growing crisis for the BBC, when the 64-year-old announced on November 19 that he was waltzing off.

"I am sorry to say I have decided to leave Strictly Come Dancing," he said in a statement.

"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.

"I would like to thank Kristina and all those viewers who have been rooting for me through the series."

Sergeant, who had lost nearly two stone during the course of the series, insisted that nobody had leant on him but said it was increasingly obvious that he might have won.

"That is a frightening thought for me and for millions of people around the country. It would have been a very bitter-sweet victory."

His departure received a mixed response.

Cilla Black said: "I am shocked and I am stunned. I think it is an absolute disgrace because it is a public show."

Arlene Phillips: "Do I feel partly responsible for his departure? Not really. If you look back, we've actually been quite nice on this programme."

With his departure, Austin Healey was the even money favourite to win the BBC1 series.

However the 2008 Strictly winner was Holby City actor Tom Chambers, with dance partner Camilla Dallerup. Runner up was former S Club 7 singer Rachel Stevens.

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