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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Imagination versus Reality

It is one of the surreal delights of these re-run shows to witness the glorious spectacle of the Top of the Pops dancers in full flight. In the autumn of 1976 Ruby Flipper still reigned supreme, but the 'new' dancers are just about to be named, as Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart announced the other week. Ed, dressed more like an insurance salesman than a happening DJ, announced that the new name would be chosen by a member of the public, through a proper, old-school ‘answers on a postcard’-type competition. One can only imagine some of the suggestions that must have come in, particularly from the watching dads.
All will be revealed this week, but look away now if you don’t want to know the answer. The new dancers will be called ‘Legs and Co.’ and they will caper and cavort gracefully for some fifteen years.

But now that Legs and Co. are about to be sworn in to perform their sacred duties as the ‘Queen’s own interpreters of pop lyrics and tempos through the medium of dance’, I must admit that I’m missing Ruby Flipper. Not for their dancing, because I’m in no position to say whether their dancing was bad, good or mediocre. When dancers are on TV, I usually just concentrate on the movement of the ones I fancy the most. It’s hardly a sophisticated response, but it does at least allow me to have grounds for stating a preference. When the re-runs started and I was re-introduced to the delights of Ruby Flipper, I found, curiously, that I still liked the one that I used to fancy when I was a lad, all those years ago. That probably means something significant, unless it doesn’t.

When you have a crush on someone at school and you unexpectedly meet up with that person thirty years later, it’s probably fair to say that the odds are against that attraction still being strong. Time will have exacted a toll and it won’t have been cheap. That rule, of course, doesn’t apply in TV land, where a kind of immortality is achieved by those fortunate enough to have been preserved in amber by the magic box. When I was re-acquainted, three decades on, with ‘the Flipper’ (or, more specifically, with Cherry Gillespie), I discovered that the old magic was still there. She still had it going on, in spades.

All of which reminds me of a joke that was popular when I was at school.

A little boy says to his mum: “Mum, are Legs and Co. robots?” to which mum replies: “No, why do you ask that, son?” “Because” says the boy, “daddy said he’d like to screw the arse off one of them.”

To the jaundiced modern eye, the TOTP dancers and their all-too-literal interpretations of pop lyrics look somehow irredeemably naff. Sadly, it’s not just a comedic aspect that is noticeable; now that we’ve become accustomed to simulated sex as a virtual staple of ‘dancing’ in modern pop videos, those old-school routines look so impossibly innocent. It’s hard to imagine that there might have been a time when these routines would have been considered suggestive, perhaps even raunchy. The routines and the costumes were designed to leave some things to the imagination. Imagination, in those days, worked a lot of overtime. Imagination was busy filling in the blanks and embellishing ‘reality’, because reality was obliged to work to a pretty rigid set of rules. Nowadays, when you watch someone like Rihanna performing, imagination is waiting in the wings, twiddling its thumbs, hoping in vain to be called into action. When you observe the leap that ‘reality’ has taken from 1976 to 2011 and consider the probability that the same kind of leap might be taken over the next couple of decades, you can only conclude that imagination is very shortly going to be out of a job.

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