Page last updated at 21:50 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Strictly stars support Sergeant

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Some of John Sergeant's most famous moments on Strictly Come Dancing

Stars of Strictly Come Dancing past and present have lent their support to ex-political journalist John Sergeant after he pulled out of the contest.

GMTV presenter Andrew Castle, who was voted off earlier this series, said the show would be "worse off" without him.

Fellow evictee singer Heather Small said he was "winning with the public", but could never sway the judges.

Sergeant, 64, said he was leaving the show because winning would have been "a joke too far".

He told a press conference he was quitting because there was "no viable 'stop Sergeant' candidate".

"If the joke wears thin, if in fact people begin to take it very seriously, and if people really are getting so wound up that it's very difficult to carry off the joke, then I think it is time to go," he said.

Sergeant and his Russian partner, Kristina Rihanoff, will return on Saturday's show for a "farewell dance".

'Great fun'

Castle told BBC Radio 5 Live that Sergeant had "played a brilliant game from beginning to end".

"He leaves the programme undefeated, his flag flying high, and the programme will be worse off for it because at the end of the day it's an entertainment show and some people have failed in a spectacular fashion to see that," he said.

John Sergeant
If the joke wears thin, if in fact people begin to take it very seriously, and if people really are getting so wound up that it's very difficult to carry off the joke, then I think it is time to go
John Sergeant

Small, lead singer of M People, told the BBC's Newsnight that Sergeant "leaves on top" despite the judges' opinion of him.

"I think that he's seen that he can't win with them - even though he's winning with the public and they are very kind to him," she said.

"He's great fun, he's put the show in show business on this show. And I think he's in a win-win position now, because he goes when he wants to go."

The programme's co-host Bruce Forsyth said he felt "very sorry" for Sergeant.

"He was put in the most awkward position, looking at the other dancers and knowing they were better than him," Forsyth said. "He must have felt guilty in a way."

The BBC has said it plans to offer to refund the costs of the phone calls to those people who voted for Sergeant in last week's show.

'A shame'

The corporation has also received more than 2,000 complaints about Sergeant's departure since he announced he was quitting the show.

Strictly judge Arlene Phillips said: "I'm always sad if a contestant leaves of choice, because you are always expecting to let the public vote them in or out - but John is his own person and he has his own reasons for doing this.

Paxman to Sergeant: "Are you a man or a mouse?"

Phillips pointed out it was not the first time a weak dancer had been backed by the public over the professionals.

In the last series, GMTV presenter Kate Garraway defied the judges, while ex-EastEnders actor Christopher Parker made it to the final in spite of negative feedback.

Parker said Sergeant's impression people didn't want him in the show was false.

"The judges have campaigned for him to be removed, but the public really want him to go through, I think it's a shame."

Two weeks ago, judges turned on Sergeant, giving his cha-cha-cha, a mere 12 points out of the possible 40.

However, last week the professionals all agreed the broadcaster's timing had improved after he danced the American Smooth.

Altogether Sergeant scored 25 - his personal best after the first nine weeks of the series.

Rupert Adams, of bookmaker William Hill, told the BBC News website that Sergeant had gone from being a 66/1 outsider to win the series on Saturday morning, to a 10/1 shot by Wednesday morning.

Correction 20 November 2008: An earlier version of this story wrongly stated that the money raised from calls to Strictly Come Dancing goes to Children in Need.

Since January 2008, the BBC no longer gives money raised by phone votes to charity. The money raised by Strictly Come Dancing phone votes pays for running the phone vote system itself. No money goes to Children in Need. Rules were changed after last year's phone votes scandals.

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