Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 16:56 UK

Forsyth: Forever the Strictly star

Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

"As you can see I am still here," says Strictly Come Dancing presenter Bruce Forsyth.

"There's been a bit of speculation as to whether I would be here or not, mind you. I've been leaving this show since it started!"

The 81-year-old, who has fronted the BBC One dance competition since it began in 2004, has always been the show's top attraction.

The celebrity contestants come and go but Forsyth continues to charm the audience and put the dancers at their ease.

This year - with a group of celebrity contestants who are mostly recognisable by face, rather than name - he is certain to retain his position at the top of the pack.

Addressing the press at the show's annual launch, he says: "There is one more thing I would like to clear up before we start.

"I would like to challenge that the X Factor beat us in the ratings," he adds, passing around hand-outs with last year's viewing figures printed on them.

There is no denying that both shows have been huge hits with the audience but as both are broadcast on Saturday night, viewing figures have - and always will be - compared.

Last year's Strictly series peaked with an audience of 11.58 million whilst ITV's the X Factor season finale attracted 13.20 million.

Lynda Bellingham and Darren Bennett
Age is just a number. No one in our business talks about ageism
Lynda Bellingham

But Forsyth insists this is not a fair comparison, as Strictly and X Factor are not on at the same time.

"When we finished, they [X Factor] started, so how can you compare the two figures? You can't compare them at all."

Forsyth is obviously passionate about the show he fronts with Tess Daly.

He is pleased to be back in the spotlight, although not literally.

Throughout his introduction the host demands the main house lights go up so he can "see everyone".

He manages to raise a few laughs as he jokingly chides the cynical crowd of assembled journalists for their lack of enthusiasm.

The star even gets everyone to finish off his best-known catchphrase - which he has adapted especially for the occasion.

"It's nice of you to write about us, to write about us... nice," he shouts.

And, from September, there will be plenty written about the show and its celebrity contestants - who this year are mainly soap actors and sports stars.

Household names

This includes Natalie Cassidy (best known for playing Sonia in EastEnders), Craig Kelly (Coronation Street) and boxer Joe Calzaghe.

Two actresses from the show Footballers Wives, one from the Bill, and Jo Wood - estranged wife of Rolling Stones' Ronnie - have also been included on the list.

Alesha Dixon
Alesha Dixon will replace Arlene Phillips on the judging panel

Although some are relatively unknown, all 16 participants are sure to become household names.

This year, there has been a controversial shake up in the format and all eyes will be on Alesha Dixon, who replaces dancer and choreographer Arlene Phillips on the judging panel.

When asked what he thought about being judged by a former contestant, professional dancer Brendan Cole says he has no problem with it.

"Let's wait and see what comes out of Dixon's experience of dance.

"If she says something that's right, I'll agree with it. If she says something wrong, I'll disagree with it like I normally do."

However, Phillips' replacement has not gone down well with everyone and some publications have accused Strictly producers of moving her on because of her age.

But the contestants approve of the move - or at least have decided to stick to the pre-approved script, repeating the mantra that "change is good".

And Lynda Bellingham, who at 61 is this year's oldest dancer (and just five years younger than Phillips) shrugs off the row, accusing the press of "creating" the ageism story.

"Age is just a number," she says.

"No one in our business talks about ageism. This is a show. It's about entertainment. It's about a mix of people. It's not real life."

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