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Peggy Spencer: Strictly dancing
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Peggy's formation dancing team were regular winners of Come Dancing

Strictly Come Dancing returned to our screens on Friday, 18 September, 2009, with a new format and new judges.

But the nation's love affair with ballroom is arguably due to west Norfolk resident Peggy Spencer MBE.

A renowned dance expert, the 89 year-old has been linked with Come Dancing since the 1950s, but turned down the BBC's offer to present Strictly.

"I said they should get someone younger... so they chose Bruce Forsyth," said Peggy.

In 2009, the annual dancing extravaganza includes actress Lynda Bellingham, boxer Joe Calzaghe and EastEnders Natalie Cassidy and Ricky Groves.

But long before Tess Daly waltzed onto our screens and Brucie treated audiences to his dancing prowess, Peggy Spencer was teaching people how to look good on the dance floor.

"I didn't set out to be a dance teacher at all, I wanted to be a politician. Then the war came and it put an end to my learning," said Peggy.

Peggy Spencer, MBE
Peggy Spencer has taught thousands of people to dance

Instead of dwelling on the fact that she wouldn't be able to get into politics, Peggy noticed that people needed cheering up in very hard times.

"We used to go to this air-raid shelter and there were some lads that used to sit there and do nothing. I thought they'd never know what it was like to go to a party, so I set one up," she said.

Dance teacher

It was this desire to help people have fun that saw the start to Peggy's career as a dance teacher.

"We hired a café and cleared the tables and chairs to the edge of the dance floor. I taught myself to dance from a book. I was always just one page ahead of the people I was teaching," she said.

"I realised what a wonderful thing it was to give - I knew what I wanted to do.

"My dance classes grew and we were soon too big for the café. People wanted escapism during the war and dance and music was perfect for them."

When the war was over, Peggy set up a number of classes in village halls around Kent. The classes became so popular, she had to put on more and more to keep up with demand.

"I started putting people into groups and then made them compete against each other - this became formation dancing. The competition soon became nationwide and the standard got better and better," she said.

Come Dancing

Such was the interest of dancing across the country, producers at the BBC decided to televise it - the show was to be known as Come Dancing.

The programme was first screened in 1949 and continued to appear on and off for almost half a century.

The contestants from Strictly Come Dancing 2009

"I worked with my formation dancers for 50 years," said Peggy.

"The people took part in it as themselves. There were butchers and bakers and they competed against other towns. If your town had lost the night before, people were devastated," she added.

Come Dancing eventually came to an end. Changing attitudes towards dancing meant that the producers of the show thought it should be scrapped.

"I did everything I could to get it back. I went to the head of the BBC, but as far as he was concerned, dancing wasn't on the agenda," said Peggy.

Strictly Come Dancing

In 2004, BBC bosses decided it was time to bring a bit a glamour back to Saturday nights in the form of Strictly Come Dancing. Celebrities would be paired with professional partners in a new form of dance contest.

"I was thrilled when I had a call from some producers who were going to bring back Come Dancing with a difference," said Peggy.

"They asked if I wanted to take part and help present it - I refused. I felt old and said they should get someone younger, much more alive and appealing than me."

Despite turning down Strictly, Peggy has enjoyed watching the show and appearing on it's baby sister 'It Takes Two' on BBC2.

The be-sequined show welcomes a new judge in the form of Alesha Dixon in 2009.

Darcey Bussell and Alesha Dixon
Darcey Bussell and Alesha Dixon will be judging the 2009 contestants

As well as Alesha, who danced her way to success in series five, former Royal Ballet star Darcey Bussell will appear in the last three shows of the run.

The producers have also decided to revamp the show's format for its seventh series.

The first two weeks will see the 16 competitors split into two groups, but not into men and women as in previous outings.

There will be shows on Friday and Saturday for the opening two weeks, but the Sunday results show has been shelved in favour of an extended edition on Saturday night.

The rules have also been changed so that in the event of the judges' scores resulting in a tie, any couple can be saved from the dance-off, while no pair is safe.

Strictly captivated the nation when it first appeared and the re-discovered love of dancing shows no sign of abating.

Across Norfolk, the number of people attending ballroom dancing classes has increased, swelled by the 'Strictly effect', but not everybody gets to be tutored by ballroom royalty like Peggy Spencer.

The Beatles

Peggy still regularly teaches dance classes in King's Lynn and her students are in good company. It's not every dance tutor who gets to work with The Beatles. Peggy still remembers when the phone rang.

"I thought it was someone pulling my leg. He said, 'Peggy, I've had a dream. I dreamt of a white staircase leading to heaven, with a white piano at the top. The Beatles in white tail-coats, followed by dancers in beautiful white dresses. Can you set it up for me?'

"I said, 'Yes!'"

Scene from Your Mother Should Know by The Beatles
A scene from Your Mother Should Know by The Beatles

Peggy choreographed a waltz for the dancers to perform with The Beatles and they were taken to an old RAF hanger in West Malling, Kent. This was the first time Peggy would hear the 'waltz' that Paul had composed.

"He hit play on this battered old tape and it played Your Mother Should Know. I said to Paul, 'This is not a waltz. A waltz has three beats to a bar and you've done four'.

"We re-choreographed the waltz for the music and showed The Beatles how to kick.

"We walked to the back of the stage to climb to the top of the stairs that we would come down and realised, no-one had built steps to get to the top! Filming was cancelled for the day, but we came back a day or two later and filmed the video," said Peggy.

This Is Your Life

Peggy was making a name for herself in the world of dance and light entertainment and it hadn't gone un-noticed. In 1993 she was shocked to receive the This Is Your Life book from Michael Aspel for her contribution to the dance world.

"I was absolutely stunned. When Michael put the book in front of me I didn't know who he was and elbowed him out of the way," said Peggy.

The awards didn't stop there. As well as winning hundreds of dance trophies over the years, Peggy and her late husband Frank were both honoured by the Queen with an MBE.

On top of that honour, the couple have won eight Carl Alan Awards which are voted for by professional colleagues.

Peggy holds each of her awards very dear, but it wasn't until she came to Norfolk that she realised the number of lives she'd touched through her remarkable career.

"I suddenly realised what people thought of me. I'd never noticed until I came to King's Lynn. Working in a big city, it's all speed and getting through - not the same as here," she said.

"Coming to King's Lynn was quite different.

"Finding out the feelings of people I realised how much I'd done, the hundreds of people that I've taught and the great happiness that it's brought, so I'm thrilled to bits that it's having its revival," she added.




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