BBC in talks over TV show's return

BLACKPOOL leisure bosses are staging talks with the BBC in a bid to host future episodes of the revived television programme Come Dancing.

It has been revealed that the BBC had originally ruled out using the ballrooms at the Tower and the Winter Gardens after they were unable to secure the dates they needed for filming this May and June.

But new talks have begun this week between the BBC and Leisure Parcs, who own both Blackpool attractions, in a bid to salvage some dates.

The BBC has confirmed that they will continue to film the majority of the new Come Dancing series in a specially recreated ballroom at London's Television Studios.

A BBC spokesman originally said: "The show's makers actually travelled up to Blackpool but unfortunately both the Tower and the Winter Gardens were booked across several weeks in which they needed to use them.

"This is a real shame as our preferred option was to return to the splendour of Blackpool's ballrooms.

"But we need a venue which would allow us to have the programme going live over a period of eight weeks and this was not possible in Blackpool due to previous bookings. We have had to go for our second option, therefore, to recreate a ballroom."

Michael Williams, executive general manager for Leisure Parcs, confirmed: "We are actually now discussing some dates with the BBC for this year. Initially Come Dancing wanted a full series from the same venue but after talks with us they are exploring different plans. I am confident that we can find some dates which are convenient for us both."

Coun Eddie Collett, Blackpool Council's portfolio holder for regeneration and tourism, hopes a compromise can be met between Leisure Parcs and the BBC to stage Come Dancing. "In Come Dancing's hey-day, Blackpool was synonymous with this hugely popular programme. The Tower is absolutely spectacular and is the obvious place for any televised ballroom dancing."

As part of the formal dance circuit, the international dance festival will come to Blackpool in May.

Dancers in Preston – the biggest dance studio in the north of England – has pupils on its books from the Fylde.

In the 1990s, the studio regularly appeared on Come Dancing, and was actually the British champion of the formation teams.

Nick Atack, an instructor at Dancers, said: "Blackpool epitomises ballroom dancing. Everybody in the world knows Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens for its association with the dancing festival.."

Come Dancing had a long association with Blackpool.

For many years the programme came from the ornate Tower Ballroom – one of the most unusual ballrooms in the world.

But the show sashayed south in 1992 for the ultra modern Bournemouth International Centre. Slumping ratings saw the series axed, after being on air for almost 50 years, in 1996.

The exact format of the new series – to be renamed Strictly Come Dancing – is still being put together.

Celebrity Bruce Forsyth has been named as the show's new presenter. It is planned to have top celebrities teaming up with leading professional dancers, under the guidance of World Champion ballroom dancer Donnie Burns.

Viewers will act as the judges, sorting out who are fleet-of-foot from those with two left feet.

The series, expected to start in May or June, is earmarked for a prime-time Saturday night slot.

A surge in the popularity of salsa and ballroom has prompted the BBC to bring back Come Dancing.

Pat Rayner ran Blackpool's famous Melody Ballroom for more than 40 years alongside her late-husband Ken.

Today she continues to teach modern ballroom and Latin American dance at several venues on the Fylde.

She said: "I have seen an increase in the number of younger people - particularly in their early 20s - joining up for my classes in recent times. They are at an age when perhaps they don't want to regularly go to nightclubs anymore but want to continue dancing."