Strictly still the business

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THE final of BBC TV’s hit show Strictly Come Dancing makes a welcome return to Blackpool Tower Ballroom this Saturday, a fitting time to turn the spotlight on two outstanding local dancers of yesteryear.

Entertainment historian Kenneth Shenton has been looking at the legacy of seaside stars Harry Smith-Hampshire and his partner Doreen Casey.

He says: “Once the undisputed king and queen of the ballroom, 50 years ago, having starred alongside Shirley Bassey and Cliff Richard in summer season at the Opera House, they famously retired as undefeated world champions.

“Born in Blackpool in May, 1921, Harry Smith-Hampshire was educated at Highfield School before working for local stockbrokers, Riley Hartley in Abingdon Street. Trained at the Blackpool School of Dance, he won his first trophy just four days short of his 17th birthday, competing in the Empress Ballroom with Cis Bryers. The following year, both were members of the winning formation team at the 1939 Blackpool Dance Festival.

“Volunteering for the Royal Navy during the Second World War, Harry served mainly in the Far East as an engineer in the Fleet Air Arm. While in Australia, he met his first wife, Mary. They married in 1946. Three years later, now dancing with Beatrice Lewis, he won the first of his British Amateur Championship titles. Retaining the title in 1950, by now he had a new partner, the elegant and vivacious Burnley-born secretary, Doreen Casey.

“Having quickly captured the Caledonian Amateur Championship they then decided to turn professional. Alongside this they built up a series of dance schools throughout the north of England. Although not able to marry until 1960, the couple, who both taught at the Savoy Ballroom Cleveleys, lived for a time in Cranleigh Avenue, Bispham.”

Moving to London in 1952, they turned Archbishop Davidson’s Institute next to Lambeth Palace into the world famous Lambeth School of Dancing. They were crowned European Champions at Earls Court three years later and went on to win the British Professional Championships in 1959, 1960 and 1961 together with the World Professional Ballroom and Latin Championships. As undisputed masters of the Viennese Waltz, their dazzling speciality comprised a finale of 64 bars of continuous fleckerls or 360 degree turns on the spot at speeds rising to 84 rotations per minute.

Kenneth adds: “Totally captivating audiences, both were always immaculately turned out. Smith-Hampshire, an incorrigible perfectionist, was slim and moustachioed with a hint of rakishness, his partner, beautiful and charismatic. When preparing for a major competition, she would unfailingly return to Blackpool to have her hair specially done.”

During 1957 the couple were invited to give demonstrations and lectures in Moscow. During their two-week visit, they performed in the Kremlin in front of 18,000 people. The televised show introduced ballroom dancing to the Soviet Union.

While Casey took sole charge of their Lambeth School, in 1965 her husband went to work for Eric Morley at Mecca, later running Tiffany’s Ballroom in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Doreen died in September 2002, her husband two years later.