Len Goodman, who has died aged 78, was the grumpy head judge on the hit BBC Television show Strictly Come Dancing for 12 years from 2004 to 2016, famous for falling out with his colleagues, putting in their place the professional dancers competing and teasing the studio audience .
A seasoned professional dancer and four-time British champion with 30 years of experience, Goodman established himself as the venerable sage of the judging panel, though not as venerable as the programme’s original co-host Sir Bruce Forsyth, who had been ruled out of retirement to give a some old world charm to the BBC’s response to celebrity reality shows like ITV’s Pop Idol.
Goodman chaired the points panel in what was essentially a revival of Come Dance, the BBC’s long-running date (1950-95) with standard dance routines that had been sprinkled with stardust and readied for audiences of the 21st century with a field brilliance. Each week his trained eye gazed upon eight professional ballroom dancers paired with eight celebrities who were challenged to learn a different dance.
While familiar with such exotic elements as the tango, cha-cha-cha, and paso doble, Goodman remained decidedly unreconstructed on the subject of foreign food. “I’ve never had a curry,” he proudly told an interviewer. “And I’ve never eaten spaghetti. Sushi? NO.”
Such traditional views, perhaps suited to a balding suburban dance teacher approaching retirement age, put Goodman in stark contrast to his younger and hip fellow judges Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli, Arlene Phillips (replaced as judge in 2009 by Alesha Dixon) and, since 2012, Darcey Bussell.
In particular, audiences appreciated his frequent on-screen clashes with the feisty Horwood. When Goodman called him a “stupid asshole” in 2011, 600 moviegoers complained. “The problem is,” he confessed, “I’m a cup of tea in a latte world.”
When approving a particular dance routine on Strictly, he would use one of his most memorable catchphrases “It’s a 10 from Len”, “yum yum, pig’s bum”, “pickle me nuts”, “spank me gentle with a wet suede and “winner, winner, chicken dinner, finger-licking good.” Naturally speaking, she compared Anita Rani’s Cell Block Tango routine in 2015 to “a cow on Countryfile: hot and steamy.”
Another frequent opponent was professional dancer James Jordan, who complained in 2011 when judges criticized his routine with his famous partner Alex Jones. When Jordan pointed out that the audience liked it, Goodman insisted the judging panel knew best: “We spend a lifetime watching, teaching and judging dance. Our criteria are different for the public. When Jordan later called to him from the balcony, Goodman snapped, “All you gotta do is get up, keep up and shut up.”
Viewers drank it all up, with audience numbers soon exceeding seven million, making Strictly the BBC’s most successful Saturday night light entertainment launch for over a decade. “As reality TV plumbs new depths of vulgarity,” observed one critic, “it’s refreshing to see something so gently arched and ancient on the rise.”
When American television network ABC launched their version of Strictly, Dancing With The Stars, in 2005, Goodman joined the team and for several years split his time between London and Los Angeles. When he retired from Strictly at the end of the 2016 autumn series, he continued in his role as head judge on Dancing With the Stars, as well as presenting his own weekly Radio 2 show on Sundays.
The son of an electrician, Leonard Gordon Goodman was born on 25 April 1944 in Farnborough, Kent and grew up in Bethnal Green. When he was six, his family moved back to Kent, settling in the suburb of Blackfen near Sidcup, where they ran a greengrocer, and at 14 Len was taking dance lessons at the Court School of Dancing in nearby Welling.
Leaving Westwood Secondary Modern in 1959, he was apprenticed as a fitter at ITC (later ICL) in Dartford, learning to make tools used to build the first computers, then retrained as a welder at BOC in Cricklewood, north- west of London. This led to a job at Harland & Wolff’s shipyard at North Woolwich wharf.
When he was 17 his father persuaded him to attend a demonstration of professional ballroom dancing in an Erith studio, two floors above Burton the tailors, prompting young Len to enroll in a beginners course. Two incidents spurred him on: meeting world champion ballroom dancers Bill and Bobbie Irving who visited the studio, and breaking a metatarsal bone in his foot playing soccer, after which he was advised to continue dancing. as a way to aid recovery.
His early dance steps were hampered by his injury: “I looked like a man trying to dance with one leg in the gutter and the other on the sidewalk. As my foot got better, I started to find that I really liked it a lot.
With her dance partner Cherry Kingston, daughter of studio owner and dance teacher Henry Kingston, Goodman won her first dance competition at Pontins holiday camp, Camber Sands, progressing to the final at the Royal Albert Hall, where Fred Pontin presented the couple with their award.
When Henry Kingston died suddenly, his widow urged Goodman to turn professional and help her run the dance studio. As Goodman recalled, this is how he became “Britain’s first ex-docker and welder dance teacher”.
In 1973 she opened her own dance center in Dartford. He and Cherry also demonstrated on the vacation camp circuit, where Goodman learned how to handle a crowd with banter through a microphone. For three days every fortnight the couple traveled to Dusseldorf to form a German training dance team, to take classes and give private lessons.
In early 2004, when he was nearly 60, he heard that the BBC was struggling to complete the lineup of four judges for Strictly, only three of whom had been chosen. When he was invited to audition, he looked like a country gentleman in a tweed suit and two-tone shoes bought on Jermyn Street. He was stunned when he was offered the chairmanship of the panel.
Goodman has always voiced her opinion on dance routines on the Strictly dance floor. “You were like a chess master,” she told singer Jay McGuiness and his professional partner, Aliona Vilani. “You planned to go around that floor. That was a mango from a tango. Delightful.”
Praising singer Frankie Bridge for her foxtrot, he stated, “You floated across the floor like butter on a scone.” But he was unimpressed by the jokes of broadcaster Jeremy Vine and his professional partner Karen Clifton (now Hauer). “It was like watching a stork that had been struck by lightning,” Goodman said.
With his first wife, Goodman achieved several dance titles, including Kent Professional Champions (1969), British Professional Rising Stars (1972), and Duel of the Giants (1973 and 1975). He released his autobiography, Better Late Than Never, in 2008.
He continued to appear on Strictly while he was being treated for prostate cancer in 2009, and had knee replacement surgery during the 2015 series, but again refused to take a week off from his reporting duties. judge, appearing on camera on crutches. “I’m just a dance teacher from Dartford who got lucky.”
Len Goodman’s first marriage, to his dance partner Cherry Kingston in 1972, ended in divorce. Her subsequent relationship with a teacher at her dance school produced a son, James, who now teaches Latin and ballroom dancing at the Goodman Dance Academy founded by his father in Dartford. Len Goodman’s second marriage, in 2012, was to his partner of more than 10 years, dance teacher Sue Barrett.
Len Goodman, born April 25, 1944, died April 22, 2023