TV preview: Dancing Cheek to Cheek

Historian Lucy Worsley and Len Goodman look back as dancers in the BBC's Dancing Cheek to Cheek: An Intimate History of Dance.
Historian Lucy Worsley and Len Goodman look back as dancers in the BBC's Dancing Cheek to Cheek: An Intimate History of Dance.
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As pre-nuptial agreements go, TV historian Lucy Worsley’s was rather unusual.

“When I got married three years ago, my husband (architect Mark Hines), who’s a very wise man, made me sign a contract saying I would never be on Strictly Come Dancing,” the writer and presenter reveals. “Partly because he thought it would be really bad for me – I love sequins and showing off a bit too much already...”

Worsley, 40, has found a pre-nup loophole, however, in the form of new BBC Four series Dancing Cheek To Cheek: An Intimate History Of Dance, which she co-hosts with Strictly’s head judge Len Goodman. In the three-part show, the pair investigate how popular dances from the 17th century to just before the Second World War offer a window into British society, politics, and romance.

They also perform a dance at the end of each episode in a historic location, starting with the notoriously tricky minuet. The pair dressed in full 18th century costume, with Worsley donning a posture-enforcing dress and Goodman in heels and a wig, for their performance in a packed Georgian ballroom.

“I got a taste of my own medicine and thank heavens they didn’t have the (Strictly) paddles, because I would probably have only got a four,” confesses London-born Goodman.

“It was the most difficult dance I’ve ever learnt in my whole life. It was so alien to everything we do in ballroom and Latin American.”

On paper, the pair don’t have much in common – as Goodman notes, “we’re a bit like chalk and cheese: Lucy’s been to Oxford and is a historian, I’m just a dance teacher who left school when I was 15.”

However, what really unites the pair is a shared passion for the past.

Worsley’s credentials are well-known from her BBC documentaries (on everything from the Georgians to the Royal wardrobes) and she’s also the chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

When it comes to dressing up and role-playing to bring history alive, she has “no dignity”.

“I don’t mind what I have to do; I see myself as the thin end of the wedge. If somebody watches just a little bit of a history programme, maybe they’ll read a history book, maybe they’ll do an evening class, maybe they’ll do an Open University degree, maybe they’ll become a museum curator.

“This happens – people have written to me and told me.”

Goodman, meanwhile, has delved into the past by investigating his family on BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? in 2011, and ITV Victorian prison documentary Secrets From The Clink earlier this year.

“I like nostalgia, I like how things were more than how things are. And I dread what’s going to happen in the future, but I won’t be around for that,” the 70-year-old explains.

“I jumped at Dancing Cheek To Cheek, I really did. I never knew the sort of history – OK, from about 1925 I know a bit about what happened with dance, but as for what happened before that, I didn’t have a clue.”

Dancing Cheek To Cheek, BBC Four, Monday, 9pm