FROM BARROW- BOY TO THE BALLROOM
Len Goodman´s journey as followed by
Who knows whether what I see in my mind is a simple fact caught up in a maelstrom of flotsam and jetsam being taken on light years of travel and randomly dispersed in what I think I used to call my memory. I´m pretty sure that Wednesday night was cub night for my ten year old self living in Prestwich with my mum and dad. I had not only a woggle (left) but also a couple of badges on my dark blue cub jumper. I would become a sixer sometime later but for now I was a recognised stitcher and sewer and knew how to, though I can´t recall if I ever needed to, start a fire with two twigs. Assured I could undertake the tasks of darning a sock or starting a fire to sizzle sausages, my parents would nevertheless then check that I knew my name and address so I could get myself home and in case of emergency they would ask me to tell them our home phone number of 0161 773 5521 in case I needed to call them in an emergency.
Nevertheless, I used to love those winter Wednesday nights when I would stroll through the darkness of winter with a couple of mates all the way from my house at Number 29, Nursery Road all the way down to the scout huts on Church Lane down in the village about three quarters of a mile away. I had to repeat that address, and my home telephone number before I was allowed out of the house but it was so worth it. We would race down the hill a bakery on Longfield Lane, (really a cobblerd street) and buy tuppeny left overs of brown bread, still warm, that we´d eat over the last couple of hundred yards to the huts. Once inside those, there´d be a couple of dib dib dobs, a clothing inspection and then a free for all kickabout with a sponge ball for half an hour or so. We´d stop at Denis Potter´s chippy for six pen´th of chips, saltier than the sea and drwoned in a tidal wave of vinegar and hotter than hell.
That would get me home in time to catch Sportsweek on BBCtv (I´m not sure there was a 4, or 3, or even 2 option then, but I used to like Alan Weekes and sometimes I´d see a bit of football or cricket. I can´t remember whether Strictly Comed Dancing, as I think it was called back then, finished before Sportsweek or came on just after, but whenever I always found the sight of teams of dancers, the men in their dicke bows and the ladies hitching theior skirts and showing their stocking tops to be quite exciting, though at the time I couldn´t have told you why, And also as soon as I found out why I found it exciting somebody invented tights.
These were the kind of memories that compelled me to tune in to the first series of a revised Strictly in 2004. I was taking a gamble I suppose, because surely the programme wouldn´t capture the attention of a man in his mid fifties the way it had done with that ten year old boy.
It did, though, and then some, and still does, if not for the same reasons.
Even in their own recent on-line news report on the life and career of Len Goodman the British Broadcasting Corporation reported, with the benefit of hindsight, that In April 2004, the BBC took a huge gamble.
Desperate to find a new show with mass appeal, it had come up with a seemingly bizarre solution.
Ballroom dancing was deeply unfashionable. The quickstep and jive hailed from an era of Brylcreem and Butlin’s holidays. Now, the corporation was attempting to make the nostalgic preserve of a few elderly enthusiasts the centrepiece of its Saturday nights.
Just days before the first show, the producers hit a crisis.
Four judges had been offered contracts: Craig Revel Horwood, Arlene Phillips, Bruno Tonioli, and a well-known figure from the world of dance. At the very last moment, the fourth judge dropped out.
The BBC was at a loss. Dozens of former world champions – giants of their profession – had already been interviewed, but none had been right. The show’s professional dancers were asked if any luminaries had been missed.
Erin Boag, the former New Zealand champion, tentatively offered a suggestion. “Have you tried Len Goodman?” she asked. “He’s just a dance teacher from Dartford, but he’s a bit of a character.”
Leonard Gordon Goodman was born in Farnborough, Kent, on 25 April 1944.
He grew up in London’s East End in an over-crowded two-up, two-down terrace. There was “lots of love and laughter, but very little money”, he recalled.
It was a tough neighbourhood. Two of his uncles had been active members of Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists before World War Two. When hostilities broke out, angry crowds attacked the family home in Howard Street. Serious injuries were only prevented when the sound of an air raid siren dispersed the mob.
The family scraped a living selling vegetables from barrows. Goodman’s grandfather Albert pawned his gold watch every Monday morning to buy the week’s supply.
Len watched the old man attract customers with a smooth patter dotted with earthy phrases. He later used many of his grandad’s lines on Strictly Come Dancing.
Albert Goodman was good at his job. The barrow became two shops in Bethnal Green – with enough money left over to buy Len’s parents a greengrocer business in Kent.
Soon after they moved, the marriage fell apart. Goodman’s father moved away, and his mother buried the shame of divorce by throwing herself into her job.
‘You’ll be a failure’
At school, young Len enjoyed football and cricket – but was no academic. “It’s obvious you’re never going to amount to anything, Goodman,” his headmaster declared. “You’re a failure in class. You’ll be a failure in life.”
To help his mother, he pushed a barrow of vegetables around town every evening – just as his grandfather had. This, Goodman believed, was a more valuable education than school had ever provided – as it taught him how to speak to people and engage them.
At the age of 14, he went to his first dance class. He had little love for the foxtrot, but a keen interest in girls. The most thrilling moment of the night, he later wrote, was the ‘excuse me’ dance – during which you had to kiss your partner goodbye.
A year later, Goodman left school “with no sense of loss on either side”. He began an apprenticeship in an engineering factory but, by his own admission, was dreadful at it.
He took a welding course and found work in the Harland and Wolff Royal docks in Woolwich. It wasn’t a job he liked, but it brought in enough money to enjoy himself at weekends.
Goodman became a sharp-dressed Mod, hanging out on his Vespa in Brighton on Saturday afternoons, trying to avoid fisticuffs with gangs of rival Rockers.
Like many of his generation, he worshipped rock ‘n’ roll and regarded ballroom dancing as something ‘old fogeys’ did. Then, he broke his metatarsal playing football on Hackney Marshes, and was advised to find an activity to help build its strength again.
Falling in love
Joy Tolhurst was a former world champion. At her first dance lesson, Goodman was hampered by wearing a winklepicker on one foot and a carpet slipper on the other. Slowly, he fell in love with the both the waltz and Mrs Tolhurst’s daughter.
He and Cherry Tolhurst became partners on and off the floor. Their first competition was a Pontin’s sponsored event at the Royal Albert Hall. Goodman practiced in his front room, with a lamp placed behind him – so he could see his hip action in the shadows.
As the couple sashayed onto the hallowed stage, Goodman heard great bellows from the audience. Fifty-three fellow dock workers had hired a coach to come and support him, and were well lubricated up.
When Joy’s husband died suddenly, she asked 22-year-old Len to help her teach. Learning from an ex-welder was a shock to students used to a poised former professional.
By 1973, Goodman and Cherry were driving thousands of miles a year, demonstrating the cha-cha-cha and rumba to amateur classes the length and breadth of the country.
They married and opened their own dance school in Dartford. The couple won a rising star competition in Blackpool – but decided not to compete professionally again.
“I got fed up with the politics of the business,” explained Goodman. “The fact that you had to placate and schmooze people that you didn’t really like, because you did not upset them, as they were judges.”
The decision took a toll on his marriage which, he admitted, had become more of a dance partnership than a relationship. When the dancing stopped, everything collapsed. Cherry left him for a multi-millionaire Frenchman, leaving Len in an empty house and with only half a business.
His heartstrings were healed when he met Lesley, a former wife of the manager of Black Sabbath. A year later, the couple had a son.
What saved his business was the film Saturday Night Fever.
Goodman put up posters: “You’ve heard the music, now learn the dances.” There were queues halfway down Dartford High Street and, when Grease came out, “the seam of gold turned into a whole goldmine”.
By the time the BBC rang to suggest he audition for Strictly Come Dancing, Goodman was about to turn 60. He was settled with his new partner Sue, and their dance school was performing well.
In truth, he wasn’t looking for new challenges. He was hoping to wind down his business and play a little golf. But his competitive instincts kicked in, so Goodman caught the bus to Strictly’s studios, wearing his best tweed suit.
Revel Horwood, Phillips and Tonioli all had backgrounds in theatre, but none knew ballroom. Len was concerned that the show might “take the rise” out of the discipline he loved – which could destroy his reputation. To take part, he had to break a contract to judge the Blackpool championships – which clashed with the first TV show. It wasn’t just the BBC that was taking a gigantic risk: Goodman knew he would never be asked again.
‘All sausage, no sizzle’
He decided the best thing was just to be himself. In the first show, he trotted out one of his grandad’s favourite phrases, “all sausage, and no sizzle”, and quickly settled in. The audience loved his pithy observations. “It’s a lovely rise and fall, up and down like a bride’s nightie,” he told one nervous contestant. “You’re just like a trifle – fruity at the top but a little bit spongy down below,” he informed another.
At heart, he was a teacher and was quick to offer practical advice. But one of the show’s first brave celebrities, Jason Wood, discovered Goodman had a sharp tongue. “Wood by name, wood by nature,” he said.was told by Len.
With millions watching, the Americans picked up the show. ABC booked Tonioli to appear alongside two US judges on the rebranded Dancing with the Stars – only for history to repeat itself.
One of ABC’s picks did not perform well in the pilot programme. With 24 hour’s notice, Goodman was put on a plane to Los Angeles. For more than a decade, he crossed the Atlantic twice a week – appearing as head judge on both shows simultaneously. While in LA, he shared an apartment complex with Tonioli – with Bruno doing the cooking and Len the ironing.
Goodman’s natural charm worked so well on camera that he was offered other presenting opportunities. There was even a short-lived BBC game show, Partners in Rhyme.
But, in his seventies, he decided the constant flying back and forth had become too much. He left Strictly Come Dancing – with much emotion – in 2016 to concentrate on the (much better paid) ABC version.
Then in 2022, he left the US show to “spend more time with my grandchildren and family” in the UK.
International fame came late to Len Goodman. When it did, he had spent long enough in obscurity for it not to affect him. He may never have been a world-class dancer himself, but his easy-going charm made him a natural TV performer.
For the ex-welder, none of it was work.
“Work,” he insisted, “was something you didn’t like doing.”
“You’ve heard the expression I could’ve danced for joy?” he once wrote. “Well, I have and still do.”
Sadly Len Goodman died on Saturday 29th April at a hospice in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, surrounded by his family. He had had bone cancer.
Tributes have poured in from the likes of Strictly co-host Claudia Winkleman, who called Goodman “a class act”, as well as former judges Dame Darcey Bussell and Bruno Tonioli.
Former Strictly judge Dame Darcey Bussell said: “He had the gift of the gab, and I will never forget his use of fruit and veg and sticky toffee pudding as descriptive phrases of dance.
“He was always professional: grounded, funny, loveable, supportive and respectful… but never shy to say how it was. For Len, Strictly and Dancing With The Stars was never about the fame, it was about keeping his world of dance true and relevant. As I go in to coach at the Royal Ballet today, I think of him so fondly and try to follow his example.”
A former welder, Goodman became a dancer on the advice of his doctor and never looked back.
After winning the British Championships in his 20s, he became a dance instructor and joined Strictly for its launch in 2004.
Popular with viewers for his wry humour and avuncular critiques, he managed to turn the act of giving scores into a source of catchphrases: From his comedically elongated pronunciation of “seveeeen” to the much sought-after “10 from Len”.
Strictly’s longest-serving judge, Craig Revel Horwood, referenced that showmanship while paying tribute on Monday, describing Goodman as a “gorgeous colleague and dear friend”.
“Len Goody Goodman is what I always called him and ‘It’s a ten from Len & seveeeeern’ will live with me forever,” he added.
Dame Arlene Philips, another of the original judges, said that on the afternoon of Strictly’s pilot episode they made a pact to agree to do the show only if they could both do it.
“On screen and off screen we worked together, me forever being excitable and Len being cool and casual,” she said on social media.´The perfect pairing. I missed spending so much time with him after I was dropped from Strictly Come Dancing but we always kept in touch. He will be so missed.
Winkleman told BBC News: “There was nobody like him because he was so humble. He was adorable – on camera, off camera, and to everybody who took part.”
Her co-host Tess Daly agreed that Goodman was “a beautiful man, genuine, warm and humble, who left an impression on everyone he met. “I’ll never forget the fun we had on set, his love and passion for dancing and that wonderfully cheeky smile lit up the screen,”
Bruno Tonioli shared a picture of him and Goodman together, declaring: “There will never be anyone like you. You will always be my perfect 10.”
Current head judge Shirley Ballas said that her “past teacher” was a “dance legend” and “a true gentleman” as well as a “shining star in the ballroom that everyone loved.”
Anton Du Beke, who was a dancer and judge on the popular celebrity dancing show, recalled having first met Goodman when he was just a young lad, as he was his dance judge.
“Len was different to anyone else in the dancing business – he was a wonderful character, he had a roguishness about him – he had twinkle,” he said in a statement online.
“He had a way about him that you really wanted him to like you. If Len liked you, it was more important than anyone else liking you.”
He went on to call his old friend “a national treasure”.
Current judge Motsi Mabuse posted a black-and-white picture of Goodman on her Instagram story, alongside the letters “R.I.P.”
Her sister, the dancer Oti Mabuse, added: “My heart breaks. You will forever be missed. Thank you for your honesty, integrity and a pleasurable presence.”
Alesha Dixon, a former Strictly champion and judge, described Goodman as a “true gentleman and one of a kind. He always made me feel so welcome and we laughed a lot. He made my time as a contestant and judge a truly wonderful experience.”´
Former Strictly contestant Susanna Reidsaid the news of Goodman’s death was “such an awful shock and so sad. Len was an absolute legend and the definition of a proper gent. He was a beautiful man with a huge sense of humour who had such a mischievous turn of phrase.”
She said she would never forget the time he described her Samba as being “all bounce, bum and bongos”.
Camilla, the Queen Consort, who danced with Goodman at a public engagement in 2019, was “saddened to hear the news”, according to a Buckingham Palace spokesperson.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described Goodman as “a great entertainer, a popular face on TV screens up and down the country”. “He will be missed by many and our condolences go to his friends and family,” he added