Arlene sacked? Time to step up Ruby, Zoe and Vanessa

Don’t expect Jewish women to take Arlene Phillips’ ousting as a Strictly Come Dancing judge lying down


By Keren David, July 16, 2009
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To the picket lines, Maureen Lipman! Placard at the ready Esther Rantzen! Zoe Wanamaker, Ruby Wax, pick up your megaphones! You are who we need at this time of crisis. I’m proposing a new union, Older Jewish Entertaining Women (O JEW) to take on the bumbling bosses of the BBC.
We muttered about Wossy and Sachsgate. We grumbled over the Blue Peter cat row. We rolled our eyes at executives’ vast expenses claims.
But this is a step too far. Arlene Phillips has been booted off the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel.

You may fail to see the Jewish — or any — interest in a competition for two-left-footed celebrities, despite the fine performances of co-religionists like Natasha Kaplinsky and Rachel Stevens. Maybe you prefer the hora to the foxtrot.

If so, you have missed the star that is Arlene. Warm, wise, witty and slightly bonkers she is a composite of everyone’s favourite auntie from Prestwich.

She is a complete expert in her field, as erudite in her own way as Rabbi Julia Neuberger or Baroness Ruth Deech. When Arlene attacked John Sergeant’s lamentable footwork her comments were based upon years of choreographing the likes of Hot Gossip. Arlene knows her stuff —unlike Alesha Dixon, her replacement, picked to attract younger viewers.

Arlene’s judgements are packed with wordplay and delivered with aplomb. She knows how to send herself up, but takes no nonsense from high-spirited fellow judges. Like Ruby Wax or Vanessa Feltz she is confident enough to joke about her own sexuality — but knows where to draw the line.

She’s got the caustic edge of Wanamaker or Lipman, and the ability to wound of Joan Rivers. Like many older Jewish woman Arlene delivers outrageously insulting criticism cleverly disguised as helpful advice.
“No one’s remarks cut as deeply as Arlene’s, yet backstage she was like a caring mother figure,” remarked flat-footed TV presenter Fiona (no relation) Phillips, survivor of many on-screen maulings from Arlene. Fiona’s confusion will be familiar to anyone whose booba has weighed in on a radical haircut or an ill-fitting yomtov outfit.

Last but not least Arlene, 66 looks stunning — and not a day older than 40. Just like most older Jewish woman. Look at Felicity Kendal.
So Arlene’s departure is no small matter. Not only has the BBC broken every employment law about sexism and ageism, but they have failed to cherish a Jewish treasure. Solidarity is essential. Maureen, Zoe, Felicity, no more heavy drama or jolly sitcoms. Ruby, zip that mouth; Esther, Julia and Ruth, just say no to Question Time. Can someone get Madonna on board?

Before we unleash O JEW’s industrial action though, there are two ways that the BBC can avoid this blow.

Brucie’s getting on a bit. Let’s have Arlene as Strictly’s presenter. Of course, she’ll need some eye candy at her side. Sweet Gethin Jones or Matt di Angelo? That’ll pull in viewers, young and old.

But maybe Strictly is too small for Arlene. There’s a vacancy at another top BBC show. The Apprentice needs a new right-hand woman, now that Margaret Mountford is to spend more time with her PhD. Who better to take her place than sparky Arlene? Sir Alan… it’s up to you.

Last updated: 12:32pm, October 11 2010