For weeks now, the British public has been gripped by a scandal unfolding on our screens almost nightly. We've watched in shock and horror the very public cavortings of a senior political correspondent, married and well into his sixties, with a young, slim, attractive blonde. Judges have openly called for him to resign or to be removed, but a wave of public sympathy and support has, until now, kept him in place.
It all came to an end yesterday, when John Sargeant pulled out of the current series of Strictly Come Dancing (the UK TV show that spawned Dancing With The Stars). His departure has, predictably, split the nation. Many – the judges included – felt that someone who (let's face it) cannot dance should not have got this far in a dance competition. Many more, however, voted in their millions to keep him in. It has called into question exactly what the show is supposed to be about: serious dance contest, or light entertainment?
But what made John the nation's favourite for so long? What made him such a strong personal brand? First, he set himself very carefully apart from the other competitors. Week by week stars were voted off who were evidently trying to learn but struggling. John Sargeant made it clear very early on that he was going to deep doing what he did best – dancing like a favourite uncle at a family wedding – and smile his way to the end. When interviewed at the end of each show his message was clear: "vote for me if you find me entertaining". The message was simple, it never changed, and he delivered it over and over again. This clarity, consistency and constancy, when combined with a highly differentiated position, would have got him to the final.
And so this week we will tune in to a show without John Sargeant. While it ensures that the show will be won by someone who has actually learned to dance, I fear the ratings will never be the same.