Slightly Disappointing Evocation of a Long-Forgotten Era
The Thirties and the Forties were the golden age of the British dance bands, where leaders such as Roy Fox, Anbrose and Jack Hylton earned fantastic sums of money, and vocalists/crooners such as Al Bowlly sold millions of shellac 78 rpm records. STRICTLY COME DANCING's Len Goodman leads us on a nostalgic tour of that era, with help from modern- day enthusiasts as well as the usual troupe of 'experts' on musical history and stylistics. British dance-band music was very different from its American counterpart, even though acknowledging an undeniable influence. However some of it was too much for the then-staid BBC under Sir John Reith, who found the crooning and the 'hot' band music too entertaining and not sufficiently edifying for his fledgling service. The documentary is very good in depicting the struggles between the dance band leaders and the BBC, who were terribly frightened of artistes plugging their new songs on a supposedly public service network. The dance-band era also witnessed significant social changes: listeners not only had the chance to use the radio, but they could invest £6 10s (£6.50) on a new gramophone and buy the latest disks. Music was now becoming commercial as well as a form of mass entertainment. The program is less convincing when it suggests that dance band music somehow died out with the onset of World War II. While Bowlly was killed early on in the conflict, other singers prospered - notably Vera Lynn - while Henry Hall, Roy Fox and other dance-band leaders enjoyed regular work touring the country as well as broadcasting on the BBC. It was only with the advent of new musical influences from America - notably jitterbug - that dance band music began to seem outmoded, and that process was not to happen until the mid-Forties at least. LEN GOODMAN'S DANCE BAND DAYS is diverting entertainment, but could have done without the spurious reaction shots of Goodman grinning in assent at many of the points the 'experts' are making.
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