What's it like to be a runner on Strictly Come Dancing?

What's it like to be a runner on Strictly Come Dancing?

Mon 26 Nov 2012


After Alison successfully impressed her mentors at The Network during the Media Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival in August, ScreenHI sought to follow up on this by finding her some real hands on experience in TV production Jane Atkinson, the Line Producer on Strictly Come Dancing, was one of The Network workshop leaders, ScreenHI met up with her during the festival and the rest is history Read about how our girl, Alison Johnston got on in London...

Monday 26th November 2012
I’ve just completed two days on Strictly Come Dancing.

Let me pause for a moment while that sinks in...


Think it might take a while.

One of the other runners told me that working on Strictly spoiled the watching of it — because you know how everything works. But the opposite is true for me. Knowing how everything works is the magic for me. It’s like watching a swan glide across the water and simultaneously seeing its furious paddling beneath the surface. And for two days I was one of the ones doing the furious paddling.

Strictly Come Dancing

Arriving bright and early-ish at 9:30 on Friday morning — pausing for the obligatory ‘It’s me at the BBC!’ photo out front — I was told my jobs for the day would be Floating and Audience. It’s surprisingly hard to float in an effective manner, especially when you are new to a job and everyone else has been doing it for eons. It helps that they are a great team. Everybody took time to answer my questions, direct me round the building (it’s a circle so why is it so confusing?), offer me advice, patiently repeat instructions and generally go out of their way to make me feel a valuable member of the team.

Alison Johnston at TVC ready to run!

One of my tasks as a floater was to stand-in. The others saw this as a chunk lost from their day; I thought it was great. I mean, the first person I had to stand-in for was Brucey. I stood where he stands. Then I had to stand-in for the celebrity couples on the dancefloor while the crew checked the camera and set the lights. I had to stand in the spotlight. It is really hard to shrug this off as all in a day’s work.

I also had to bring Denise her coffee; take Dani and Vincent’s lunch orders; deliver Louis’s chips; receive a kiss on the cheek from Nicky; herd Pasha and James to a meeting; sit on the couch next to Claudia; deliver a paper bag containing Lisa’s hair. I even had to follow Brucey’s stage directions — Sir Bruce Forsyth told me how to act. The week before the poor runners doing stand-ins had to dance gangnam-style. This week, we just had to look unimpressed, which was tough given my excitement at being there.

At four o’clock, as part of the Audience team, we had to set up and run a cloakroom for the guests arriving for a pre-record of Michael Bublé and The Script. Okay, I have to admit that running a cloakroom is not top of the list of jobs I have always wanted to do, but it was actually lovely to meet and greet the audience, sharing a little of their thrill at being there, seeing yet another side of the process.

On Saturday, I had to up my game to Talent Runner, looking after a seven-man dance troupe, Flawless, who were part of the evening’s performance for the Sunday show. My boys (not that I would called them that to their faces, mind you) were lovely, except that they kept changing their names on me. So, Paul became Breaks, Neo turned out to be Nathan, whereas Nathan turned out to be Oddy. I met them as they drew up in their cars; escorted them to their dressing room; took their drinks orders; arranged their wardrobe fitting; stood by as they practised their routine in the corridor; brought them up for rehearsal; watched the rehearsals (which were awesome); took them back to their dressing rooms; brought them water; tracked down the wandering ones; liaised with the Audience team to have their management team and guests added to the audience list, gave them time checks; arranged for wardrobe again; pulled all the stickers off the bottom of their new shoes so they didn’t show up in performance; brought them up to the studio for the performance; arranged make-up; arranged make-up; arranged make-up . . .

Flawless performed on Strictly Come Dancing

Well, I was supposed to arrange makeup but somewhere along the line I missed out this crucial step. It could have been a disaster of shiny-faced dancers, but fortunately, so fortunately, one of the assistant floor managers spotted the error, called in the make-up team and the boys were given a wee dusting in time to go into the studio. Not a mistake I will make again, I can tell you.

But with the lows came highs and there were some truly magical moments.

Sitting on a stool in the orchestra box standing-in for one of the singers, watching Brucey’s silhouette outlined by a halo of light, rehearsing his lines to camera: that’s not a moment I’ll ever forget.

And I’m not likely to forget what it was like to sit in the Star Bar (formerly the TOTP green room) catching some food with the other runners and watching the final dances on little screens, whilst glittery celebs and dancers, behind-the-scenes camera crews, producers, wardrobe, hair and make-up teams danced around each other to the rhythm of the production like a backstage scene from an old Hollywood musical. And more often than not I felt like I was in-step too.

My final stand-in was for Kimberly just before the show began. I was paired with Pasha for the closing scene where everybody faces the camera and dances. The waltzing was okay, but I wasn’t prepared for him turning me and swaying me backwards from the waist.

Disapprovingly he said, ‘You should trust me.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘You probably know what you are doing.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I probably do.’

Don’t they just.