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Light Fantastic, The (1960)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Light Fantastic, The (1960)
For Monitor, BBC, tx. 18/12/1960
23 mins, black and white
DirectorKen Russell
Production CompanyBBC
ScriptRon Hitchins
PhotographyTony Leggo

Featuring Ron Hitchins (presenter), Jim Fowell (horn dancer)

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A survey of the various types of dance enjoyed by people throughout Britain.

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While most of Ken Russell's documentaries for the BBC's Monitor arts strand focused on a single creative figure, he would also occasionally make more wide-ranging surveys of the state of a particular art. Guitar Craze (BBC, tx. 7/6/1959) was the first of these, and the following year he followed up his documentaries on Marie Rambert and John Cranko (both tx. 17/1/1960) with a similar survey of the British dance scene.

The Light Fantastic (BBC, tx. 18/12/1960) was written and presented by Ron Hitchins, a Cockney barrow boy who has long been interested in a great many dance forms, and who has recently taken up Spanish dancing. He would clearly continue this interest for some time, as his other television credit is as 'male Spanish dancer' in an episode of From A Bird's Eye View entitled 'Witness for the Persecution' (ATV, tx. 1/1/1971).

Hitchins participates in some of the dance sequences, but his main contribution is an enthusiastic commentary that helps personalise what could have been simply a disparate collection of dance footage. He's not shy about expressing likes and dislikes, being none too keen on ballroom dancing (too choreographed), rock'n'roll (too monotonous) and Morris dancing (just doesn't like it), though anything genuinely spontaneous gets a thumbs up, even if it's a room full of people dressed in black swaying to the sound of a gong.

Though Hitchins does most of the talking, the programme occasionally features other views, such as the unidentified head teacher who asserts that the introduction of compulsory ballroom dancing lessons to his school has brought demonstrable benefits in terms of his pupils' discipline and maturity. Meanwhile, 74-year-old Jim Fowell talks about the horn dance (whose participants sport real antlers), describing both its traditions and offering practical tips for avoiding blisters.

Russell's direction is appropriately unobtrusive, for the most part preferring to pick the best angle for the purposes of emphasising movements and visual patterns, and then letting the dancers express themselves. If The Light Fantastic ultimately adds up to little more than a series of brief snapshots, they're rarely less than engaging, and the film as a whole is a good example of how Monitor head Huw Wheldon actively encouraged his directors to explore their own personal interests, provided they could turn them into a usable piece of work at the end.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Spain and school (3:41)
2. Dance discipline (1:58)
3. The horn dance (2:35)
4. Clogs'n'roll (2:11)
From Spain to Streatham (1959)
Burton, Humphrey (1931-)
Russell, Ken (1927-2011)
Ken Russell on Television
Ken Russell: The Monitor Years