Strictly Come Dancing head judge Len Goodman has been on a visit to Belfast to celebrate a very personal interest in the Titanic ahead of the 100th anniversary of its sinking.
Next spring the BBC will be airing a new three-part documentary about the Belfast-made ship, called The Titanic And Me, which looks at the human legacy of the disaster via the descendants of those who lost their lives, and the presenter is Len Goodman, Strictly’s popular voice of reason.
How Mr Goodman (67), a judge on Strictly since it began in 2004, came to be fronting the kind of programmes you might expect Tony Robinson to present is surprising.
Producer John Farren (42), of the Londonderry firm 360 Production, makers of the programme, explained: “It was down to a good spot by one of the BBC crew. We were looking at the usual suspects to present when the BBC1 controller Danny Cohen said ‘surprise me.’ A researcher said she’d discovered that Len Goodman worked for Harland & Wolff in London as a young man, so we approached him.”
After initial hesitation, Mr Goodman replied in his inimitable manner: “Oh, I don’t do documentaries really, but I’ll do this one.”
And last week he was filming a scene where he visited the Belfast Telegraph on Royal Avenue to scan our famous Titanic front page from 1912.
Len is a fan of the Titanic story, but 360 Production did not proceed with the idea before doing some market research on whether viewers in general still cared about the disaster. Focus groups indicated they did. Like most television, The Titanic And Me had a lengthy, six-month gestation, but the idea was sparked by a brief office discussion in Derry. John said: “I think everyone tells the story of the Titanic and we know how it sank, it hit an iceberg. But we were talking about the ordinary heroes and heroines and their families I realised I’d never seen a programme about the more mundane tale of the people who lost loved ones.”
John is a veteran producer of popular historical documentaries and has 75 episodes of Timewatch under his belt.
“I am proudest of my initial Timewatch, about the great storm. You can always find something new to say about a subject, including the Titanic, and Len’s involvement has added immensely to the programme. He is on a learning curve but wears his learning lightly and people love him.’
“Len is an absolute star in everything but temperament, as he is the down to earth, charming man you see on television,” he added.
John, who moved from London to Derry a few years ago to be near his “ancestral home” in Donegal, is enthusiastic about the new angle of the programme.
“I became excited once we started researching the programme. We have already heard of some of the villains of the Titanic, J Bruce Ismay and so on, but we haven’t really heard about these people.”
He added: “We are populating the ghost of the Titanic.”'
The Titanic, built of course by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, sank on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic in 1912 with the loss of over 1,500 lives.