Strictly Come Dancing Launch Show, BBC1 ***

WAS there ever a more high stakes game of poker than the Strictly launch night draw? One read of the card by Tess Daly and the waiting professional dancer might be paired with a ballroom star in the making, a Stacey Dooley, say, or a Joe McFadden, and be on their way to lifting the glitterball trophy.

But play the cards wrong and it’s a Judy Murray/John Sergeant and early bath for you, mate.

Series 17 sashayed into view on Saturday night with Kylie as guest star and not much expense spared. Strictly Come Dancing continues to be the BBC’s equivalent of garlic and a crucifix. Whenever government comes looking for more blood in the form of cuts, the corporation waves its flagship show in ministers’ faces. Who would dare mess with Strictly?

Even Strictly is not immune to a downturn, however. Saturday night’s show drew an average of 7.8 million viewers, according to overnight ratings. This was down on last year’s 8.1 million, but the channel’s audience share was up and it comfortably beat ITV, which was showing Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions. It had an average audience of 4.9 million.

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This season’s 15 Strictly hopefuls stretched the definition of “celebrity” tighter than one-time contestant Ed Ball’s Lycra trousers. But there were some vaguely recognisable faces in the crowd, including one-time Treasure Hunt presenter Anneka Rice, who confessed to “a complete phobia of dancing”, and Olympic rowing champion James Cracknell. “Is dad dancing a proper dance?” he asked. “If not, I’m pretty stuffed.”

It was left to Daly to break the news to him gently. Daly’s double act with Claudia Winkleman continued to pose no threat to the careers of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, being the usual mix of Christmas cracker jokes and “Claud’s” attempts at wackiness.

There were changes this series, most notably to the judges’ line-up with Motsi Mabuse, a Latin champ, replacing Darcey Bussell. Head judge Shirley Ballas adopted Mabuse as her new bestie, and Craig Ravel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli played nice, but whether the Strictly town is big enough for four divas remains to be seen. “Motsi, darling, are you ready for Strictly?” purred Revel Horwood. Oh, I think she is, Craig. In a routine with her fellow judges she left all three standing.

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It was time for the main business of the evening: pairing the dancers. This went on for a long time, longer even than the Sorting Hat ceremony in the Harry Potter movies which took at least three days (or felt like it). All we really wanted to know was which er, "project", would Anton end up with this year?

Du Beke has not had his troubles to seek with partners. There was Ann Widdecombe, nimble as a corpse, Ruth Langsford, who had the determination of Cyd Charisse and the poise of Sid James, and of course Judy Murray, who was so stiff with nerves, poor woman, you could have done a week’s ironing on her.

So who was the lucky lady this time? None other than EastEnders actress Emma Barton, who has appeared in stage versions of Chicago and Grease. That’s right, she can dance.

Du Beke all but turned cartwheels. "So this is what it feels like,” he joked. “Book me in until Christmas."

Barton then rained on his parade somewhat by saying: "My mum is going to be so happy.”

Perhaps realising some of his former leading ladies might be watching, du Beke later rowed back on his response to the pairing, telling Winkleman: "I'd just like to say to all the other ladies on the show: I apologise, I know it seemed a bit of an over-reaction, but if you've been through what I've been through ... I've gone all hot."

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The night’s only other drama was one person you had probably never heard of injuring his foot and being replaced by another bod you would not know if you waltzed over them in the street.

Ballas thought the line-up had all the makings of a vintage year. In two weeks’ time, when the first live show airs, we’ll start to see if she is right.

Available on iPlayer