Obituary: Peggy Spencer
Ballroom dancer and choreographer on 'Come Dancing' who taught Rudolf Nureyev to tango
Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30
Peggy Spencer, who has died aged 95, was the unchallenged doyenne of British ballroom dancing; for many decades she was a choreographer and judge on the BBC television series Come Dancing, and on Saturday nights viewers watched agog as the Frank and Peggy Spencer formation team, sequinned and lacquered to perfection, danced the paso doble.
It was her husband Frank who first discovered ballroom dancing, starting his first formation dance team in 1937. After the war, during which he served in the Army, he drilled them with military precision from his home in Kent. The discipline paid off when he teamed up with Peggy. Over a period of 20 years, groups from their stable won nearly every award in competition dancing.
At the peak of her fame, the formidable Peggy Spencer taught Rudolf Nureyev to tango, was summoned to Monaco to teach Princess Caroline to dance and even choreographed a dance sequence for a Beatles video, 'Your Mother Should Know'.
Come Dancing, with its dazzling blur of sequins, fake tan and camp silver catsuits, was the butt of many a 1970s comedian's jokes. But Peggy Spencer always emphasised the athleticism required. "On a social occasion, onlookers do not laugh, they usually stand in awe."
Though she was a stickler for professionalism, and was in no doubt about the ability of the quickstep, the waltz and the foxtrot to hold their own against contemporary dance forms, Peggy Spencer was always prepared to move with the times. For Sir Elton John's 50th birthday party in 1997 she organised an entertainment fusing the traditions of ballroom and Latin dancing with modern technology and sounds.
She slipped out of the limelight when Come Dancing was dropped in 1999. However, when Strictly Come Dancing relaunched ballroom dancing on BBC1 in 2004, its producers approached Peggy, still going strong in her eighties, and asked her to take part. She later said that she had turned
them down because she was too old - only to be astonished when they offered the job of host to Bruce Forsyth.
She was born Margaret Ann Hull in Bromley on September 24 1920.
Peggy married Jack Spencer in 1940, and had a son and daughter, but the marriage was not successful and they would divorce in 1947.
It was the war years that sparked her interest in ballroom dancing and also brought her close to Frank Spencer, her brother-in-law and future husband.
Frank was serving with the Army in Africa, so she helped run a music shop he had established in Sydenham High Street.
After her divorce. Peggy Spencer moved in with Frank and they began their famous dancing school, founding the Royston Ballroom in Penge.
Although Frank and Peggy Spencer passed for man and wife it was nearly 20 years before they could make things legal, as in-laws were forbidden by law from getting married.
Frank Spencer died in 1987 and Peggy retired from professional dance coaching in 1997, after which she retired to King's Lynn, in Norfolk. In later years she co-hosted Peggy Spencer's Ballroom Blitz, an annual "fun-packed day of dancing" held at the Royal Festival Hall, and she continued to teach until two years ago.
Her children survive her.