Torvill and Dean: The birth of the Olympic-winning Bolero routine

By Eleanor OldroydBBC presenter
Their 1984 Bolero routine wowed audiences around the world

On Valentine's Night, 1984, the world watched, breathless, as a pinnacle of sporting perfection was reached in Sarajevo.

In a swirl of purple silk chiffon, to the pounding rhythm of Maurice Ravel's Bolero, a police constable and an insurance clerk from Nottingham skated the performance of a lifetime, captivating not only a vast TV audience, but the notoriously hard-to-please judges.

For artistic impression, they produced a row of perfect sixes - and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were Olympic champions.

It's a story that is very familiar to most of us, whether we're old enough to remember that night 30 years ago or not. But this week on BBC Radio 5 live, in Frozen in Time, we'll reveal the tale of how the Bolero routine was born - not on an ice rink or in a concert hall, but over dinner in the west London home of Courtney Jones and Bobby Thompson, friends and mentors to Torvill and Dean.

Courtney was a former ice dance champion, a figure-skating judge, and a dress designer, while Bobby was a leading coach. Jayne and Chris would frequently turn to them to talk over ideas for the show-stopping routines that had, at that point, taken them to three World Championships.

Chris already had in mind the music he wanted for the free programme for the season that would include the 1984 Winter Olympics - a number from the Broadway musical 42nd Street.

But their hosts that night in Notting Hill were not so keen.

"Courtney was doing the cooking and I was in the kitchen and we heard 42nd Street go on," recalls Bobby. "We both looked at each other and said - absolutely no way. Olympic year, it's too much like Mack and Mabel, Barnum - been there, done that. We need something completely different.

"Christopher's face dropped to the floor - he wasn't a very happy little warrior. And I remember Jayne's words; 'Chris, it's no good; they haven't led us wrong yet.'"

A quick dash to the car, a pile of cassettes, and when Bolero came on, there was instant agreement. It was a number that would change the face of ice dancing.

The usual practice at that time was to edit together three different pieces of music, with varying moods and speeds. But Ravel's piece had a continuous flow, with a building crescendo and a dramatic climax.

Having chosen the soundtrack, the rest of the programme followed very quickly afterwards, including the iconic dip-dyed purple pleated chiffon.

The 'Miracle on Ice' in 1980

"I suppose one has a visual picture of a complete performance," Courtney says. "The music inspires the dance, but the music also inspires the costume. Because the music was very flowing, we wanted to find something that would flow equally as well."

The problem was that the silk chiffon only came in a solid colour, not in the shaded ombre effect that Courtney wanted. So they hung the fabric from a string in their basement, with a bucket of purple dye underneath, and every few hours they would pull it out a little bit more, leaving the bottom darker than the top.

And the wooden spoon, previously used to stir the casserole they'd had for dinner, was pressed into service as a dye-stirrer. It's one of the few souvenirs of that period to have survived the last 30 years in Courtney and Bobby's collection - and it's still purple.

You could call it the Spoon of Serendipity - its story is just one of those we'll be telling in our special programme. It would fit quite nicely alongside the Stone of Destiny - which won Rhona Martin and her GB curling team the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Jamaica's unlikely bobsleigh team

We'll also hear about the Miracle on Ice - when the USA ice hockey team beat the USSR on the way to the Olympic title in 1980. Captain, and scorer of the winning goal, Mike Eruzione tells us how his team of college hockey players took on and beat the might of the Soviets, packed with Red Army soldiers.

We'll put ourselves in the shoes - and skis - of the athletes who hurl themselves down the mountain at terrifying speeds as we relive the gold medal runs of Franz Klammer in the men's downhill skiing in 1976, and Amy Williams in the skeleton in 2010.

Hollywood director Jon Turteltaub tells us the story behind one of the great underdog moments in Olympic history - when Jamaica sent a bobsleigh team to the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, and inspired his film Cool Runnings.

The tale of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding at the 1994 Games was more soap opera than sports story. We ask the question: how much did Tonya really know about the attack on her rival? And was Nancy unfairly denied the gold medal which would have crowned her incredible comeback from injury?

Archive : Amy Williams wins Olympic Gold in Vancouver

And John Curry, a man who in 1976 changed the face of men's figure skating in the same way that Torvill and Dean changed ice dancing, is recalled by those who knew him best.

But did the revelation of his homosexuality, in the unsympathetic era in which he was competing, overshadow his Olympic gold?

These are the stories I'll be discussing, along with Barry Davies, who has commentated on seven Winter Olympics beginning in Sarajevo in 1984.

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