BRUNO Tonioli fans fear he won’t be back on Strictly any time soon — after Anton Du Beke stepped smoothly into his shoes.
The flamboyant Italian, 66, will not return for this year’s Christmas special, instead remaining in the States where he is judging the US version.
That is despite the fact that trans-Atlantic Covid travel restrictions lift in November — the month the BBC film the festive show.
Bruno’s decision will spark rumours he will stay away from the UK show next year too.
Replacement Anton, 55, is proving a huge hit with viewers during the current series.
A TV insider said: “The reaction to the former pro being on the panel has been totally positive — with most viewers apparently forgetting a time when he wasn’t a full-time judge.
“There is still a huge amount of love and affection for Bruno, and fans would love to see him return.
“But they will be wondering why it won’t be on the Christmas show, as that was the expectation.
“This can only fuel further speculation that Bruno may not be returning next year and that Anton has seamlessly taken his place.”
Bruno has missed the last two series of Strictly as travel restrictions meant it was impossible to fly between the United States and the UK to film both that and Dancing with the Stars.
He will be on the judging panel of the Strictly Arena Tour in January and February, while Anton is on his Anton & Erin Showtime UK dance tour with former Strictly pro Erin Boag.
Bruno was on Strictly when it launched in 2002. He kept his place in 2009 when fellow judge Arlene Phillips was sacked at the age of 66 — triggering ageism claims.
He was last on the Christmas special in 2019.
It is believed he has always found it tiring to travel between the US and the UK.
And, when Covid travel restrictions started in 2020, it was the American show he chose to judge on.
Last year Bruno still managed to take part in Strictly in some form — delivering his verdicts remotely from Los Angeles, where he has a home, during the results show which aired on a Sunday night.
But it was announced in July that Anton, who had danced as a pro on the show since it launched in 2002, would become a full-time judge for the 2021 series.
Last night the BBC declined to comment.
Meanwhile Strictly fans were shocked by the bickering between Craig Revel Horwood and Tess Daly on Saturday night’s show.
The BBC1 dance contests’ acid-tongued judge, 56, had previously made some catty remarks about the shows host — including accusing her of often asking “dull questions”.
Then at the weekend Tess, 52, was seen goading “Mr Nasty” Craig after he delivered his characteristically brutal critiques.
Viewers flocked to social media. One Twitter user wrote: “Tess’s constant disagreement with Craig is tedious, boring and unnecessary.”
Another added: “Come on, Tess, criticise one of the other judges for a change — they are saying the same as Craig did.”
A third fan said: “Craig, again not being allowed to judge by the presenter. Poor from Tess.”
One particularly sharp exchange came after Ugo Monye and Oti Mabuse’s dance. Craig described it as “lacking musicality”.
He added: “It was stiff and a little bit heavy footed, I’m afraid.”
Tess immediately replied: “He’s a rugby player, Craig. Five weeks ago he’d never even danced.”
Craig said: “Yes, I understand that. I get it, darling. But it won’t change what it was, sorry.”
One viewer tweeted: “Sorry Tess, but I agree with Craig. We all know they’ve only been dancing five weeks.”
A second said: “Loved that, well done Craig. He needs to judge what he sees! And not give what Tess wants to see.
"Tess really needs to stop stating things that we all know and can see for ourselves.”
And another added: “Craig’s shady comment to Tess has made the show tonight tbh.”
Only last month Craig insisted that he had the edge on Tess, saying: “I am up with the kids’ culture. I know phrases like GOAT — greatest of all time.
“I taught the nation that. I am down with the kids and I could teach Tess a thing or two about it.”
Tess’s spokesman said: “Tess loves Craig and the pair are good friends. They catch up every week.”
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