The BBC says contractural obligations to show Match of the Day before 10.30pm are responsible for Strictly Come Dancing’s schedule clash with The X Factor.

A BBC spokesman said: “Strictly Come Dancing is scheduled as part of a wider line-up of family entertainment on Saturday nights on BBC One that includes family drama Merlin, the National Lottery and Casualty.

“We will be starting Strictly at 7pm as our contractual obligations with Match Of The Day mean we cannot start any later.

“The overlap of Strictly with X Factor has happened more than 40 times in the past and based on last weekend’s performances it doesn’t appear to be denting the fortunes of either show.”

On Saturday, Strictly lost out to The X Factor in the ratings war, with a peak viewing figure of 8.7 million, two million fewer than its ITV1 rival.

Meanwhile, the BBC says it hasn’t ‘gagged’ Strictly Come Dancing’s judges, celebrities and dancers.

The BBC strongly rejected suggestions that a leaked briefing note reportedly sent to those appearing in the new series amounted to a ‘gagging order’.

The document, in question and answer format, gave advice on how to handle awkward questions about Arlene’s departure from Strictly.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “It is standard practice to give people who will be in interview situations guidance on any questions that may arise, but it is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that this amounts to the BBC banning or gagging anyone from saying anything.”

BBC sources said the briefing was an internal document intended to help the Strictly press team.