Brucie broke my heart – but I adored him to the very end
From the Miss World whose affair with Bruce Forsyth
IT COULD have been a scene from an Ealing comedy. Under cover of darkness, ‘Fred Nurg’ sneaked out of his lover’s small flat in Putney, South London, draped in a scarf and trilby, a raincoat masking his long frame. Then a lone voice shattered the still night air: ‘Come off it, Brucie – we know it’s you. You’re not fooling anyone!’
For rising television star Bruce Forsyth, caught leaving the home of his young lover, a beauty queen, the moment was not merely embarrassing but potentially career-ending.
Because this was the early 1960s, a different era, and 35-year-old Bruce, already a household name, was married with children. The faintest whiff of impropriety would have been devastating – hence the absurd name and heavy disguise.
‘It would almost have been comical had it not been so dangerous,’ Ann Sidney recalls today.
‘Bruce told me his marriage was over and I had no reason to doubt him but he had three children and was not divorced. Back then a scandal would have totally destroyed him – and me.’
It is barely more than a week since Sir Bruce Forsyth passed away at the age of 89 and Ann, a former Miss World, is struggling to hold back her tears as she remembers the man she describes, simply, as her first great love.
Bruce, too, was very much in love, as he later acknowledged in his autobiography – and there never was a scandal. Yet even so, their love affair was doomed.
‘It was the sneaking around and subterfuge which got to me,’ Ann says, sadly. ‘I couldn’t lie any more. The relationship had to end. He was a good man with a kind heart. I loved him but I couldn’t live like that.’ When news of his death was announced she was – still is – devastated. She adored him to the end.
It was 1964 when the two first met at a beauty pageant in Bournemouth. Ann was just 19, a trainee hairdresser, who had entered the competition for a lark. Bruce, working Bournemouth’s summer season as the headline act in the Winter Gardens, was a judge. Already established as the host of ITV’s Sunday Night At The London Palladium, he was on the cusp of stardom, just a few years from his real breakthrough presenting The Generation Game, a show which established him as a fixture in Britain’s living rooms.
But there was a problem – he was still married to Penny Calvert, a former dancer, and mother to his three daughters. Ann, now 73, says she knew this would present problems from the outset.
Today, she remains strikingly attractive and prides herself on maintaining the same slim physique from those early pageant days.
As she sips tea in the Beverly Hills home of a friend, her accent is still unmistakably English, despite three decades in the Californian sunshine.
‘Feminism has changed the way people view beauty contests, calling them degrading to women,’ she
muses. ‘Back then, they were seen as harmless entertainment for people who flocked to holiday resorts like Blackpool and Bournemouth and for a girl like me they offered a way out. I wanted to travel and be a dancer.
‘I was making £10 a week as a hairdresser but I could make £1,000 as the winner of a pageant.’
Bruce was instantly smitten by the pretty 5ft 9in brunette and whisked her off to a bistro when she won.
‘He was confident, worldly,’ Ann recalls. ‘Bruce was charming and very funny. I’d never been romanced like that.’
Flowers soon began arriving at the hair salon where she worked.
‘He would use fake names like Fred Nurg or Charles Forthright, but the other girls knew who they were from.’
Bruce rather gave the game away, in fact, by driving past the salon in his Cadillac and waving.
‘From the start, he told me his marriage was over but that it was “complicated”,’ she continues. ‘He would go on and on about Max Wall.’
Famous for his clown-like appearance and funny walks, Wall was a huge star in the 1950s.
But when he left his wife and five children after falling in love with a Miss Great Britain 26 years his junior, Jennifer Chimes, his career was all-but destroyed. Publicly vilified, he suffered a nervous breakdown.
‘Bruce was always terrified that would happen to him.’
Indeed, a scare in September 1964 nearly ended their relationship. Ann won the Miss United Kingdom pageant in Blackpool and a reckless Bruce welcomed her back to Bournemouth’s Hurn Airport with a butler in uniform and champagne on a tray.
A freelance photographer sent pictures of the celebration to the London Evening Standard, which ran the headline: ‘Is there a romance between Palladium star and the new Miss United Kingdom?’
‘I was utterly shamed and humiliated,’ Ann said. ‘We hadn’t yet become intimate and all hell broke loose.’ Bruce’s wife arrived the next day by train to confront her husband and Ann’s father demanded to know whether they were sleeping ing together, which Ann denied.
Ever the gentleman, Ann says, Bruce turned up at the family home to explain himself.
‘He apologised to my parents for dragging my name through the mud. He told my parents his marriage had been struggling for some time but that nothing untoward had happened with me. I hid in my room the whole time.
‘It was very respectful. It made me feel more for him. I knew I was falling in love.’
It was inevitable that their relationship would intensify and, after Ann moved to a rented flat in Putney, South London, to prepare for the Miss World contest in November 1964, Bruce bombarded her with love notes, telegrams and flowers.
‘Bruce was never short of girls, there were lots of showgirls. He was footloose and fancy free.
‘But I think he liked me because I was young and innocent. We laughed all the time. He was hilarious in private, always cracking jokes, flirting, having fun. He was irresistible.’
And, she says, a tender, funny lover. They continued their affair as she jetted around as Miss World. She earned a small fortune, including a £30,000 fee from the International Wool Secretariat to be their global spokeswoman.
When she was in London, Bruce would sneak into Ann’s flat in a series of elaborate disguises includ- one he called ‘Columbo’, after the TV detective, complete with dirty rain mac and trilby.
‘The night one of the neighbours recognised him was a wake-up call,’ says Ann.
‘Bruce laughed it off but we both knew how close we’d come to getting caught, which would have had disastrous consequences.’
The affair would last for 18 months but the circumstances were tense – and Ann wanted more from her lover.
In December 1965, she accompanied Bruce to South Africa, where he was appearing in a variety show. In his autobiography, Sir Bruce wrote of the trip: ‘It was reported she asked me… if I had any intention of marrying her and that I replied I wanted things to carry on just as they were.
‘It’s a long time ago now but I’m sure that’s not true. Ann knew I was having a hard time getting a divorce from Penny. She also knew, when I was free, it was very likely we would get married.’
Ann remembers it rather differently: ‘Being young and in love, like any girl, I’d hoped we would end up in a permanent relationship.’
But it was becoming harder to imagine that happening and Ann could no longer cope with the clandestine nature of their affair.
The end came after Ann’s father intervened and called Bruce.
‘Dad told him I was in a bad way psychologically and that if he truly loved me he would stop the affair. So he did.’ Devastated, Ann says she plunged into a deep depression.
‘I’d stopped being Miss World, then the relationship ended. I was lost for a long time. It was tough,’ she says.
Her career struggled, despite finding work as a singer and showgirl at the MGM casino in Las Vegas and stints in pantomime. There were occasional small acting roles in television shows like Are You Being Served? and The Avengers.
Then, in 2005, she married West End producer Duncan Weldon, former artistic director of the Chichester Theatre, and the pair now divide their time between homes in LA, Chichester and London. Ann is now seeking a publisher for her book, an account of her extraordinary life called Surviving Miss World. As for Bruce – she never heard from him again. Ann says she tried to contact him after his knighthood and sent him letters over the years, but to no avail.
‘He totally cut me off when we split. He moved on. That’s how he was,’ she says.
‘To be as singularly successful as someone like Bruce, you have to be able to focus and move on, both professionally and personally.
‘When Bruce died, there were many stories written and so many untruths about our relationship.
‘I want to be able to tell the truth about what happened but I don’t want to hurt or disrespect anybody.’ She praises Bruce’s widow, Wilnelia, also a former Miss World, as ‘a fantastic woman’ adding: ‘She was the perfect wife for him and clearly the love of his life. I would never wish to hurt her or any of his children.’
Yet there was one positive to emerge from their ill-fated relationship. In 1973, Bruce fell in love with hostess Anthea Redfern when they appeared together on The Generation Game and several years later, Ann met Anthea at a party. ‘She was lovely and thanked me,’ says Ann. ‘She said Bruce had truly loved me and told her he deeply regretted sneaking around in the shadows with me.
‘When Bruce and Anthea fell in love, he insisted on putting out a statement to the press, making it all public. He was still married to Penny but he finally got a divorce and married Anthea the same year. He never wanted to skulk in the shadows again.’
Learning of Sir Bruce’s death, Ann was hit by what she describes as a tidal wave of grief and emotion.
‘We had a genuine love for each other and I never stopped loving him. When you have a love like that, it never leaves your heart.
‘He was a wonderful man who helped shape and change my life. And what a life he had.
‘I shall forever be grateful for his love. And I shall never forget him.’
A wonderful love like that never leaves your heart
Bruce Forsyth with the then Miss United Kingdom Ann Sidney in 1964 SMITTEN: STRIKING: Ann Sidney in Beverly Hills today, above, and, right, the beauty who became Miss World and swept Bruce Forsyth off his feet