Didn’t he do well?

Farewell to the last of the great en­ter­tain­ers

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page -


Good game, good game. Didn’t he do well? Sir Bruce Forsyth had a glit­ter­ing 75-year show­biz ca­reer but with news of his pass­ing aged 89, we have lost the last of the BBC’S great en­ter­tain­ers – and a re­as­sur­ingly fa­mil­iar fig­ure who you, me and the en­tire na­tion hud­dled around the tele­vi­sion set to watch for the past half-cen­tury.

From Sun­day Night at the Lon­don Pal­la­dium to Satur­day night favourites The Gen­er­a­tion Game and Strictly Come Dancing, Bruce Forsyth has been a near-con­stant pres­ence in post-war Bri­tish sit­ting rooms. He sym­bol­ised warm, cosy fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment and brought Bri­tain to­gether.

When Bru­cie was on-screen, all was well with the world.

My own ear­li­est mem­o­ries of Bru­cie are watch­ing him pre­sid­ing over The Gen­er­a­tion Game’s cli­mac­tic con­veyor belt round.

Pan­icked con­tes­tants would des­per­ately try to re­mem­ber the prizes while me, my brother and mother all shouted “Fon­due set! De­can­ter! Cud­dly toy! Teas­maid!” at the screen, dis­solv­ing into gig­gles when Bru­cie con­spir­a­to­ri­ally rolled his eyes to cam­era.

Come Mon­day in the school play­ground, me and my friends would com­pete to see who could do the best Bru­cie im­pres­sion: chins jut­ting out, mumbly noises made, catch­phrases re­cited and poses struck.

In adult­hood, as this news­pa­per’s Strictly Come Dancing cor­re­spon­dent, I have spent end­less hours sit­ting in the El­stree Stu­dios ball­room with stiff legs and a sore bot­tom – but with Bru­cie to keep me com­pany, I rarely minded. Dur­ing lulls in film­ing, he was

‘He has been a nearcon­stant pres­ence in our sit­ting rooms. When Bru­cie was on-screen, all was well with the world’

in his el­e­ment – re­gal­ing the stu­dio au­di­ence with a song and pluck­ing fe­male mem­bers from the crowd for a twin­kle-toed twirl around the dance floor.

Strictly record­ings can run to many hours but he tire­lessly jol­lied them along and pre­vented pun­ters from get­ting rest­less. He was a con­sum­mate mas­ter of cer­e­monies.

He’s one of those rare celebri­ties who can be recog­nised from a fa­cial gesture or re­ferred to by his first name – that’s how in­grained he is in our psy­ches. Bru­cie has been there through­out out lives. A twinkly TV un­cle to the na­tion.

The am­ply-chinned, much-adored old stager was a grandee from the golden age.

More­cambe and Wise and the Two Ron­nies – the other TV light en­ter­tain­ment totems of my child­hood – had al­ready gone to the great green room in the sky, leav­ing Forsyth as the last of a breed. I felt a twinge of sad­ness yes­ter­day af­ter­noon as the cur­tain came down on Sir Bru­cie too.

If show­biz is in the blood, then it cer­tainly coursed through the veins of Bruce Joseph Forsyth-john­son, who made his first TV ap­pear­ance aged 11 and his pro­fes­sional stage de­but three years later as “Boy Bruce, The Mighty Atom”.

He got his big broad­cast­ing break in 1958, com­pèring ITV’S Sun­day Night at the Lon­don Pal­la­dium.

Va­ri­ety was his nat­u­ral métier. There was al­ways some­thing win­ningly old-fash­ioned about Forsyth. He merely wanted to en­ter­tain and took in­fec­tious delight in do­ing so. Whether it was with tap shoes, a crooned jazz stan­dard or a groan-wor­thy gag didn’t mat­ter.

Through­out the Seven­ties, of course, he hosted The Gen­er­a­tion Game, one of the decade’s defin­ing shows. With its daft games and Forsyth’s sharp pat­ter – equally amus­ing to house­wives like my mother and school­boys like me – it at­tracted huge au­di­ences of 21mil­lion. Typ­i­cally, he also wrote and sang the show’s fiendishly hummable theme tune Life is the Name of the Game.

This was fol­lowed in the Eight­ies by a string of hit gameshows in­clud­ing Play Your Cards Right, You Bet and The

Price is Right – the mere ti­tles of which are enough to trans­port me back to my teens. Forsyth hosted these shame­lessly cheesy af­fairs with the per­fect blend of grav­i­tas, irony and razzmatazz – ex­pertly build­ing ten­sion, be­fore glanc­ing down the cam­era to let us in on the joke.

After a decade off our screens, he popped up in 2003 as guest host on Have I Got News for You, gamely over­see­ing a spoof quiz show seg­ment called Play Your Iraqi Cards Right. This ap­pear­ance, greeted with a warm wave of ac­claim and misty-eyed af­fec­tion from those of us who had missed him, re­vived his ca­reer.

The fol­low­ing year, BBC bosses picked him to helm the de­but se­ries of Strictly Come Dancing, along­side Tess Daly.

Thanks in no small part to Bru­cie’s show­man­ship – crack­ing painful puns with a know­ing glint, tak­ing no non­sense from the judges and telling nu­mer­ous con­tes­tants “You’re my favourite” – this seem­ingly risky com­mis­sion was an im­me­di­ate smash hit. It re­mains one of the BBC’S big­gest fran­chises and re­stored Forsyth to his right­ful po­si­tion as a crowd-pleas­ing, fam­ily-friendly Mr Satur­day Night.

It was sheer joy to have him back. Satur­days felt like Satur­days again.

All I needed was a Wagon Wheel and a glass of Nesquik for a full Prous­tian rush.

In 2012, Guin­ness World Records recog­nised him as hav­ing the long­est TV ca­reer of any male en­ter­tainer. Bru­cie re­tired from live show du­ties in 2014, gra­ciously pass­ing the glit­tery ba­ton to Clau­dia Win­kle­man.

After 10 years and 11 se­ries, it was time to hang up his bow tie but he still re­turned for pre-recorded Strictly spe­cials, in aid of Chil­dren In Need or at Christ­mas.

Indeed, Bru­cie graced our screens in some form on Dec 25 for more than 40 years – a feat beaten only by the Queen.

It’s a mea­sure of how he’s part of our cul­tural DNA. I hes­i­tate to de­ploy the overused term “na­tional trea­sure” but in Forsyth’s case, it fits.

Farewell then, Un­cle Bru­cie. It was al­ways nice to see you, to see you nice. And wher­ever you are: keeeeeep dancing.


The epit­ome of Satur­day night tele­vi­sion, some mem­o­rable mo­ments in Sir Bruce’s ca­reer are cap­tured here, clock­wise from top, on Strictly Come Dancing; on Thames TV in his early days; with his wife Wil­nelia at Buck­ing­ham Palace in 2006 when he was...

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