Didn’t he do well?
Farewell to the last of the great entertainers
DAME ESTHER RANTZEN AND MICHAEL HOGAN PAY TRIBUTE
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 made a CBE; backstage after the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium with the Queen Mother and Dallas star Larry Hagman; and with former wife and Generation
Game hostess Anthea Redfern in the 70s