Bruce Forsyth: a life of achievements

Andy Stevens / 22 August 2017

From the Generation Game to Glasto - a few more things you never knew about the king of light entertainment, Sir Bruce Forsyth.

There’s been a groaning conveyor belt stacked high with anecdotes and memories from showbiz friends, fans and viewers alike expressing the fondest didn’t-he-do-wells to the undisputed king of British light entertainment, Sir Bruce Forsyth, in the wake of his death at the age of 89.

Read our archive interview with Sir Bruce Forsyth

And what a career. More accurately, several careers in Brucie’s case, spanning the whole neon names-in-lights pantheon of post-war entertainment, running end to end like that Generation Game conveyor belt of legend, from Goblin Teasmade to attractive set of coasters and the cuddly fondue set.

Not forgetting the patent leather tap shoes, tapping away in double and triple time with a life of their own.

Here’s a classic 1974 clip of Brucie’s famous Generation Game conveyor belt, making its stately progress with a wallpaper muzak accompaniment – and on this occasion a fan-heater, wall-clock, cuddly dog and binoculars among the prized goodies up for grabs: 

Sir Bruce’s was a stellar career in which he spun many plates – with very few of them smashing on the studio floor. Most of his cards he played right.

He tapped underfoot, tinkled and swung on the jazz joanna, cajoled expectant audiences eager for escapist japes, and quipped his engaging way through a colossal 78 years as a star, from flickering cathode-ray Fergusons to packed houses as compere at London’s Windmill and Palladium.

Then there were the odd film appearances before Bruce made primetime his own with the huge, glitzy career boost of new-fangled colour telly’s coming of age and the mass 1970s Saturday night fun family viewing that came with it.

And then on and on Sir Bruce went – and on again, knocking decade after decade into a cocked top hat – straight down the middle to the 19th hole of our not-so-small-screen Saturday nights until incredibly recently, with his remarkable, age-defying, twinkled-toed Strictly Come Dancing extended swansong.

Here are a few more nice-to-see nuggets from an entertainer whose public life, more than anyone else, defined a genuine days-of-our-lives career:

Brucie at the dawn of television

Born in February 1928, north Londoner Bruce Forsyth wasn’t quite old enough to bag TV’s very earliest gigs at up on the hill at Ally Pally. But he wasn’t that far off. John Logie Baird was probably waiting for him to call.

Brucie’s first television appearance was in 1939 as a dancer – in the week before war broke out. Historians have refused to confirm that the two events were in any way linked.

As the Radio Times said a while back with barely-concealed astonishment and admiration: “Think about that. 1939. Before there was BBC2 or the second world war, there was Brucie.”

Bruce goes Scott’s free

Schooled in the pre- and post-war trad era, Sir Bruce was a mad keen jazz fanatic. And only this week since his passing, the world-famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott's has paid its own tribute to the late star, who was a regular visitor to the club.

Ronnie Scott's posted this YouTube clip on their Facebook page:

And as if proof were needed, you can see full well that the boy Bruce could certainly make those ivories not just tinkle, but sing and swing too.

Glasto BruceFest 2013

While we’re talking Bruce’s love of music, it’s easy to forget – or maybe pluck from the recesses of memory – that Mr TV himself was also once a headliner at, yes, Glastonbury. And only four years ago at that.

Here’s a clip of your man Brucie working the crowd, when he and his waistcoat opened things up on Glasto’s Avalon stage in 2013: 

Golfing Brucie

Sir Bruce’s passion for golf may have elicited sniggers among the bien pensant alternative comedians of the 1980s, with the whole ‘Brucie, Tarby, Lynchy’ thing; all those Rupert Bear trousers, Pringle sweaters and showbiz chumminess of the celebrity pro-am smart suburbia set seeming triflingly passe.

Thirty-odd years on, we expect half of them are practising golf obsessives now, anyway. Funny how that happens. But if it can happen to Alice Cooper, it can happen to anyone. And guess whose splendid pile backed on to Wentworth golf course, anyway? 

For the record, small-ball detail fans: Bruce once played off 10, although his handicap did creep up to a still none-too-shabby 14 in later years.

And while we’re talking sport, it’s been noted with mild incredulity in the Mirror that football fan Sir Bruce supported Arsenal – and Tottenham. Pretty sacrilegious behaviour in Bruce’s native north London, some might scoff. But the entertainer explained that he used to watch both clubs when they habitually shared each other’s grounds as the war raged over the capital in 1939-45, so we’ll let him off.

Golf and football. Good game, good game: as someone might once have put it.

Bruce on film

Before his hugely successful game shows such as The Generation Game and Play Your Cards Right became seared into the consciousness of every person in every front room in Britain, Bruce dabbled as a sideline with the odd film role.

It’s often overlooked that Bruce nearly landed the part of Fagin in the ever-wonderful 1968 smash-hit film musical Oliver! – a role which Ron Moody so timelessly and brilliantly made his own.

Bruce did, however, spiv things up in style playing that proper Portobello Road wrong ’un Swinburne in Disney’s joyous 1971 classic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

It’s been noted among the reams of obits and reminiscences since Bruce’s passing that his one career regret was not making it big in America.

He did, however, get chance to play second fiddle to Kermit and Miss Piggy in a 1976 edition of The Muppet Show, and he also appeared in an episode of Tom Selleck’s tache-tastic ’80s detective show Magnum PI as – wait for it – a game show host.

Meanwhile, here’s how a news programme in Canada reported Sir Bruce’s death. And as you’ll see from the clip, it looks like the Beeb might soon be considering honouring its grand master of TV career longevity - and that famous profile - with a statue outside its hallowed London portals.

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