Bruce Forsyth was the last of the great entertainers, schooled in variety theatre making his name known to the public through early Television, in particular on ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’ a flagship entertainment show of the time. His ability to chat effortlessly and entertainingly to the general public came through in his compering of the show and presenting the ‘Beat the Clock’ spot in the same programme, requiring strong banter, instructions and command which led to his first catchphrase – ‘I’m in charge’. His overall skill with audiences led to Bill Cotton speaking to him about taking on ‘The Generation Game’ a new family gameshow involving members of the public folding hats, creating paintings, making clay pots on a wheel among many other such simple but amusing tasks allowing things to go wrong and for Bruce to jump in with the humour. Always important to any game show the catchphrase ‘Good game good game’ was used to encourage audience enthusiasm, and ‘Give us a twirl’ was his invitation to Anthea Redfern, his hostess and later to become his second wife, to display her dress of the week. The show was a massive success and led to Bruce being described by one critic as the’ countries most important entertainer’.
At his peak in 1976 & 1977 when he was TV personality of the year in the polls, his presence would enliven the limpest of shows, his name alone guaranteed to pull a massive audience figure. He was a phenomenon, a wonder man of British television. Yet Forsyth wanted more. He was always ambitious and never lacked the self- belief and confidence to take him to where he wanted to get to. In 1977, he made a double LP record ‘Both sides of Bruce’ One disc consisting of an excerpt from his remarkable one man show recorded at the London Palladium, the other disc him singing. The work was important to him as he wanted to reach an audience beyond Britain, where he was sure of his adoration, to become Bruce Forsyth, international superstar. He once said ‘I don’t think I could ever live in America because my roots are here but I would like to go over there and steal a few dollars’ he went on to try and conquer America – stating ‘Nobody gets to Las Vegas as an unknown. People only get invited when they are big recording stars or in films on American TV or on Broadway’.
He had made films. In ‘Star’ in 1968 he danced with Julia Andrews and also did cameo in films like ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ but he mainly concentrated on making records and Television spectaculars with American artistes such as his friend Sammy Davis Junior. In 1980, they worked together on an LWT special which Forsyth thought was the best TV he had ever done. Still very much the song and dance man who entertained.
A short-lived setback came in 1979 when LWT lured him away from the BBC to do a glamorous Saturday night show called Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night which was a critical disaster. It was a two-hour show designed to wrest the Saturday night audience away from the BBC, which was The Generation Game now presented by Larry Grayson, followed by American cop show ‘Starsky & Hutch’. This juggernaut show involved a big star interview by Forsyth, a game show, Charlie Drake in ‘The Worker’ Patricia Brake and Ian Lavender in ‘The Glums’ and much more. It was not Bruce’s fault that it bombed. Indeed, on the last programme he controversially had a go back at the press that had given the show and him so much stick. He was better than the show, declared viewers, the marathon was a misconceived idea. From sixth in the ratings it dropped to 20th and sank from sight. At the time Larry Grayson and The Generation Game continued in 4th place.
The Big Night ended and Bruce Forsyth got to America finally to make his Broadway debut with his own one man show which included a games segment. The critics were mixed some stating it was brilliant and other less so enthusiastic. Unaccountably, when presenting two bottles of champagne to contestants he cracked: ‘The champagne’s flat .. it was made in New York.’ There were hisses from the audience. He brought the one man show to the London Palladium in 1981 where it was well received and he repeated the same performance in 1991 where it was recorded and marketed as a video. Soon after his marriage to Anthea Redfern broke down he met and married Puerto Rican Wilnelia Merced, a former Miss World, 30 years younger than himself. They stayed married until his death in August 2017.
Bruce Forsyth later starred as a Supermarket manager in ‘Slinger’s Day’ a sitcom which he inherited after the death of Leonard Rossiter, who had starred in the original series titled ‘Trippers day’. However, Bruce mainly concentrated on TV appearances as himself and hosting a number of successful games shows which he gained a strong talented reputation for – these included ‘Play your cards right’ (brought over from a similar American show ‘Card Sharks’) ‘You bet’, ‘The Price is right’. His career was going alone fine but it received an unexpected final boost when after a highly successful appearance as presenter of ‘Have I got News for you’ the BBC choose Bruce to front their new Saturday Night show – ‘Strictly come dancing’. This show rocketed to success bringing Bruce back as a weekend favourite, and confirming him as probably the only entertainer to be on our TV screens right from the beginning to where we are today, over 50 years of entertainment. His success was not only his talent be his enormous versatility of entertainment gifts, he presented to the world.
Eric Cuttler has a strong interest in showbusiness and has written several articles on comedy, pop music and TV light entertainment & drama for leading publications and newspapers. He started his career in the theatre before moving into television as a production manager for ITV.