Sir Bruce Forsyth aged 89 sadly passed away on August 18th and for many the news felt like they had lost a dear friend. So much so that my husband and I spent the evening chatting away about him and remembering how ever present he had been in our lives. That was the kind of hold Sir Bruce had on his audience, little wonder considering his career, which began aged 14 as the Boy Bruce the Mighty Atom.
Sir Bruce had a natural affinity with his audience rather like the late Sir Terry Wogan. Although Wogan had a great TV persona, it was all based on his irrepressible “gift of the gab” but knowing when to listen. Forsyth on the other hand could turn a delivery into an act be it a joke, song, musical recital or dance. Seemingly a dab hand at the piano, a first rate tap dancer, with impeccable timing, a good voice and amazing facial expressions, Sir Bruce Forsyth was the ultimate performer. There was far more to him than the game show host tag which he probably became best known for.
In my childhood home soap operas and game/quiz shows were the main sources of TV entertainment, if my Mammy got her way which usually happened. So the Forsyth face and his catchphrases were known to me from a very young age through The Generation Game (good game, didn’t he do well!); Play Your Cards Right (I’m the leader of the pack, Dolly dealers, Brucie bonus) and The Price Is Right. I also religiously watched Come Dancing much to my mother’s bewilderment, and desperately craved to have music and dance lessons, which I never got. But I didn’t hanker after ballroom dancing but tap dancing? I had no exposure to anything in the dance world except through what I saw on TV, and I had wondered over the years why tap had been so appealing. Last night I realised who had influenced that notion Sir Bruce Forsyth, who I recalled being enthralled by as he did a tap routine with Sammy Davis Jnr. (the embodiment of Mr Bojangles to me).
Despite never cracking America during his career, it seemed many top names from US showbiz wanted to work with Forsyth when they came to Britain. They sought him out knowing that he was an equal they could work alongside, a credible voice to showcase their latest work, chat over old times and do improvised (though probably well-rehearsed) routines.
Although Sir Bruce began work at 14 he didn’t really make a name for himself until 1958, when aged 30, he was offered the compere role on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. It made him a star, but his relentless work ethic undoubtedly took a toll on his private life, and two failed marriages followed over the years. In later life with perhaps a healthier work/life balance he found happiness with his adored wife Wilnelia Merced whom he married in 1983.
In closing Sir Bruce Forsyth was a classic old school vaudeville entertainer whose like will undoubtedly not be seen again. He made everything seem so easy to do, but worked excessively hard practicing his craft to make it look effortless. Jokes aimed at game show contestants were never cruel, and his affable manner made him liked and respected by his entertainment peers and audiences alike. Thanks for the memories Sir Bruce an entertainment legend “it was nice to see you, to see you nice”.