Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson, CBE, is remembered best as a TV host whose shows became inextricably linked with his name: Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Generation Game, The Price is Right, You Bet! and Strictly Come Dancing, but there was much more to Bruce than a witty compere: he was a singer, a mean hoofer, an occasional actor in films (Star! and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) and memorable for his multi-character performance in the 1964 stage play, Little Me. In 2012, he was recognised by Guinness World Records as having the longest television career for a male entertainer.
On the occasion of Bruce being given his knighthood in 2011, I posted a recollection of having me and interviewed him a few years earlier. In a bad pun on his famous catchphrase, "Nice to see you! To see you –– nice!", I called the piece...
"KNIGHT TO SEE YOU! TO SEE YOU – KNIGHT!"
I realise that this post will be largely inexplicable to my overseas readers, but here, in the UK, Brucie is nothing short of a National Treasure. He made his TV debut, aged 11, in 1939 ("Was there television in 1939?" asked one media commentator), before going on, three years later, to become 'Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom' playing the variety theatres with a song, dance, and accordion act.
Full-on stardom came in 1958 when he began hosting the hugely TV variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium with his famous maxim, "I'm in charge!"
As a TV host, he was the reason, in the 1970s, that we tuned-in in our millions every Saturday night to watch Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game with its nationally adopted catch-phrases ("Good game! Good game!", "Didn't he do well?" and, of course, "Nice to see you! To see you – nice!") and having adopted him, via 'the box', into our extended families, we followed his later successes on stage, occasionally on film, and on a succession of game and talent shows, Play Your Cards Right, You Bet, Bruce's Price is Right and, most recently, Strictly Come Dancing.
Bruce has been part of British life for as long as most of us can remember and I've always been an admirer: because he is one of that tough breed of multi-talented entertainers who got their break in vaudeville and can truly be described as 'survivors' – able to endlessly reinvent themselves.
I was delighted, therefore, back in 2009, to have the chance to meet and interview Brucie when I was making a duet of radio programmes as a tribute to the BBC impresario, the late Bill Cotton.
I visited the Forsyth home (just over the hedge from the famous Wentworth Golf Club!) and spent a couple of hours talking about various aspects of his long career. At the end of the interview, I asked him to sign my copy of his autobiography, Bruce, which he did, adding: "Try to believe it!"
Then I produced something else, tucked in the back of the book: a fan photo that I had requested in the 1960s and which, on its arrival, I had been bitterly disappointed to find had a printed signature!
"Now, I've finally got to meet you," I said, "would you mind if I asked you to do the job properly?!”
Laughing, Bruce explained how, when he first experienced stardom, he was totally unable to cope with the extensive fan mail. He recalled how, on arriving at his agent’s office one day, he saw a line of GPO mail-sacks stacked up along the hallway. When he asked what they were, he was told him, they were all for him! As with a number of stars, printed fan cards were an inevitable solution and, in many ways, a more honest option than those signed for others by agents' secretaries.
Anyway, Bruce was much amused that I had kept the photo (however unsatisfactory) for fifty years and happily did the deed, adding a dedication and a second signature – this time, as he noted, "in real ink”!
Thank you, Sir Bruce! Rest in peace.