Not just Mr Saturday Night. Not just Mr Entertainment. Bruce Forsyth was Mr Television…
SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM (ATV 1959)
How long was Brucie’s career? His first television appearance was before World War II. A pre-pubescent Bruce first appeared on the handful of screens that existed in 1939 as part of a low-concept show with the self-explanatory title of Come And Be Televised. Twenty years of hard graft followed until he was plucked to appear on a new show with the aim of finding new talent. This it certainly did as both Brucie and Roy Castle were in the cast. Roy was inundated with offers of work after the series but Brucie was so great he was poached after only a few episodes to anchor the fifties telly institution from the Palladium. The episode we’ve got up there is one of the few that still exists, with Adam Faith topping the bill. We love how Val Parnell gets a mention in Brucie’s song. This established Brucie as one of the most famous people in the country, a role has he more or less continued in for the fifty years plus since.
THE BRUCE FORSYTH SHOW (ABC 1966)
After Brucie left the Palladium hosting duties in 1963 there were various series and variety specials over the years, as well as a semi-regular double act with Frankie Howerd which spanned a number of specials and later guest appearances right up until Frankie’s death. Here’s a fragment from a Christmas show they did together in, we think, 1966, alongside an equally cherished entertainer.
A GIFT FOR GRACIE (Yorkshire 1970)
There have been a few fallow periods in Brucie’s career and the late sixties weren’t a particularly happy time for him. Looking to broaden his horizons he tried to get some film roles, most notably in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but in between he found his TV appearances rather sporadic, most of his work coming from the new ITV franchise serving the North of England. From this period we’ve highlighted his appearance on Christmas Day 1970 where he appeared as comic relief alongside Gracie Fields, a pretty thankless task. Twelve months later, however, he’d be back on Christmas Day on the other side, and in a new format.
BRUCE FORSYTH AND THE GENERATION GAME (BBC 1971)
Brucie first approached the Beeb with the idea of hosting a chat show, but Bill Cotton instead suggested he had a look at a Dutch format they’d just acquired, thinking that the former host of Beat The Clock might be just the person for it. Though the format worked out OK in a pilot, the first show proper was a total disaster that was judged unbroadcastable, so at the last minute they gave the pilot a savage edit and, despite the rules not making much sense, it went down very well. Brucie said he’d never been on telly as early as he was here, at six o’clock, and thought six million viewers would be a decent return. It almost immediately got double that and then continued to dominate for seven sensational years, becoming what we reckon must be the finest light entertainment show we’ve ever had. There used to be a couple of full episodes on YouTube, including one where Brucie was ill so Anthea turned up to apologise and they flung on a repeat, but they’ve now gone and all we’ve got is the 1973 Christmas show which we saw on BBC2 not long ago. So up there is the start of a Bruce’s Choice special and here they celebrate the hundredth show, happily uploaded by the bakers who made the cake.
BRING ON THE GIRLS (Thames 1976)
Although Brucie was a fully paid up Corporation man in the seventies there was the occasional jaunt back to the light channel for a variety special or two. This one was shown as opposition to the Beeb’s coverage of the Olympics and was a smash hit, leading to a sequel – yes, Bruce And More Girls – and then several other song and dance shows. We’ve only got a minute or so of this show, but you can pretty much get the gist of it from that.
THE MUPPET SHOW (ATV 1976)
THE JUBILEE BIG TOP GALA (BBC 1977)
Two high profile gigs for Brucie in the mid-seventies, where he had the honour of being the first British guest on The Muppet Show, followed by the job of MC-ing the special Big Top variety show for the Jubilee, escorting the Queen to her seat (in silence, because it took longer than they thought and they ran out of music) and trilling “It swept the sky like a broom! Jubilee! And got ready for a very special day! Jubilee! Jubilee!”.
THE TRAVELLING MUSIC SHOW (1978)
The idea is that Brucie was poached from the Beeb by ITV but in fact that’s not quite right. Brucie decided to jack in the Generation Game at the end of 1977 because he was getting bored of it and wanted to go back on stage. Hence he landed the lead role in a new musical which was fairly plot-free and simply an excuse to string a load of songs together and do some bits of business, meat and drink to the great man. Apparently the opening weeks in the provinces went very well but in the West End it died on its arse and closed within a few months, and as Brucie had already handed in his notice to the Beeb he appeared glumly on the front pages under “Didn’t I Do Badly” headlines…
BRUCE FORSYTH’S BIG NIGHT (LWT 1978)
…followed the next day by Brucie smiling under “Didn’t I Do Well” headlines because Michael Grade immediately got him on the phone and offered him a huge contract with ITV to front a big new series. As every student of television knows, this series was apparently going to cost a thousand pounds a minute, and was a complete disaster. When it ended everyone gleefully reported it has been axed, and Brucie emphasised he was commissioned to do thirteen shows and that’s what they did, but nobody seemed very interested in doing many more, and even Brucie admitted it all looked a bit better on paper than it did on screen, when it was often a bit of a self-indulgent mess. Still, at least Sammy showed up.
BRUCE ON BROADWAY (LWT 1979)
After all that Brucie decided to take some time out from Britain and fulfil his great ambition to perform on Broadway. He was finding it hard to get the funding together but Michael Grade came to the rescue by commissioning a documentary all about it, Brucie’s fee ensuring he could spend a week there. The shows seemed to go pretty well, with Sammy showing up on the first night to introduce him, and he got some good reviews, although in the UK the reviews were certainly mixed, reaching lunatic levels when two newspaper billboards next to each other announced “Brucie A Hit On Broadway” and “Brucie A Flop On Broadway”.
PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT (LWT 1980)
While he was in America Brucie watched an episode of Card Sharks and thought that would be the right kind of show to mark his return to British screens, and arranged to buy it. Immediately after he’d done that, though, he saw Family Feud and thought he’d rather do that, but that had already gone and, despite Michael Grade asking Bob Monkhouse if he wanted to swap (“It’s very physical, much more Bruce’s thing”), he was stuck with the first one. In the end it was no great tragedy as he enjoyed huge success with it. The first series is a bit odd, not just because they used single contestants instead of couples but also because Brucie presented it with a broken wrist having slipped on stage.
SAMMY AND BRUCE (LWT 1980)
NICE TO SEE YOU (Thames 1981)
TV TIMES TOP TEN AWARDS (Thames 1984)
A few one-off gigs for the great man in the early eighties, starting off with the show he’s always said is the best thing he’s ever done. Of course, it was repeated not long ago and it was indeed great fun. His Christmas show is most notable for the fact that, because of a strike, they had to record it all as-live in little under an hour just to get it made, harking back to Brucie’s earliest days in showbiz. Finally his stint helming the familiar awards shindig almost ended in chaos when Brucie forgot the final award and starting staying goodbye too early, but ever the pro he recovered and made it sound like he was meant to do that.
HOLLYWOOD OR BUST (Thames 1984)
The great lost Brucie show? Certainly we can’t find hide nor hair of it anywhere, and it gets the shortest shrift imaginable in his autobiography. This series was basically the plays from the Generation Game writ large, as each week Brucie would press-gang members of the audience to “audition” for roles in that week’s “film”, with plenty of opportunities for Brucie to mess around and take the piss. Sounds right up Brucie’s street but in the brief passage in his book he said he thought it needed a second series to really catch on and, because of some issue regarding who owned the format, it didn’t get one. So that was that.
BRUCE FORSYTH’S HOT STREAK (ABC 1986)
Such is the difference between UK and US telly that not a frame of Hollywood or Bust exists online but virtually the whole series of this does, albeit in atrocious quality at parts. It’s Brucie’s American game show, which was stripped daily coast-to-coast every day. Brucie hoped this would help him crack America but within three months, he was saying goodbye, later telling people “I know this sounds like excuses” but the entire management at ABC changed and all their predecessors’ commissions were immediately axed. Still, plenty more excitement back home.
SLINGER’S DAY (Thames 1986)
It’s the Brucie sitcom! As everyone knows, this series began as Tripper’s Day and, despite being the most unsubtle sitcom you’ll ever see, they somehow managed to convince Leonard Rossiter to take on the title role. Sadly, as well as being something of a blot on his otherwise exceptional CV, he then had the misfortune to die straight after filming it, making it no suitable epitaph. However for some reason Thames thought it was worth persevering so after a quick name change a new manager was installed, with Brucie taking over. He doesn’t do that bad a job at it, helped by the fact he’s clearly playing himself half the time, but it’s a really rotten sitcom where more or less all the interest comes from the fact it’s Brucie in a sitcom. Also note Vicky Licorish appearing in her second fictional supermarket.
YOU BET (LWT 1988)
Everyone forgets Brucie did this show now, because it seems a bit of an un-Brucie format, though in fact it was his daughter who spotted it on Dutch TV (although it’s a German format) and suggested it as a suitable vehicle for him. He did it for three years and it was a successful show, but while Brucie liked it, he got a bit bored with it because he felt there was a bit too much straight presenting and not enough opportunities for him to muck about. Still, there are some classic Brucie bits of business, like the You Bet rap and the forfeits which meant he got to do amusing little film pieces like Brucie as a binman. We forgot how small those You Bet Bestseys were.
BRUCE AND RONNIE (BBC 1988)
Although Bruce was firmly ensconced on the light channel, there were occasional jaunts back to the Beeb in the eighties. In 1987 he presented Wogan for a week, with guests including his old mate Frankie Howerd. In 1988 he hosted the Royal Variety Performance with Ronnie Corbett, a double act that worked so well they were then given their own Christmas show. Sadly, during rehearsals, producer Marcus Mortimer arrived in tears and broke the news that he’d just found out they were going to dump it at eleven o’clock on Boxing Day, before they’d even made it. Nobody watched it then, but you can see it now.
TAKEOVER BID (BBC 1990)
Nevertheless, come the start of the nineties, Brucie was back on the Beeb full time. His big new series was to come but first there was a new quiz to pass the time, the gimmick being that the contestants were given the prizes at the start and the aim was to keep hold of them and nick everyone else’s. Sadly it was a bit too complex and the prizes weren’t big enough to make it that exciting, so Brucie did two series – the first on Saturday nights, the second in the week – and then considered that more than enough. The hatstand bit was all we want, really.
BRUCE FORSYTH’S GENERATION GAME (BBC 1990)
The suggestion by Jim Moir that the original host return to the Generation Game was initially met with some surprise by Brucie who hadn’t even considered it, but on watching some old tapes he thought the format stood up so went for it. And he was right to do so, because we reckon it was absolutely as good as it was first time round, and royally entertained a whole new generation for five more series. Highlights this time around included the “hidden” prizes and obviously Brucie’s wife teaching everyone how to do the Merengue and the Lambada (“Stick out your bum! Stick out your bum!”). Challenge should be showing these, and in fact we don’t know why they aren’t. They’d make more sense than 3-2-1!
THE FIDDLEY FOODLE BIRD (BBC 1992)
Bit of a footnote in Brucie’s career, his only ever kids’ show saw him on voice duties in this short-lived though fondly remembered cartoon. In fact Brucie only narrated the adventures, with Dennis Waterman doing the heavy lifting of the actual voices, but when he was in dispute with ITV around the turn of the century, repeats of this was the only place you got to hear him. Also in that clip, bonus footage of the 4Front Video logo.
BRUCE’S GUEST NIGHT (BBC 1992)
RUBBISH name, but this was your textbook Brucie mixture of song, dance and bits of comic business as our hero welcomed a host of celebrities to chat and joke around with him. It kind of helped if you really liked Brucie because it could be a bit self-indulgent, and to be honest the variety show concept seemed a bit of an anachronism even then, but he’d earned the right to do as he pleased. Inevitably Cliff was on it, so inevitably that bit’s on YouTube. Brucie then got a bit fed up when the Beeb ummed and ahhed for ages over for a second series and then when they did commission one it was chopped from sixty to thirty minutes, stuck in midweek where it felt all wrong, and then axed. Cliff was on that one too.
PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT (LWT 1994)
LWT were already considering reviving Play Your Cards Right after seven years off screen, and even recorded a pilot with Brian Conley, but when they heard Brucie was getting a bit tired of the Generation Game routine, and had got a bit fed up with the Beeb axing the Guest Night, they wondered if he might be interested in heading back to ITV and hosting it again. Indeed he was, and he slotted back into the old routine as if he’d never been away. In fact apart from the bigger prizes and the sponsorship, it was exactly the same show, and like the original, while it wasn’t Brucie’s most exceptional work, it made for amiable Friday night viewing.
BRUCE’S PRICE IS RIGHT (Yorkshire 1995)
Apparently Brucie himself suggested a revival of The Price Is Right, having stumbled across it on American telly and enjoying it. Bruce Gyngell was so overjoyed Brucie was prepared to come to Leeds to film it he turned virtually half of the YTV building into his own personal dressing room. He did his usual professional job and it was a popular series, but to be honest we never liked Brucie doing this much because it was such a relentless format he couldn’t do enough of what we liked to see him do, being overshadowed by the prizes and the audience. Brucie at least appreciated the fact that with this and Play Your Cards Right he could record both in about a fortnight and enjoy six months’ of constant exposure, but it did seem a waste of his talents.
For a while too it looked like Brucie’s last hoorah, before one night he decided to phone up Paul Merton, and his brilliant career took an unexpected but hugely welcome further turn, meaning he spent his ninth decade just as famous and as popular, if not more so, than he’d ever been. And we’re certain he’d have been absolutely delighted to be worthy of a newsflash on BBC1. There’ll never be another.