Star who found national fame on ATV’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium dies aged 89.
Sir Bruce in a charity episode of Downton Abbey.
Sunday Night at the London Palladium made Bruce a household name.
“It is with great sadness that the Forsyth family announce that Sir Bruce passed away this afternoon, peacefully at his home surrounded by his wife Wilnelia and all his children. A couple of weeks ago, a friend visited him and asked him what he had been doing these last 18 months. With a twinkle in his eye, he responded ‘I’ve been very, very busy… being ill!’ Unfortunately, not long after this, his health deteriorated and he contracted bronchial pneumonia.
“The family would like to express their thanks to the many people who have sent cards and letters to Bruce wishing him well over his long illness and know that they will share in part, the great, great loss they feel.
“There will be no further comment at the moment and it would be much appreciated if the privacy of Sir Bruce’s family is respected at this most difficult time.” – Sir Bruce’s manager Ian Wilson
Entertainer Sir Bruce Forsyth has died at the age of 89 after a run of ill health. The legendary singer, dancer, comedian and presenter became unwell following a fall in November 2015, which lead to him pulling out of hosting Bruce’s Halls of Fame for BBC One. At the time the veteran entertainer underwent keyhole surgery on an abdominal aortic aneurysm which was discovered after medical treatment for the tumble. Despite initial optimism that he would return to screens his health never fully recovered. He died at his home in Surrey surrounded by his closest family.
ATV’s The Bruce Forsyth Show ran in the 1960s.
For most of the 1970s Brucie was a star of BBC One Saturday night with The Generation Game.
It was September 1958 when the relatively un-known became an ‘overnight telly celebrity’ after taking charge of entertainment show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. His sudden national fame had come after many years of stage work making a name for himself in theatre and revue.
Bruce first hit the stage aged 14 as ‘Boy Bruce – the Mighty Atom’. He made his television debut in 1939 on the BBC in a open audition talent series, but nothing came of that initial television broadcast. His popularity with ITV viewers however was sealed after only six weeks as host of the Palladium show. Fan mail poured in. Such was his connection with viewers ATV gave Forsyth his own entertainment series throughout the sixties, before he switched full time to the BBC in 1971 to front The Generation Game.
Back in 1962 this is how ATV Network summed up one of their biggest stars: “In September 1958 Bruce had the novelty of being a new face to many thousands of people. True some may have seen the entertainer in one of the many provincial tours he has made, but as a television performer he was new to the viewer.
“However, just four years later it seems like Bruce has always been with us. Before hosting Sunday Night at the London Palladium his career had been one long round of hard work and heartbreak. While a teenager he took dancing lessons and by the time he left school aged 14 he was quite a seasoned entertainer. His first professional engagement turned out to be a huge flop – the touring variety show folded within its first few days. That was back in 1942.”
ATV’s publicity machine continues, “However Bruce is tough in the tradition of the struggling artiste. In 1947 having toured with an accordion band – as singer and instrument player – he joined the RAF to do his National Service.”
Following on from his stint with the RAF in the 1940s he joined the Windmill Theatre as a comedy act. He told ATV Network back in 1962 “The Windmill audience is the toughest on earth. They only go there to see the girls. No one wanted to know about me.”
The Windmill Theatre was where Forsyth met his first of his three wives, dancer at the venue Penny Calvert. They married in 1953, and had three children – Debbie, Julie and Laura.
ATV boss Val Parnell was so impressed with Forsyth he offered the newcomer a two week stint hosting top rating ITV variety slot Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Viewers took to Bruce and his contract was extended by a further eight weeks. By the late 1960s the star had hosted many other ATV produced programmes for ITV, including Saturday Show, The Bruce Forsyth Show, New Look and Bruce’s Show. At this time he also tried to crack the movie business making a couple of big screen appearances, notably in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Television work came Bruce’s way quite by accident as he told ATV Network in 1962. “I deputised for Dickie Henderson as a compare of a television show from the Prince Of Wales Theatre in London. Later another show in which I was a guest was under running and I was asked to ‘fill in’. I took my chance with both hands. When I came off they told me I had done over nine minutes, the time usually allotted to the top star.”
Bruce launched You Bet! for ITV from London Weekend Television.
Forsyth also launched Play Your Cards Right for LWT.
In the 1970s he defected to the BBC and gave the corporation a Saturday night ratings winner with family game show, The Generation Game. After 20 years his first marriage ended, he then married his Generation Game co-star Anthea Redfern in 1973, they had two children Charlotte and Louisa before the couple divorced in 1979. Television wise the late 1970s proved to be a flop for Forsyth also.
Lured back to ITV in a big money deal his new show Big Night proved to be a big failure. Production company LWT however would later have a ratings banker with the Bruce fronted game show Play Your Cards Right. It was also the 1980s when Forsyth would meet his third wife. In 1983, aged just 24, Wilnelia Merced married one of Britain’s most loved celebrity entertainers – 31 years her senior Bruce was already a double divorcee. However despite any doubts friends had the pair proved to be a truly in love couple, a romance that never faded.
The 1980s saw him dabble in various projects including a sitcom and in the early 90s a chat show. It was during this time he returned to The Generation Game for a further five years from 1990, reprising his role as host for UKTV in 2007 in a ‘then and now’ special series of the Gen Game. He also from 2004 to 2014 hosted the ratings banker Strictly Come Dancing, however the long schedule and time consuming production days saw Brucie retire from the show. He hosted a series of specials for BBC One in recent times, including Hall of Fame, however ill health forced him from TV screens nearly two years ago.
“Sir Bruce was one of the greatest entertainers our country has ever known. He has delighted millions of people and defined Saturday night television for decades with shows like the Generation Game and, most recently, Strictly. His warmth and his wit were legendary.
“I’ve never seen anyone quite like him when it comes to performing in front of a crowd. He had a remarkable chemistry with his audience – that’s what made him such an amazing professional and why he was so loved.
“He has been part of all of our lives, and we’ll miss him dearly.” – Tony Hall, BBC Director-General
In the 1990s Bruce revived popular game show The Price Is Right for Yorkshire Television
His best known programme is possibly The Generation Game which he fronted for BBC One.
Brucie Bonus – his professional timeline
He made his first television appearance at the age of eleven on the BBC’s Come and Be Televised in 1939. This live programme from Alexandra Palace starred Brucie just three years after regular beeb visual services began.
Bruce turned professional aged 14, taking to the stage as an all-round entertainer; dancer, singer, comedian, actor; as his first advert in The Stage noted: “Bruce Forsyth: available for anything.” He was billed during his teenage years as ‘Boy Bruce: The Mighty Atom’.
Television came calling again when, aged 29, he appeared on ATV in a talent showcase for popular variety show stars.
In the same year, 1958, so impressed with his act and connection with an audience ATV boss Lew Grade brought in the ‘unknown’ Forsyth as the new host of Sunday Night at the London Palladium, a live hour-long variety show. This lead to further work with ITV including his own series The Bruce Forsyth Show and variety showcase New Look.
In 1964 he made his West End acting debut in the musical Little Me, which told the story of a fictional Hollywood acting star.
His made his big screen acting debut in 1968 alongside Julie Andrews in the movie Star. Other film roles followed including 1971’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks which also featured Angela Landsbury.
He almost appeared in the Oliver! musical movie as Fagin, however being the reserve actor lined up for the part he was disappointed when Ron Moody didn’t pull out of the role.
Despite never having chart success, Bruce released several albums – some serious some humorous – and pop singles too, including I’m In Charge, Coronation Street, Chin Up and I’m Backing Britain. This music venture saw him feature on Top of the Pops in 1975.
Music followed into television as he recorded the theme tune to his big BBC One hit The Generation Game. The title music ‘Life Is The Name of the Game’ introduced the programme from 1971 to 1977 and a modernised version for the show from 1990 to 1994. The full theme was also released as a record.
In 1979 he tried to ‘crack America’ with his stateside one man show on Broadway. He later hosted a game show for ABC America, Bruce Forsyth’s Hot Streak produced by the famous Reg Grundy productions.
Forsyth was always in demand to front game shows; hosting Beat The Clock (Within the Palladium show), The Generation Game, Play Your Cards Right, The Price Is Right, Didn’t They Do Well and Takeover Bid. He was lined up to front the Australian version of Play Your Cards Right but due to Equity issues was unable to work on the Aussie series.
In 1986 he featured in ITV sitcom Slinger’s Day in the title role of supermarket manager Cecil Slinger.
One of many ridiculous decisions by former ITV boss David Liddiment saw Bruce axed from ITV in 2002. He was just one in a long list of casualties at the hands of the ITV executive. Other bad decisions included dropping News at Ten and Jeremy Beadle. Bruce made a rare public outburst about his treatment by the broadcaster.
Bruce guest hosted Have I Got News For You which relaunched his BBC career. The same year he was offered the role as lead host on Strictly Come Dancing, which he’d continue on for nearly a decade before semi-retiring.
Sir Bruce hosts Strictly Come Dancing with co-star Tess Daly.