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Sir Bruce Forsyth's old-fashioned appeal


Sir Bruce Forsyth, who has stepped down from presenting Strictly Come Dancing's weekly shows, has been a fixture of British television for the last 50 years.

The 86-year-old entertainer has co-hosted Strictly since it began in 2004 and will continue to present one-off specials like the Strictly Christmas Special and the Strictly Children in Need Special.

Sir Bruce has been in showbusiness since leaving school in north London at the age of 14.

The son of a garage owner, he launched himself on the music hall circuit as Boy Bruce the Mighty Atom, with an act which included dancing, singing and playing the ukulele.

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image captionSir Bruce was the UK's highest-paid entertainer in the early 1960s

He spent 20 years travelling the country seven days a week, performing in church halls, sleeping in luggage racks and waiting for his big break.

'Give us a twirl'

On a BBC chat show, the young entertainer explained: "I want to be famous and buy my mum a fur coat."

But after making little progress, he had been on the verge of giving up on showbusiness - until he was asked to host TV series Sunday Night at the London Palladium in 1958.

He was booked for an initial two weeks and ended up staying for five years, by which time he was Britain's highest-paid entertainer, earning £1,000 a week.

His energy and enthusiasm saw him flourish in the 1970s as host of a succession of popular game shows including BBC prime-time hit The Generation Game.

The show saw Sir Bruce coin the catchphrase "nice to see you, to see you, nice" and marry TV hostess Anthea Redfern of "give us a twirl" fame in 1973. They divorced six years later.

It was also on The Generation Game that he introduced his famous "thinker" pose, appearing in silhouette at the beginning of each show.

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image captionSir Bruce became a household name on the Generation Game.

At its peak, the programme attracted 20 million viewers to watch the entertainer seemingly having more fun than the competitors and enthusing over the mundane prizes on the conveyor belt.

Game show regrets

In one later interview, however, the star said he regretted many of his game shows - audiences tend to forget the likes of Hot Streak, You Bet! and Big Night - and admitted he would have liked to have produced more programmes in the vein of his special with Sammy Davis Jr in 1980.

But for fans, it is The Generation Game to which Sir Bruce's career remains linked.

His playful patter with the frequently befuddled contestants was delivered with knowing winks to the audience, who grew to love the formula of cheesy jokes, slapstick comedy and terrible prizes.

He left the show after six years in 1977, handing over to Larry Grayson, but returned in 1990 for another four-year stint.

The entertainer went on to repeat his TV success on long-running ITV quiz show Play Your Cards Right, which gave birth to the "higher, lower" catchphrase.

In 1995, he received a lifetime achievement award for variety at the British Comedy Awards. He was made an OBE in 1998, a CBE in 2005 and was knighted in 2012.

"When I got the CBE there'd been speculation every year and I think there's been too much talk about it, so I'm thrilled at last it has happened," he said at the time.

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image captionSir Bruce Forsyth guest-hosted Have I Got News For You in 2003

'Head-to-toe performer'

Play Your Cards Right was dropped by ITV in 1999 and Brucie was barely seen on a British television screen until he appeared as a guest presenter on satirical BBC quiz show Have I Got News For You? in 2003.

Speaking to the Radio Times, Sir Bruce said the appearance was his wife's idea. After calling show regular Paul Merton, he landed the gig and offered to be "a little bit deadpan".

"But the team said, 'No, be Bruce Forsyth,'" he said. "So we did it like that, and it was so successful.

"I'd never done a show where I'd sat down behind a desk. I always call myself a 'head-to-toe' performer, I move around. But it worked."

The appearance led to Sir Bruce, an accomplished tap dancer, being offered the job hosting celebrity dance show Strictly Come Dancing, which began a year later.

Special recognition

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image captionStrictly Come Dancing has become one of the most watched shows on TV

Sir Bruce earned his first National TV Award nomination in 2004, was the subject of a Bafta TV tribute in 2008 and received a special recognition prize at the National Television Awards in 2011.

And it is not just audiences who love the all-round entertainer.

"He is one of the great performers," former BBC director general Greg Dyke told the Guardian in 2006.

"He's got the look, he's got the style, he can do it all. He just is a star. You might ask how - or even why - but when you see it, you cannot deny it."

Now a great-grandfather, Sir Bruce has six children and lives in Surrey with his third wife Wilnelia.

On announcing his retirement, BBC One controller Charlotte Moore said: "Sir Bruce Forsyth is one of the great showbiz legends of our time and Strictly's success is due in vast amounts to him.

"I am so pleased he will continue to be part of the Strictly family and promise viewers that we haven't seen the last of him on BBC One."

Related Topics

  • Television

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