Bruce Forsyth: “Not just another British entertainer; he was the embodiment of British entertainment”

The veteran entertainer had been at the heart of British television almost as long as the medium itself has existed

Bruce Forsyth

Sir Bruce Forsyth has died aged 89.

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He was not just another British entertainer; he was the embodiment of British entertainment. His incredible career in show business, which spanned more than 75 years, earned him a Guinness World Record in 2012 for the longest serving male television personality – but it was his wit, charm and clear love for show business that earned him the status of national treasure.

At the heart of British television almost as long as the medium itself has existed, Forsyth occupied a unique position in British society – the unmistakable face of quality light entertainment for old and young alike. Whether you grew up watching him host Sunday Night at the London Palladium in the ‘50s, The Generation Game in the ‘70s, Play Your Cards Right in the ‘80s, The Price is Right in the ‘90s or Strictly Come Dancing in the ‘00s – every Briton of every age has spent quality time with Bruce on their TV – and British television will be a poorer place without his effervescent presence.

Born in Edmonton in North London in 1928, Forsyth began his love affair with show business at a young age, training to dance after seeing Fred Astaire on film. He made his television debut in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War on a talent show and by the age of 14 was performing an accordion, song and dance act as “Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom” in theatres.

Forsyth spent the next decade treading the boards of theatres up and down the land, perfecting his singing and dancing acts and performing in pantomimes, circuses and travelling shows. It was this intense education and relentless practice in the key disciplines of entertainment that prepared him for a lifetime at the heart of British television when his big break arrived.

In 1958, Forsyth was catapulted from journeyman to frontman, after being chosen to host Val Parnell’s weekly variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium on ITV. Despite continuing to perform on stage, this was a turning point in Forsyth’s career and in the 1960s he landed his own variety programme The Bruce Forsyth Show on ITV featuring the likes of Dudley Moore, Cilla Black, Ronnie Corbett and Roy Castle. He also made his first major role in the cinema as part of the 1968 musical Star!

For many Bruce Forsyth will be best remembered for his hosting of game show formats on television where he coined some of his best loved British catchphrases; “It’s nice to see you, to see you nice” and “Didn’t (s)he do well?” – both still in common use up and down the land today.

He began toying with the concept of gameshows during segments of Sunday Night at the London Palladium with a game called Beat the Clock. However, it was not until 1971 that he got his first full television format, The Generation Game – the BBC Saturday night show for which Forsyth both wrote and sang the theme tune.  It was during the first six year run of The Generation Game that he began to develop many of his trademarks, including “the thinker” pose with which he began this and many programmes to come.

He switched to ITV in the late 1970s, firstly with Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night and later with the incredibly successful Play Your Cards Right (a UK remake of US show Card Sharks). It was so popular that Forsyth got a job Stateside in 1986 fronting a similar show Bruce’ Forsyth’s Hot Streak. The show ran for 65 episodes, but ultimately Bruce’s career was destined to develop on this side of the Atlantic, and he returned home to for a variety of new presenting and acting opportunities, including replacing Leonard Rossiter in ITV sitcom Slinger’s Day.

In the 1990s, Forsyth enjoyed further mainstream hosting success fronting an early incarnation of You Bet!, The Price is Right and reboots of both The Generation Game and Play Your Cards Right.

For a younger audience Bruce Forsyth is probably best known for his role fronting the BBC’s smash hit celebrity talent show Strictly Come Dancing which he co-hosted with Tess Daly from 2004 until 2013. His live presenting skills and love of dancing helped make the show one the most successful in modern BBC history, attracting audiences well over 10 million on Saturday and Sunday nights, with the format sold around the globe. He stepped down from regular presenting duties after the 2013 series and was replaced on the main show by Claudia Winkleman. The same year he became the oldest ever performer at Glastonbury Festival, appearing on the Avalon Stage.

He received an OBE in 1998 and a CBE in the 2006 New Year’s Honours. Bruce Forsyth became Sir Bruce after being knighted in 2011 for services to charity and entertainment. Forsyth was made a fellow of Bafta in 2008 and received a Royal Television Society lifetime achievement award the following year.

The last of the great all-round British entertainers, Sir Bruce Forsyth was an all-singing, all-dancing man of variety. A consummate professional, he would insist on warming up the crowd before his television shows because he believed in giving an audience – whether on screen or off screen – the best he could give every time.

In British television history, he will surely always be remembered as one of the greats.

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He is survived by his wife, six children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.