Bruce Forsyth died last Friday, 18 August at the age of 89.
One of the best loved and respected performers in show business, Bruce Forsyth undoubtedly the finest all-round entertainer this country has ever produced. He could dance, sing, play the piano and crack jokes but he will probably be best remembered for his rapport with his audiences, and his ability to reach right into our homes whether from a television studio or theatre stage.
He was born on 22 February, 1928 in Edmonton. north London and was not expected to survive but boy how he proved those doctors wrong! Dancing became his first passion and he appeared on a very early BBC television broadcast in September, 1939 in a song and dance act. He could not have anticipated the importance that television was destined to play in his future career.
His first professional appearance at the age of 14 in 1942 was at Bilston’s Theatre Royal – one of those ageing theatres that were on the lesser Variety circuits in a building that proclaimed its lowly status. He was billed as “Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom” and by the end of the week, the show folded and the tour was halted.
Working his way up through weekly Variety, summer seasons, pantomimes and even circus, his big break came when Val Parnell, manager of the London Palladium, brought him in to compere his huge hit Sunday Variety show from that theatre. This was in 1958 and the former “Mighty Atom” was thereafter propelled into a starry orbit.
Bruce’s first Hippodrome appearance had already taken place in the week of 24 October, 1955 as part of the “Wakey! Wakey!” show of Billy Cotton and his Band. A local newspaper critic gave a very prescient review of his act, describing Bruce as a “hard working comedian”.
Coinciding with his Palladium debut, Bruce was next here for a week from 3 November, 1958 on a Variety bill that was topped by Birmingham-born singer David Hughes, Scots Comedian Chic Murray and Maidie and trumpeter Nat Gonella.
He was a fully-fledged top star when he returned to the Hippodrome in his own show
in June,1959, “I’m in Charge”- his first catch-phrase from ” Beat the Clock” on ” Sunday Night at the London Palladium”.
Bruce headed a star-studded bill called “Showtime” for a week from 23 May, 1960- it also included singers Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr, comedy musicians Albert and Les Ward and puppets Pinky and Perky. His then wife, Penny Calvert, was a featured dancer- he had met her in 1949 when he was appearing at the Windmill Theatre.
On 13 May, 1963, he returned here in “Bruce Forsyth Entertains”. Although with a supporting bill, it was basically what Bruce did best- displaying his many talents and inter-acting with the audience.
These were never more evident than in his one-man show that came to the Hippodrome on 25 April, 1977. For nearly three hours he had the audience in the palm of his hand and full houses gave him standing ovations. I was there to witness his supremacy as an entertainer and his consummate skill in dancing, singing and playing the piano. But his greatest talent was in handling people, achieving an immediate rapport. This was also shown in the way he presented television quiz shows and in his mastery of “The Generation Game”. His greatest moments for me, however, will always be in his live stage shows.
The Hippodrome will always retain his memory within its walls- Variety at its best and most heart-warming. We salute Britain’s finest entertainer and will never forget the many happy hours he brought us.
Ivan Heard – Hippodrome Heritage Volunteer