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Forsyth, Bruce (1928-)

Actor, Entertainer, Presenter

Main image of Forsyth, Bruce (1928-)

According to his autobiography, Bruce Forsyth (born Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson in Edmonton, North London, on 22 February 1928) made his television debut in 1939 when a child, singing and dancing on a talent show introduced by Jasmine Bligh (probably an episode of Come and be Televised (BBC, 1939), which was broadcast from Radiolympia).

Forsyth aspired to be a song-and-dance man from an early age, and he began to work the halls as a professional from the age of fourteen under the name 'Boy Bruce - The Mighty Atom'. The next sixteen years were spent on the boards perfecting his routines, until, in 1958, he was thrust from virtual obscurity into the limelight as the host of variety show Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ITV, 1955-67, 1973-74). Serving as host between September 1958 and September 1960, then again from September to December 1961, Forsyth became a household name.

The show's most fondly remembered element was the game 'Beat the Clock', in which members of the public completed unusual tasks to win prizes, aided and abetted by Forsyth. His irreverent attitude towards the contestants (gently mocking them and feigning exasperation) made the segment a regular highlight.

The 1960s saw Forsyth largely concentrate on his stage career, although he did appear in a sporadic run of comedy specials and series, beginning in 1959 and made for various ITV companies, under the common title of The Bruce Forsyth Show.

However, in 1971 his television future was sealed, when his natural rapport with the public in a game-show setting became the centrepiece of an entire series. With Forsyth once again gently ribbing contestants as they competed in performing absurd tasks, Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game (BBC, 1971-77) proved a phenomenon, attracting audiences by the millions to its Saturday early evening slot. Forsyth was now viewed as the game show host par excellence - a pigeonhole from which he has never fully escaped.

A plethora of Forsyth-hosted game shows followed, including Bruce Forsyth's Play Your Cards Right (ITV, 1980-87, 1994-2003), Hollywood or Bust (ITV, 1984), You Bet! (ITV, 1988-90), Takeover Bid (BBC, 1990-91), a return to former glories with Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game (BBC, 1990-94), Bruce's Price is Right (ITV, 1995-2001) and Didn't They Do Well (BBC, 2004).

As Forsyth has acknowledged, his hosting of so many long-running game shows resulted in him having to partially sacrifice his song and dance career, appearing in far fewer light entertainment shows than he would have wished. Those in which he did appear include the critically excoriated Bruce Forsyth's Big Night (ITV, 1978), the music/chat show Bruce's Guest Night (BBC, 1992-93), and, among a number of music/comedy specials, Sammy and Bruce (ITV, tx. 21/9/1980), where he was partnered by one of his idols, Sammy Davis Jr.

His acting roles on television include a fading music-hall performer in an adaptation of Noël Coward's Red Peppers (BBC, tx. 15/12/1969), and a supermarket manager in his sole venture into sitcom, Slinger's Day (ITV, 1986-87).

He returned to his television roots as host of the variety series Tonight at the London Palladium (ITV, 2000), complete with 'Beat the Clock', while regaining his Saturday early evening light entertainment crown as co-host of the phenomenally successful Strictly Come Dancing (BBC, 2004- ).

Forsyth was voted Show Business Personality of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain in 1975, and awarded an OBE in 1998.

John Oliver

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Thumbnail image of Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955-74)Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955-74)

Long-running variety show that helped to make ITV a hit

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