Friday, 18 August 2017

A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER

The passing of Bruce Forsyth (aged 89) marks the end of an era of British TV light entertainment. Forsyth was one of those celebrities to whom words such as 'Legendary' and 'Iconic' can be applied without accusation of hyperbole.


Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson, CBE, is remembered best as a TV host whose shows became inextricably linked with his name: Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Generation Game, The Price is Right, You Bet! and Strictly Come Dancing, but there was much more to Bruce than a witty compere: he was a singer, a mean hoofer, an occasional actor in films (Star! and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) and memorable for his multi-character performance in the 1964 stage play, Little Me. In 2012, he was recognised by Guinness World Records as having the longest television career for a male entertainer.

On the occasion of Bruce being given his knighthood in 2011, I posted a recollection of having me and interviewed him a few years earlier. In a bad pun on his famous catchphrase, "Nice to see you! To see you –– nice!", I called the piece...  

"KNIGHT TO SEE YOU! TO SEE YOU – KNIGHT!"

How delighted we all were when Bruce Forsyth finally became Sir Bruce in the Queen's Birthday Honours last week.

I realise that this post will be largely inexplicable to my overseas readers, but here, in the UK, Brucie is nothing short of a National Treasure. He made his TV debut, aged 11, in 1939 ("Was there television in 1939?" asked one media commentator), before going on, three years later, to become 'Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom' playing the variety theatres with a song, dance, and accordion act.

Full-on stardom came in 1958 when he began hosting the hugely TV variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium with his famous maxim, "I'm in charge!"

As a TV host, he was the reason, in the 1970s, that we tuned-in in our millions every Saturday night to watch Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game with its nationally adopted catch-phrases ("Good game! Good game!", "Didn't he do well?" and, of course, "Nice to see you! To see you – nice!") and having adopted him, via 'the box', into our extended families, we followed his later successes on stage, occasionally on film, and on a succession of game and talent shows, Play Your Cards Right, You Bet, Bruce's Price is Right and, most recently, Strictly Come Dancing.

Bruce has been part of British life for as long as most of us can remember and I've always been an admirer: because he is one of that tough breed of multi-talented entertainers who got their break in vaudeville and can truly be described as 'survivors' – able to endlessly reinvent themselves.

I was delighted, therefore, back in 2009, to have the chance to meet and interview Brucie when I was making a duet of radio programmes as a tribute to the BBC impresario, the late Bill Cotton.

I visited the Forsyth home (just over the hedge from the famous Wentworth Golf Club!) and spent a couple of hours talking about various aspects of his long career. At the end of the interview, I asked him to sign my copy of his autobiography, Bruce, which he did, adding: "Try to believe it!"


Then I produced something else, tucked in the back of the book: a fan photo that I had requested in the 1960s and which, on its arrival, I had been bitterly disappointed to find had a printed signature!

"Now, I've finally got to meet you," I said, "would you mind if I asked you to do the job properly?!”

Laughing, Bruce explained how, when he first experienced stardom, he was totally unable to cope with the extensive fan mail. He recalled how, on arriving at his agent’s office one day, he saw a line of GPO mail-sacks stacked up along the hallway. When he asked what they were, he was told him, they were all for him! As with a number of stars, printed fan cards were an inevitable solution and, in many ways, a more honest option than those signed for others by agents' secretaries.

Anyway, Bruce was much amused that I had kept the photo (however unsatisfactory) for fifty years and happily did the deed, adding a dedication and a second signature – this time, as he noted, "in real ink”!

Brucie

Thank you, Sir Bruce! Rest in peace.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

WHO'S WHO?

Here's a puzzle for you: this photo is from a time when I was something of a mover and shaker – whereas, nowadays, I can scarcely move and, were I to shake, bits of me would probably fall off! Anyway, who are my luncheon companions? One's easy, the other a little more difficult.

Answer (with anecdote) below...


Not sure of the year (sometime early-1980s); the place: The Dorchester hotel; the event: The Society of Authors/Pye Radio Awards lunch.

I was Chair of the SOA Broadcasting Committee and (being also Chair of the Judges) had written the script for the MC of the ceremony, the noted British TV broadcaster, Mr (later Sir) Robin Day. I rehearsed Day during in the morning and he was characteristically brusque bordering on bloody rude.

The guest of honour was Princess Alexander and I was seated on the top table between HRH's husband, the Hon. Angus Ogilvy (he was still to be knighted at that point), and Aubrey Singer, then Managing Director of Radio at the BBC.

Robin Day had been seated towards the end of the table nearest to the podium he would use for the ceremony. Shortly before lunch, Day, was looking for his seat and was disgruntled to find where he had been placed. "I'll sit here," he announced, "next to Angus, we've known each other for years." Then picking up my place card, he said: "I'll change places with this chap Sibley; who's he anyway?"

"He's me," I replied, "we've been working together all morning."

"Well, you can change places, can't you?"

Before I could answer the boss of Pye stepped in and explained that that was NOT possible: Royal protocol meant that members of the Royal Family were briefed on who they would be sitting next to and those arrangements could not then be altered.

"Nonsense!" said Day. "Angus doesn't need briefing about ME!"

But Mr Pye was not for turning, so the frustrated Day picked up Aubrey Singer's name card and swapped it for his own. "Very well, then Singer will have to sit down the end!" And MD of Radio or not, so he did!

This photo was taken just as Robin Day leaned across me and said: "Something I've always wanted to know, Angus: what honour did the Queen offer you when you married the Princess? You've never revealed what it was or why you turned it down."

As Ogilvy was wondering what to reply (it was an Earldom he had rejected, by the way) , the Toastmaster called everyone to their feet for the National Anthem. As we rose, Angus Ogilvy whispered to me: "Saved by a Toastmaster!"