Christmas 1965. Son is delighted with his Corgi 007 Aston Martin, mother plans to donate the Home Cooking With Fanny Cradock to charity as soon as possible, and daughter cannot stop playing the Rubber Soul LP. Meanwhile, father is ranting about ‘those long-haired beatniks’, but at least the family can agree on two televisual highlights of the day. The first is HM The Queen at three o’clock (of course) and the second, on ABC TV at 9.10 pm, is The Bruce Forsyth Show.
The programme commenced with a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud S3 Coupe heading towards the studio. On being driven on stage, it disgorges several female cast members (including one in the boot) plus the great man himself. Over the next 50 minutes, Cilla Black sings Yesterday while Bruce performs a rather splendid dance number, and also takes part in several sketches.
The last-named, to any viewer raised on The Generation Game, are the most surprising aspect of the show. Forsyth was a very useful character actor in Star! and Bedknobs and Broomsticks but on the small screen his personality was so powerful that he tends to overpower any scenario. However, the orchestra routine with an irate Jack Douglas (who was always more entertaining when he was not playing Alf Ippititimus) is excellent value. Better still is Bruce accompanying the Morgan James Duo on piano for a beguiling version of The Girl from Ipanema.
‘ The Bruce Forsyth Show on Christmas Day proved once again that if you can only get S. C. Green and R. M. Hill to write for you, you’re well on the way to getting yourself a good show’ mused the critic of The Stage on the 30th December 1965. The Special was indeed followed by two series with possibly the most “Mid-1960s” guest stars in the history of light entertainment – Lionel Blair, Tommy Cooper, Diana Dors, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr., Frankie Howerd, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, and Harry Secombe.
The format was as determinedly mid-Atlantic as a chrome-laden Vauxhall Cresta. However, Forsyth never affected that vaguely Canadian patois favoured by the likes of Dickie Henderson Jr., if anything those distinctive camp-suburban tones are slightly more RP in his ABC era than they were in the 1980s. The Bruce persona of this era was a card of the local golf club putting on a “turn” with wholly deceptive ease.
The many and various highlights of the surviving programmes include the Dudley Moore Trio, Tom Jones in post-Teddy Boy mode singing Kansas City and Georgia on My Mind and a very on-form Ronnie Corbett as a paranoid cafe patron. A 20-year-old Joanna Lumley cameos in a Bruce/Roy Castle routine and perhaps the most poignant sight was Kathy Kirby – the singer with the Marilyn Monroe hairstyle and the fragile eyes.
In short, The Bruce Forsyth Show captures the star in his prime, just after his departure from Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The frustrated glances and asides to camera, the incredible dancing and the dedicated musicianship were all vital elements of someone who was always in charge. In the 1950s, Forsyth was billed as ‘The Incredible Character’ – and he indeed was.
Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA