Much-loved British entertainer Sir Bruce Forsyth died in August 2017. He passed away a few months after he’d undergone key-hole surgery to repair a couple of aneurysms. In case you’re hazy on aneurysms, they are bulges in an artery that could burst and kill you.
I know because I had one that almost killed me.
Sir Bruce Forsyth (aka Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson CBE): Song & Dance Man
Before I get on to my own tale of cardiac misfortune, let’s concentrate on Brucie. I must confess, I’ve never been a huge fan. Don’t get me wrong, I can acknowledge that he was talented, thought on his feet, and I fully realise he oozed charisma out of every pore. Song and dance is an art form. I can appreciate that as much as the next person. Especially if the next in line is a tone-deaf builder who only listens to Brummie Metal.
Without spending any more time watching ‘song and dance’ and ‘all-round entertainers’ than I have to, I can see that the top of the league was Sammy Davis Junior. Sammy was a polished entertainer and his journey to the top was fraught with prejudice and hard-won. To me, Brucie was never quite as at ease and polished.
Brucie and Sammy appeared together on a British television show. Although Mr Davis did his best not to upstage his British host, it’s obvious who was the boss (just look at the jewellery):
When I was growing up, Bruce Forsyth was hard to avoid. My father was a Yorkshire farmer who transformed himself into the manager of a pub company. He didn’t get to where he was by being a Bruce Forsyth fan. He also refused to have any truck with programmes featuring Sir Jimmy Savile or Rolf Harris either. Not that I’m suggesting anything. Valerie Singleton, Dickie Henderson, and Frank Bough were on his hit-list, as well.
Sir Bruce Forsyth: The Early Years
Back then, Brucie seemed to be everywhere. I was too young to remember the very early days of ‘Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom’ or even when he shot to fame as the replacement host to Tommy Trinder on ITV’s top variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Aside from anything else, my family was more inclined to watch What’s My Line and Sunday Night Play on the BBC.
By the time I was ready to go to college, Bruce had extended his Beat The Clock game show skills to compete with Hughie Green and Michael Miles for the title of ‘Britan’s favourite TV host’. I can admit it now: I quite enjoyed watching The Generation Game when I saw it. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the kind of TV an eighteen-year-old faux-radical student would set the clock not to miss.
Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE: The Traveling Music Show and beyond
When Brucie announced he was taking a break from television in 1977, to go on the road with the musical, The Travelling Music Show, I don’t think I noticed. But the show closed early and he was enticed back to the goggle box by a huge slab of ITV cash. Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night became essential viewing for British students but for the wrong reasons. I think it was dated even then. Having a short episode of Jimmy Edwards’s 1950s radio sitcom, The Glums, every week didn’t help in an era when Britain was undergoing the Punk revolution.
To me, it was like watching a live two-hour car crash live on peak hour TV. Here’s a video of the first episode:
As far as I am concerned, it was downhill from there on for Sir Brucie. The comedian Frank Skinner tells a story about him. Whilst Frank was interviewing Bruce for his TV chat show, he noticed he was constantly referring to notes written on his thumb. Afterwards, Frank asked him how could he read such small writing. Bruce’s proud reply was, “I’ve never read a book in my life!”
After the Generation Game, I lost touch with Bruce Forsyth. I avoided the likes of The Price is Right, Play Your Cards Right, You Bet!, and Strictly Come Dancing, though I did encounter the man himself on three-and-a-half ‘real life’ occasions.
My First Public Appearance With Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE
The first time Sir Bruce Forsyth stumbled into my life was outside the National Westminster Bank in Stamford Street, on London’s South Bank. My recollection is that he parked illegally outside the bank and strode in, chequebook in hand. He was taller and thinner than I was expecting from black & white TV, wearing his customary toupee, a salt-and-pepper jacket and dark trousers. It would have been in the mid-to-late 1980s. I had nothing better to do, so I followed him into the bank.
There wasn’t much of a queue so he was served almost immediately. I couldn’t see exactly how much cash he was drawing out, but it wasn’t more than a few notes that went straight into his wallet. You could tell that people knew who he was but no one (least of all me) was going to accost him. Unmolested, he climbed back into his vehicle and drove away. I seem to think it was a red Jaguar, but I might be making that up.
Sir Bruce Forsyth and I Meet Again (Almost!)
The second occasion our paths crossed was a decade or so later. I was on the top deck of a London bus on my way back to south-east London. I’d been reviewing Indian restaurants for Time Out magazine and I was full of curry. It must have been a Saturday or Sunday evening, around 9 pm.
We were sitting in traffic in Whitehall, when someone on the bus said, “Look, it’s Brucie!” We followed the pointing finger and saw the man himself marching around the corner, surrounded by a small squad of scurrying army officers in red and gold dress uniform. Bruce was wearing a dinner jacket/tuxedo, and he seemed to be giving the officers some kind of instruction. He was taller than any of them.
Someone yelled out a version of “Nice to see you,” which ended on a swear word. Another voice almost immediately shouted: “Piss off!”. This may or may not have been Sir Bruce. It all happened so fast. The squad then disappeared into the building, which was guarded by two police officers.
Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE: Live on Stage
On Saturday 30th June 2012, I found myself at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent. Organiser, Vince Power, allowed me to advertise my own Rhythm Festival to his assembled masses and I was handing out flyers to anyone who would take them. Sir Bruce Forsyth was sharing the main stage with Bob Dylan, Patti Smyth and Randy Crawford. This was to be Brucie’s first festival appearance.
The following year he played Glastonbury Festival, which claimed the same honour. The Glastonbury folk also said he was the oldest performer ever to appear there, which I doubt. He may have been 85 at the time, but I have a sneaking suspicion some of those Jazz, Blues and Reggae players were older. Many of the Skatalites were in their eighties and I remember seeing Pinetop Perkins play at London’s Jazz Café when he was 94. I’m pretty sure he’d performed at Glastonbury around the same time. By the way, Perkins was the last surviving Blues performer to have known Robert Johnson, but that’s another story…
Sir Bruce Forsyth at Hop Farm Festival
By the time he appeared at Hop Farm, Brucie had become Sir Bruce Forsyth, having been knighted by the Queen the previous year. He was appearing with what he called ‘His Orchestra’ and he’d brought along a couple of guest singers. To be honest, Bruce’s 90-minute set didn’t really rock my boat or even float my dinghy. It just came as a disruption to my promotional activities.
Having said that, the majority of the audience seemed to lap it up. I wonder what they would have thought had it been an unknown Ted Hopkins from Barnet, doing exactly the same set.
To me, the highlight of the show was when Sir Brucie handed over to the guest female vocalist near the end. She could sing, but I’m not sure there’s much of a market for unknown lounge singers in the UK in the 21st Century.
The ‘half a meeting’ happened something like five years before Hop Farm, when I was visiting Brucie’s manager’s office in Battersea. Ian Wilson also looked after musical comedian Mitch Benn and I was promoting a show with him at London’s semi-fabulous 100 Club. We were drinking tea and talking when the assistant rushed in to announce that Bruce was on the telephone. Ian shot to his feet and said, “I’ve got to take this,” before leaving the room to pick up the call on another extension. I’m not sure if Bruce asked about me or not…
Although it has since been revealed that Sir Bruce Forsyth died from pneumonia, it was brought on after he’d undergone heart surgery to repair his aneurysms. The pesky blighters were discovered after he’d a fall at his home the previous year.
Something similar happened to me.
I went to see my doctor, complaining about always feeling tired and occasionally breathless. My fairly high blood pressure was on the suspect list and Dr Cardwell booked me in for various tests. The final one was a heart scan at QEQM Hospital in Margate. The technician was training a junior. After roughly five minutes of rubbing a paddle over my chest, their cheery banter drifted into uneasy silence.
“Is it supposed to look like that?” The trainee quietly asked. I think the lead technician must have shaken her head because they both fell into silence again. I could sense a certain amount of pointing and gesticulating at the screen.
The technician excused herself and left the room. When she returned she told me to get dressed and go and wait for the doctor, who would be with me shortly. He arrived a few minutes later, dressed theatrically (no pun intended) in green scrubs. He explained what was wrong and told me it was vital I be admitted to hospital straight away. No time to lose, any delay could be fatal, etc…
I’d previously arranged an appointment to have my eyes tested immediately afterwards. I’ve still got the optician’s bill for the “no show” somewhere.
That was just the start of my crazy adventure in cardiology. I’ll write about the whole incident in greater detail in a forthcoming post.
In the meantime, RIP Sir Bruce Forsyth. You may not have been my cup of tea as far as entertainers go, but you stole the hearts of many generations. (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere…)
Note: the picture at the top of this page is of the actor Gus Brown impersonating Sir Bruce Forsyth in the pilot episode of Matt Berry sitcom, Toast of London. It comes highly recommend.