Bruce Forsyth Live at the London Palladium: The Palladium, London, 1999
Have I Got News For You, (TV Recording): ITV Studios, Southbank, London, 2003
Didn’t They Do Well: (TV Recording): ITV Studios, Southbank, London, 2004
To celebrate his 70th birthday and 50 years in show business, Sir Bruce Forsyth KBE performed one week of shows at the London Palladium in 1999 culminating in a live Sunday night performance as a tribute to his first big TV hit. I attended the first performance on the Monday. We were treated to a two-hour show which featured everything: comedy, music, audience participation, song and dance, games and those famous catch phrases. The versatility of the man and the determination to entertain the audience on that cold January evening was staggering. One minute he was at the back of the audience ‘let me at my audience!’, moving around like lightning saying hello to everybody with a quip and a joke. The next he was on stage playing the piano or tap dancing brilliantly. For a man of 70 years, he was performing as though he was 20. At the end of the evening for the encore he came back onto the stage and took questions from the audience giving revealing answers about his incredible life. I remember when asked what his favourite form of entertainment was and his reply was ‘TV is wonderful and I have been very lucky but this, here on stage, is what I born to do’. It was an amazing night that I will never forget and a rare chance indeed to see what he does best: perform live.
As Forsyth has acknowledged in many interviews, and at the Palladium show that I attended, 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. However, during the nineties, his career may have been waning and he wasn’t seen much in the spotlight, until one day whilst watching television with his wife, she suggested that he should present the show they were watching. Forsyth didn’t think the show was for him but the comedian Paul Merton had other ideas. The show was Have I Got News For You and Forsyth hosted the show in 2003. I was lucky enough to be in the audience and before the recording began, nobody knew who the host was going to be. Suddenly curtains were wheeled onto the stage to reveal in silhouette Forsyth in his famous strong man pose, just as he had started every Generation Game show. The audience went ballistic, so enthusiastic to see him, hoping he would be great. Forsyth did not disappoint. He was fantastic at that recording. The guests were Marcus Brigstocke and Natasha Kaplinsky with the usual two long-running team captains of the successful comedy quiz: Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. Merton was clearly enjoying himself and Hislop did not knowing what was going on when Forsyth kept referring to old game show references and catchphrases that being lapped up by the frenzied audience. At the age of 75, Forsyth had returned and was storming the show. Particularly memorable for me was Play Your Iraqi Cards Right! and I will never forget when Forsyth, reading a joke from the autocue running out of breath as he was trying to complete the joke, competed with my loud laugh. He turned to me sitting in the audience convulsing, and said ‘Please, this is satire!’ I could not stop laughing at this comment and my laugh can clearly be heard on the recording. Due to the success of his appearance on the show, Forsyth was asked to host again in 2007 which he did. He was still good but the performance does not I believe have the same impact as the first time he hosted. Indeed, I have been to many TV recordings over the years and this recording in 2003 was one of the very best. Over time, the recording has generally been regarded as one of the funniest episodes of Have I Got News For You and led to Forsyth’s resurgence for one more hit Saturday night prime-time show.
Just before this, and in between his stint on Have I Got News For You, I saw Forsyth present another gameshow Didn’t They Do Well for the BBC in 2004 but even he couldn’t save the format and could only generate laughter from the confused set up of the game. The show was based on a series of ever more difficult challenges and bombed after one series. The only highlight at the recording was that I did get to shake Forsyth’s hand and say hello but alas, missed out on a photo opportunity. After the failed game show, Forsyth immediately bounced back once again and between 2004 and 2014, he went on to present the smash hit Strictly Come Dancing for the BBC.
Forsyth’s show-business accolades were enormous. He was voted Show Business Personality of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain in 1975 and awarded an OBE in 1998. In 2011, after a public partition, he finally and deservedly became Sir Bruce Forsyth. In 2016 he reluctantly retired from show business after 77 years and only a year later sadly died in 2017 aged 89 years old. He will always remain a truly remarkable performer and I am blessed to have seen one of the greatest entertainers live both at TV recordings and at his rightful home, on stage.