Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson (CBE) 22 February 1928 – 18 August 2017
Bruce was born 22nd February 1928 in Edmonton, Middlesex. In 2012 he entered the Guinness book of records as the male performer with the longest spanning TV career, having been performing for 75 years. Growing up in a family that played brass instruments for the Salvation Army, music was in his life from an early age. When he saw his first Fred Astaire film aged 8, he put the moves to the music becoming obsessed with tap dancing, he would run home from school, pull up the carpet and tap dance on the bare wooden floor. His debut stage appearance came soon after, aged 14 at the Theatre Royal, Bliston under the apt stage moniker Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom. He was billed at the bottom and it would be a long time before he got anywhere near the top. Wartime Britain had a great demand for entertainment and there was no shortage of it. It was 1958 before he would get his big break, following a brief stint as a pilot with the Royal Air Force 1947-49 and then being woefully unemployed he considered packing in showbiz all together. However, the game was not over, he was approached to present Sunday Night Live at the London Palladium, a televised variety show. Bruce was no longer a boy, but he would never stop being the Mighty Atom. Booked for two weeks, he ended up staying for 5 years and becoming Britain’s highest paid entertainer, by the end of his career, amassing a multi-million fortune.
It was his unique brand of hosting that struck a chord with the public, forged under the bright lights of the wartime circuits, he was respectful, a little bit saucy and always ready with a pun but never at the expense of others, he produced innocent and honest laughter and the nation adored him for it. He went on to host a string of the Nation’s most popular gameshows including the Generation Game, Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night, Play your Cards Right, Bruce’s Price is Right, House! and finally when most entertainer’s would hang up their stage shoes to enjoy retirement he pulled a further decade of screen time with Strictly Come Dancing and the same Atomic energy. Bruce was everyone’s cheeky screen Uncle with his one liners, winks and audience interaction transforming parlour games into a weekly highlight. British pubs and living rooms alike shook to the weekend roar of ‘Higher!!!’ ‘Lower! Lower!!!’
Of his performance he once said "on stage I think I'm 35, working takes over my whole body and I become a younger man - that's why I won't stop." In 2011 he was knighted after years of campaigning by fans and a parliamentary Early Day Motion signed by 73 MPs.
He didn’t stop off screen either and was an avid golfer, participating in celebrity tournaments. His estate backed onto the Wentworth course where he often played rounds with some of the world’s greatest golfers.
Despite being an unusual looking man, characterised by his aggressive chin and features wrestling for recognition, he is a stolid reminder of how far personality, wit, humour and manners go. He married his Generation Game co-host Anthea Redfern in 1973, after being admired every week by Bruce on the show with the phrase “give us a twirl.” It was a short love affair and they divorced in 1979. At this point Bruce confessed he didn’t expect to ever find love and was bowled over when he met Wilcelia Merced whilst hosting the Mrs World competition 1980, a Puerto Rican actress, model, beauty Queen and former Miss World 1975. They married in 1983 and remained married until his death, he later said “it may be an old cliche, but I think true love will last; it has no end. But finding the right person is a very difficult thing.” After three quarters of a century bringing smiles, laughter and joy to the screen the Atom has shot back into the great cosmic tap-dance, nice to have known you Bruce, to have known you...nice.