Perhaps the biggest media story of the week was the news that UK national treasure and all-round entertainer Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE had died on Friday afternoon at the ripe old age of eighty-nine.
As on other similar occasions, I am afraid I have not bothered to read the special six-page newspaper tributes headed with the inevitable ubiquitous go-to Brucie strapline ‘Didn’t He Do Well?’.
My decision on the matter was taken only partly because – when a figure had been around in the public eye for as long as he had – one already knew practically all there is to know about his life and career anyway.
There’s an old saying that, if you can find nothing good to say about someone then you should probably say nothing – and in the general scheme of things that is undoubtedly sound advice. And yet the obvious and probably simplest thing that anyone could say of Bruce Forsyth is that it was always – and indeed, since his death, has been – impossible to find anyone anywhere who had a bad word to say about him.
Which actually, when you think about it, is a hell of a tribute in itself.
You or indeed I might be mightily chuffed if one day (if this were possible) we were to discover after our own passing that this was the general view left behind of ourselves in the minds of those still living. Some of us might even be moved to respond “we should be so lucky” if that happened.
But my point today – hopefully not a churlish one, given all the accolades received by, tributes paid to and the many achievements of the man who, over seventy years in show business, famously fronted Sunday Night At The London Palladium, The Generation Game, Play Your Cards Right, The Price Is Right, You Bet! and Strictly Come Dancing and, as Tony Hall, Direct-General of the BBC put it “… invented, and then re-invented, Saturday night entertainment” – is that, at times like these it is traditional to go a little over the top.
We’re currently in a period where the twentieth anniversary of the passing of Princess Diana is being commemorated. Looking back with hindsight at the vast national outpouring of collective grief her sudden death prompted – for all sorts of reasons – sometimes I find myself asking wondering why all that happened in quite the way it did and in many ways it all seems vaguely bizarre.
I’ve got to be honest about Bruce Forsyth. He was all the things that people say about him – I was driving when the news of his death came through and Jimmy Tarbuck, a good friend, paid a fulsome and heartfelt tribute on Radio Five Live all the more impressive for his reaction, for all its silences and sometimes repeated points, being broadcast live to the nation – and yet, whilst I personally accepted Bruce was … er … Bruce Forsyth – and therefore (if you like) one of the faces of British television and beloved by literally everyone – he never really convinced me of the talents he allegedly had in abundance.
Yes, he was more than gifted at some or all of those, but outstanding? I’m not so sure.
He had a great friendship with Sammy Davis Junior and they once co-starred in a special British light entertainment television two-hander together.
But to suggest that he was the British equivalent?
To adapt 1988 US Democratic vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen’s TV debate retort to his Republican opponent Dan Quayle when the latter had suggested his own political experience was comparable to that of Jack Kennedy’s, I ‘knew’, in the sense of saw, Sammy Davis Junior (albeit only on television, whether solo or in some pairing or grouping of the famous ‘Rat Pack’ including Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra) … and can honestly without fear of contradiction state here that Bruce was no Sammy Davis Junior, one of the all-time greats.
Bruce Forsyth was a more than competent all-round entertainer and – over years of sheer hard work slogging round the music hall circuit and appearing on radio and television – cultivated a persona that was British-audience-friendly, cheeky, cod-bossy (“I’m in charge!”) and above-all likeable. Irrepressible is probably the word that best describes it. And throughout his career he never said a bad word about anyone.
Well, expect in jest – and then only if he thought he could get a laugh out of it … especially from the butt of his gag him – or her -self.
Thanks for the memories, mate.