The Bruce Forsyth Story: part 2 – I Beat the Clock! 

18 August 2017

From the TVTimes for week commencing 27 December 1959

It is just over a year since I walked on the stage of the London Palladium to compere, for the first time, the Sunday night TV show there. I was at the top. Anyway, after 17 years of slogging, it felt like it — unless I was just punch drunk.

Still, it was the best job I had ever had. Which, looking back at them, isn’t saying much. But this new job offered to make all my dreams come true — success, money, a new home. Perhaps, who knows, even friends!

Here I am, under the clock… Can the customers beat it?

On that first Sunday, however, I knew the dreams were still just dreams. For I had only a four weeks’ trial. If I fluffed this chance it could set me back five years. Which is another way of saying to the bottom.

“Forsyth.” I said to myself — you get like that after 17 years — “you’re going to make a success of this chance. This is the break you’ve been looking for.”

It was more than that. It was the break I’d promised my wife, Penny, when we came back from a tour of India just after our marriage five years earlier. “Five years to make a success or I’ll chuck show business,” I had said — and, maybe, I would have stuck to that.

Anyway, just 12 years after I entered show business, I got a variety date at Brixton.

It was just before Christmas, 1953 (or perhaps they missed Christmas that year, for the audiences seemed particularly cheerless when I was around). My “spot” — one of the most difficult in variety — was to do a comic turn immediately after the opening dance number.

I was billed as a comedian, in other words. And most people could think of other words. They thought of them, as I remember, for the next two years. But gradually the name of Forsyth came to be recognised.

Then I thought of trying the Windmill Theatre again. It was a shot in the dark (if the lights had been on I’d have been recognised), and it worked. I got a six-week engagement, which was extended to 23 weeks, and I went straight into a season at Babbacombe in Devon.

Things could have been worse. And they soon were until I was offered a solo spot in the show then replacing the Palladium, Sunday Night at the Prince of Wales. I was on stage for five minutes.

Next day one critic wrote: “I liked the look of this new boy with the original appeal. Note the name: George Forsyth.”

George, indeed!

Still, I had made a start. It led to my first Palladium TV show, and later two more from the Prince of Wales.

At the last of these I was on the bill for the usual five-minute turn. But, as I was going on, the producer asked me to stretch my act a little, because the show was under-running.

I did as I was told and, as I was getting to the end of my act, I got frantic “Hurry up” signals.

Later, I learned why. I had been on for nine and-a-half minutes — and the top star usually gets only eight or nine minutes! It certainly got me talked about, and was one of the things that led to my being given the Palladium job.

When discussions were held about a new compere for the Palladium show, Bernard Delfont recalled my Prince of Wales effort.

But more was needed than a good compere — they wanted someone capable of tackling the complicated “Beat the Clock.” This is unscripted, and calls for the ability to deal with people who have never been on a stage before.

On holiday at Eastbourne with my wife, Penny, and Debbie and Julie

Billy Marsh, of the Delfont organisation, recalled seeing one of my Babbacombe shows, where I had my own quiz and spent more time chatting to people than getting on with the games.

They decided to give me a trial.

I was beginning to do well. For one night at the Palladium I was getting as much as I got in four weeks at Babbacombe.

I thought of all the things I would be able to do with the money. Above all, I wanted to buy a new home for my wife and daughters, Debbie, then three, and Julie, only five months.

However, these were only dreams. I had to remember I was on four weeks’ trial. I just HAD to be a success.

NEXT: I’m still in charge!

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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2 responses to this article

Paul Mason 19 August 2017 at 6:59 am

Sadly I lost it in a house move but Bruce Forsyth and Sammy Davis Jr. had a special show during ITVs silver jubilee week in September 1980. They compared notes about 1955. SD Jr had already hit the big time and become a big name in the USA, but Bruce Forsyth had to make do with the “Bucket and Spade Award” for the best seaside entertainer of 1955.

There have been clips of Bruce Forsyth and Roy Castle, who was a similar all rounder who once stood in for Bruce when he had flu.

Bruce tried to crack the USA but attempts to Americanize his act were a failure, re the Muppets. His style on The Price is Right was cramped, but play Your Cards Right was excellent. I never saw him on Strictly Come Dancing (Come Dancing with the Stars would be a better title). A lost link with the early days of mass TV.

Paul Mason 19 August 2017 at 7:02 am

What I lost in the house move was the Silver Jubilee TV Times dated for a week in September1980, which featured Tommy Coopers forthcoming (final) TV series and had Bruce and Sammy Davis Jr on the cover.

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