Didn't he do well? British entertainer Bruce Forsyth dies aged 89

Forsyth had contracted bronchial pneumonia, family says

British TV veteran Bruce Forsyth has died at the age of 89. Video: BBC/UTV

 

British TV veteran Bruce Forsyth has died at the age of 89, his manager has said.

A statement read: “It is with great sadness that the Forsyth family announce that Sir Bruce passed away this afternoon, peacefully at his home surrounded by his wife Wilnelia and all his children.

“A couple of weeks ago, a friend visited him and asked him what he had been doing these last eighteen months.

Bruce Forsyth on the Avalon Stage at the Glastonbury music festival in 2013. Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters
Bruce Forsyth on the Avalon Stage at the Glastonbury music festival in 2013. Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters

“With a twinkle in his eye, he responded: “I’ve been very, very busy... being ill!

“Unfortunately, not long after this, his health deteriorated and he contracted bronchial pneumonia.

“The family would like to express their thanks to the many people who have sent cards and letters to Bruce wishing him well over his long illness and know that they will share in part, the great, great loss they feel.

“There will be no further comment at the moment and it would be much appreciated if the privacy of Sir Bruce’s family is respected at this most difficult time.”

Forsyth was knighted in Britain’s Birthday Honours of 2011 after his supporters, including many MPs, had campaigned for several years for him to be awarded this honour.

He was still performing with as much zest as ever right into his 80s.

Indeed, as a sprightly, lithe 80-year-old, with the slogan “keep on dancing”, he was hosting the huge BBC TV hit, Strictly Come Dancing. He demonstrated that, even at that age, and beyond, he could still sing with gusto and dance with professional verve.

In that show, which became a Saturday-night institution, he regularly drew attention to his age, modifying one of his already famous catch-phrases to “I’m not doddery — doddery I am not ...” inciting the audience to join in.

His principal claim to fame before that was probably his hosting of the long-running and highly-successful TV series The Generation Game. But he was no less popular in Play Your Cards Right and in Bruce’s Price is Right.

His energy was as phenomenal as his catch-words were infectious. Nearly every performance began with the greeting: “Nice to see you ... to see you nice!” Or when a contestant in one of his many game shows excelled himself, Sir Bruce would chant: “Didn’t he do well?” He was no less renowned for his poses as a man of muscle.

Bruce Forsyth with his wife, Wilnelia in 2005. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
Bruce Forsyth with his wife, Wilnelia in 2005. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson was born into in Edmonton, north London on February 22nd, 1928. At the age of 14, he left the family home and was touring Britain as The Boy Bruce — The Mighty Atom. He made his broadcasting debut in 1942 and was an instant hit. He told one BBC interviewer: “I want to be famous and buy my mum a fur coat.”

He played the ukulele, the accordion and the banjo with equal prowess and spent some 20 years performing in church halls, sleeping in luggage racks and waiting for the big break. He did a two-year spell at London’s famous Windmill Theatre — “We never closed” — and appeared in several double acts.

When he received the call in 1958 to host Sunday Night at the London Palladium, Bruce was on the verge of leaving showbusiness. He was booked for two weeks, but stayed for five years, by which time he was Britain’s highest-paid entertainer, earning £1,000 a week.

Subsequently, he was to reign supreme at the helm of the BBC flagship show, The Generation Game, from 1971 to 1977 and again at the beginning of the 1990s. At its peak, the show attracted more than 20 million viewers.

Bruce Forsyth with his wife Wilnelia (left) sitting with Tess Daly as he wins a Special Recognition award, at the 2011 National Television Awards. Photograph: Ian West/PA
Bruce Forsyth with his wife Wilnelia (left) sitting with Tess Daly as he wins a Special Recognition award, at the 2011 National Television Awards. Photograph: Ian West/PA

One of his most surprising appearances was hosting an edition of the TV hit show Have I Got News For You in 2003. The show was built round him and included a very politically incorrect item called The Iraqi Play Your Cards Right. Ian Hislop, one of the regulars on this programme, said later that only Bruce could have got away with this — and successfully.

And in 2004, when in effective semi-retirement, Sir Bruce was brought back to host a new version of an old programme: Strictly, Come Dancing. This was a huge tribute to a man whose essential style of entertainment, although basically unchanged, had remained as fresh and popular as ever it was.

He boasted, with some justification, that his performances appealed not only to the older generation, but to youngsters as well.

His comedy, although often brash, was never downright vulgar. He disliked the cult of “reality TV”, saying that it involved no “performance” as such and was often offensive.

He announced he was leaving Strictly Come Dancing in April 2014. Show producers regularly scheduled rest weeks during the series to help him cope with the workload of fronting three months of weekly live programmes.

He was a crowd-pleaser to people of all ages and at the age of 85, stepped out on to the stage at Glastonbury in 2013 to a standing ovation where he performed a host of classic songs and teased the Rolling Stones frontman Sir Mick Jagger.

The star once gave his thoughts on death, saying: “As I get nearer to it, I fear it less because with the tiredness one gets at times, you think, ‘Is it just like having a nice long sleep?’ I wouldn’t say I fear it.

“I think I’ll be completely at peace when it does happen to me because I’ve been so lucky. I’ve had a wonderful career,” he told Radio Times.

He was a father-of-six. His first marriage to Penny Calvert in 1953 produced three daughters. In 1973, he married his television co-host Anthea Redfern and would regularly ask her on screen to “Give us a twirl” and “What do you do, my love?”. That marriage produced two daughters, but was dissolved in 1982.

In 1983, he married the Puerto Rican former Miss World, Wilnelia Merced, who would later become Lady Wilnelia. There was one son from this marriage.

In his later years, he spent much of his time relaxing in Puerto Rico. He was an avid golfer, proclaiming in Who’s Who that his handicap was 10. He regularly played at Wentworth Golf Club, very close to where he lived.

PA