With more recent vehicles like Strictly Come Dancing and Bruce’s Price Is Right fresher in the public memory, it’s easy to forget that Bruce Forsyth achieved domination in the 1960s. Having achieved stardom in the late 1950s as compère of Sunday Night at the Palladium, the 1960s saw Forsyth in an imperial phase as the chinny face of British light entertainment. ABC’s The Bruce Forsyth Show began in 1965 and a new DVD release from Network collecting all of its surviving episodes revives the King of Light Entertainment.
Forsyth begins each show by singing a snatch of the showtune Just In Time in a singing voice rather too close to his speaking voice. The “nice to see you, to see you nice” catchphrase is present, but those most familiar with Forysth from his late-career revival as a kitschy remnant from the past may find his zany persona less palatable in its original context. The scripts often cast Bruce as a proud blabbermouth eager not to be upstaged by his male guests, be they Roy Castle, Michael Medwin or Tommy Cooper. It’s a classic light entertainment trope of its time but Bruce sells it rather less convincingly than, say, Morecambe & Wise always did.
However, this is television worth more now than anyone who made it could have known; it’s a fascinating snapshot of its era. There’s a parody of The Avengers with Forsyth as a troublingly convincing Steed, a space-race skit with Roy Castle as a Soviet astronaut, a Thunderbirds spoof with Harry Secombe and the ever-impish Dudley Moore bedazzling as pianist of his jazz trio. Put simply, this is a gas for lovers of the era.
This release compiles all episodes of the show known to still exist, spanning from 1965 to 1967. This includes an incomplete edition from September 1966 with Frankie Howerd among the guests. While some skits are reduced to brief snatches, this is complete enough to make a rewarding watch. Among the surviving sections is a complete comedy monologue from Howerd detailing a failed entry into the world of espionage. Howerd participates in the set’s other incomplete show, a soft 13-minute telerecording of 1967’s Frankie and Bruce’s Christmas Show that begins in the middle of a University Challenge spoof.
It’s a great shame more of this show doesn’t exist, but it’s wonderful that what remains has been made available by Network. This is the kind of surviving archive television that often falls through the cracks – very few will have seen these shows since transmission. If you love archive television, the 1960s and light entertainment, maybe Bruce Forsyth singing The Girl From Ipanema as one-third of a bossa nova trio is just what you need. Nice to see it.