Dave Lanning meets Bruce Forsyth in 1967
TEATIME in Blackpool is an unspectacular hour. Holiday-makers slumber still in watery sunshine. The show business set yawns and stretches, preparing for two hectic houses, the eventful evening ahead.
The bells on the beach donkeys are magically quiet; a comparative hush settles over the Golden Mile. Ssh, listen carefully — you can actually hear the sea lapping on the sand.
A lull time. When you can hear yourself think. And Bruce Forsyth, who on Sunday returns with music, gags, guests and that wide, half-melon grin in a new series of The Bruce Forsyth Show sits thoughtfully before the multiple mirrors of his Opera House dressing-room and considers the question of getting old.
I didn’t broach the subject. Bruce is one of those irrepressibly lively types who makes any conversation interesting — young at heart. And he seems in particularly splendid form today; the golf round went well this morning; the family are ensconced in his rented bungalow at St Anne’s.
The beer is chilled, the dressing room is cool. All is at peace. So why should the subject of agelessness — always one of the great virtues of show business personalities — crop up?
“Because I have decided that I’d like to stay just as I am for ever,” he says, solemn as a judge. “I’m at a lovely age — the perfect age for any man.”
He is 39. Twenty-five years in show business. He has known heartbreak and fame; his three little girls are pushing on towards 11-plus. “Yes, 39. The perfect age — when time ought to stand still. And you know what? Everyone says: ‘Aren’t you going grey?’
“It doesn’t notice much on television. But here in Blackpool I hear it all the time. But David” — Bruce hates diminutives in names — “it doesn’t worry me in the slightest.
“I’m not one of those types who sit in front of mirrors going mad over every wrinkle, every grey hair. I’ve got an old face. I’ve only got to screw up my eyes and I can play 70-year-olds. That’s nature.
“I think grey hair rather suits me. And it will come over beautifully on colour television. Makes me look mature.
“That’s how I feel. Able to cope with life. I’m better balanced now than at any time I can recall. And much more relaxed than I was, say, 10 years ago.
He pulls long legs up under him on the couch, takes a sip of bitter lemon and sucks a barley sugar, for “Blackpool throat,” a mysterious ailment that seems to attack most singers in this summer heart of British show business. And he looks immensely relaxed, assured, contented. What’s the reason?
“I’ve so much more under my belt now, so much more behind me. I’ve done a West End show (“Little Me”) and a Hollywood film with Julie Andrews (“Star”) and the last television series went down well.
“Just working with television professionals — writers, fellow artists and production people — is my idea of the ultimate. I don’t have to knock myself out any more. I don’t have to prove myself.
“Once the thought that I might be out of work for a fortnight horrified me. Now I don’t have to care. I can take it in my stride. I’m well set, and that’s bound to lead to a more relaxed attitude.”
A surprisingly well-ordered character, is Bruce. He plays golf only every other day. “If you play every day it gets on top of you. You start remembering yesterday’s faults and they haunt you. Give it a day’s break and you start fresh.”
His handicap is nine. Today he went round in only four over … way above my class — so we won’t linger on this particular subject!
But, inevitably, the parallel comes up. “Life is like a round of golf. If you slice one, or miss an easy putt, get it out of your mind and play on. Keep swinging.
“If you play brilliantly, well, tomorrow you might be awful. But you must accept this. You must put the last shot out of your mind and concentrate on the next one.
“Doing a television show is like that. If you do a good show, fine — but don’t rest on your laurels. If you do a bad one you’ve got to soldier on and not let it affect you.”
How does a professional like Bruce know when he is doing a good show or not? Plain intuition? Critical opinion from others?
“You know after the first sketch. If you’re getting laughs in the right place, if the thing is gelling, ticking, just plain going well. You just know.
“If it isn’t, you feel it. And you mustn’t panic. Plug away. Hope it will explode. It does happen. The pressure is greater then, of course, but I think I work better under pressure.”
Bruce Forsyth is obviously a man in love with show business. He believes in what he’s doing. And in his friends in the business — and many of them are coming up in the series: Harry Secombe, Tommy Cooper, Roy Castle, Dudley Moore, Jimmy Logan. Bruce involves himself with them in the same manner as you might chat with friends at a party.
He wants the show to be a success — but doesn’t allow it to brood on his mind. He has the priceless ability to shut things off completely; yet concentrate intently (even learning his script by tape recorder while driving to the studios!) if the occasion demands.
He’s a man who sleeps well, looks after himself. “Your body is only a machine, after all.” He prefers wholemeal bread, honey, health foods. He cuts down fried food to the minimum. He rather enjoys these lull-time, teatime chats…
But now teatime is over. Lights are starting to twinkle. People appear. The air seems to tingle. You can’t hear the sea any more.
An hour to curtain up.
Time marches on — but at least Bruce Forsyth, the man who would like time to stand still, is ready to accept it.