Bruce Forsyth sparked parents’ anger by ‘pulling up carpet to dance to Fred Astaire’
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The late variety performer, who died three years ago from bronchial pneumonia, was considered to be one of Britain’s most loved stars. He spent more than seven decades in show business, which earned him a Guinness World Record for longest career of any male entertainer. Sir Bruce’s final appearances were on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, where he served as a co-host until he retired due to ill-health.
But unearthed accounts from the late star’s life reveal his rise from performing as part of a family act in the Salvation Army to national treasure was far from easy.
Sir Bruce’s interest in the arts was kindled at the age of eight, when he first watched Fred Astaire films.
In a desperate attempt to replicate the thudding tap of the star’s shoes, he regularly went on to the roof to try to mirror the dancer’s routines.
Sir Bruce recalled getting in trouble with his parents a number of times for dancing – mainly because he often dismantled their London home before he performed.
He said: “As soon as I got home from school, I’d take up the carpet – because there was lino underneath – and start tapping away.”
By the age of 14, he was performing under the name Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom and first appeared at the Theatre Royal in Bilston, West Midlands.
While he earned 13sh 4d, approximately £33 in today’s money, for his act, the show folded after a week.
Unable to pay the bill for his rented accommodation, he was forced to ask his parents John and Ada for help.
Sir Bruce later claimed that he dreamed of being “famous” and able to “buy my mum a fur coat”.
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For 16 years, he performed in small theatres and in church halls around the country – and was often forced to sleep on the train’s luggage racks.
During one trip to Sunderland, he recalled being fed a “measly” meal by his landlady of “the most minute pork pie you have ever seen and about 12 peas”.
He told the Daily Mail that he was “too tired to argue and went straight to bed” but unfortunately barely slept “because the bed was so small”.
The next morning he discovered the mattress had been propped up by a beer crate to make it appear longer.
After he complained, the landlady argued that “the last gentleman who used it said it was very comfortable”.
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Sir Bruce claimed to have discovered that the room’s previous occupant had dwarfism and performed in a circus act.
Exhausted by touring and summer seasons in various seaside towns, the star nearly gave up on his dream in 1958 after being unemployed for three months.
But soon after, he was asked to present Sunday Night at the London Palladium – a show that launched him to superstardom.
At its peak, 10 million viewers tuned into the show and Sir Bruce claimed “the pubs would empty when it came on”.
He told the BBC that producers would receive calls from the public asking them: “Can’t you start it later?”
The role led him to become Britain’s highest paid entertainer at £1,000 per week, approximately £18,700 in today’s money.
It led to him to secure a number of TV shows including Generation Game, Price Is Right, Play Your Cards Rights and more.
As his career seemed to be slowing down, it was revived by his appearance on Strictly Come Dancing – which he served on from 2004 until 2012 and made occasional guest appearances.
When he was forced to step-down from his full-time presenting responsibilities he insisted: “I’m not retiring!
“That’s the last thing in the world I want to do. This isn’t Brucie walking into the sunset.”
Sir Bruce died in 2017 after a long battle with ill-health at the age of 89 – but his love for show business lives on in several touching comments.
In one, he remarked: “On stage I think I’m 35. Working takes over my whole body and I become a younger man – that’s why I won’t stop.”
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