Bruce Forsyth developed ‘accidental TV catchphrase after surprised comment to future-wife’

Strictly: Anton du Beke performs with Bruce Forsyth in 2008

The legendary variety performer died three years ago but his legacy still lives on in the countless shows he influenced, including Strictly Come Dancing. Sir Bruce, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II nine years ago, became renowned for time hosting game shows. A number of them are likely to feature on Channel 5’s new show TV’s Biggest Gameshows: 50 Years of Fun, which airs tonight. One other notable part of the late star’s act was his regular use of catchphrases and many of them spread across the nation. 

Sir Bruce was 11 years old when he first sang and danced on the TV show Come and Be Televised in 1939.

Then-known as ‘Boy Bruce, The Mighty Atom’, he travelled the country from the age of 14 and often slept in the luggage rails of trains.

His big break came on Sunday Night at the London Palladium and the show was reportedly so popular that the team received calls from the public asking them to delay its broadcast. 

It drew in around 10 million viewers each week and reportedly would “cause pubs to empty out as airtime approached”.

This led to some of his more notable shows including The Generation Game, Play Your Cards Right and The Price is Right.

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Sir Bruce savoured a remarkable career that spanned more than seven decades – an achievement that was recognised with a Guinness World Record.

In 2012, he told the BBC that it was a “wonderful surprise” to receive the accolade for having the longest career of any male TV entertainer. 

Before Sir Bruce was forced to step down as a full-time host of Strictly Come Dancing in 2014, three years before he died from bronchial pneumonia. 

During his time on TV, he became renowned for a number of cheeky catchphrases and quips that would be parrotted back by his audience during live shows. 

In an extract from his 2015 autobiography Strictly Bruce: Stories of My Life, he wrote about the power of his – often unintentional – wordplay.

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Sir Bruce commented “‘Nice to see you… to see you nice’ – catchphrases played their part in the success of The Generation Game. 

“Just as my saying, ‘I’m in charge’ at the London Palladium in the Sixties grew out of a throwaway remark, the new batch in the Seventies were also largely unplanned and unrehearsed.”

He revealed that his co-star and future second wife Anthea Redfern unintentionally inspired one of the catchphrases.

Sir Bruce explained: “Every week our hostess Anthea Redfern wore a different dress, which became a recurring theme with me mentioning how fantastic she looked at the beginning of each show. 

“Anthea’s entrance was eagerly awaited each week, the studio audience gasping in delight or bursting into spontaneous applause when she walked on.

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“The fan mail increased after every creation.”

But “one week” Sir Bruce was so taken aback by Ms Redfern’s “beauty” in one outfit that he made an off-the-cuff comment that later became a catchphrase. 

He said: “She looked so incredibly stunning that all I could do was marvel at her. 

“‘Anthea, you look amazing. That dress really is lovely, you must let the viewers see the back. Come on, give us a twirl’ – the rest is history.”

His catchphrase “give us a twirl” wasn’t the only influence Ms Redfern had on his life. 

Sir Bruce admitted she helped to speed-up the end of his 20-year marriage to Penny Calvert, with who he shared three children. 

They divorced in the summer of 1973 and by Christmas that same year, Sir Bruce married his co-star after they had been dating for 18 months. 

Sir Bruce continued: “Unfortunately my marriage to Anthea did not survive.” 

He blamed the “pressures of the industry” on their unsuccessful relationship.

Sir Bruce said: “The travelling, the relentless recording schedules took their toll as we came to realise we were looking for different things to make us happy.

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“We formally separated in July 1979, still loving each other but no longer in love in the sense of a married couple.” 

Sir Bruce’s third and final marriage happened four years later after he met Wilnelia Merced, a Puerto Rican model who won Miss World in 1975.

After the late TV star’s death, Ms Merced, who is now known as Lady Forsyth, was reported to have sold the couple’s Wentworth estate, in Surrey, for £5.5million. 

In May, one of the widow’s friends told the Daily Mail: “The house was too big for Wilnelia. She also wanted a fresh start. Bruce loomed large wherever she turned.”

Lady Forsyth admitted that she struggled to stay in the house where she and Sir Bruce shared so many fond memories. 

She said: “I try to be strong for the family, but if I told you it’s been easy I’d be lying.”

Lord Forsyth claimed to still speak to her late husband and added: “I miss Bruce every single day.”

TV’s Biggest Gameshows: 50 Years of Fun airs at 8pm tonight on Channel 5.

Strictly Bruce: Stories of My Life was published by Bantam Press in 2015 and is available here.

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