‘Arise Sir Bruce’ – but will we ever hear those magic words?
HIS long chin, thin moustache, famous toupe and soft shoe shuffle must be very familiar to Her Majesty. Not only has he entertained her formally five times as frontman for the Royal Variety Performance, but they are also of a similar age (she is 84; he was 83 yesterday), and there are few performers in the world who have entertained so many generations and still maintained such high profile and earning power in their ninth decade.
But let’s not blame the Queen personally for failing to call Bruce Forsyth and ask him to jump in the Roller while she gets a couple of flunkeys to polish the sword and plump up the tasselled velvet cushion. Whether she is a fan of the song-dance-and-gag man or not, she relies on the recommendations of her honours team to tell her who is esteemed highly enough to have the ancient rank bestowed upon them.
A couple of times a year the Queen gives out scores of honours, from knighthoods down to the MBE, CBE and OBE received by delighted recipients across every sector of society, often for great but unsung public work, but also for representing the country in sport or achievement in fields of business, the arts or science. People decades younger than Forsyth have received knighthoods for their contribution to sport (Sir Chris Hoy and Sebastian Coe KBE), as have people who have not entertained millions but have donated both time and money to the arts (for example Vernon Ellis, chairman of English National Opera, and donor of £7m to arts organisations). Bill Gates, Bob Geldof, former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and Steven Spielberg are all honorary Knights Commander of the British Empire.
Fans of Brucie don’t deny that all of these others deserve their gongs; they just wonder, twitter, blog, email and post messages in their droves on Facebook about why their idol has been overlooked for so long. He received his CBE in 2006, but so far the Big One has eluded him.
Over the last few years a campaign orchestrated via the internet has garnered about 30,000 signatures – including those of Sir Elton John, TV presenters Claudia Winkleman and Sarah Beeny, and veteran broadcaster Nicholas Parsons – for a petition demanding that the man who has been entertaining the British public for almost 70 years should become Sir Bruce Forsyth. In 2008, 73 MPs even signed an Early Day Motion calling for him to kneel before the Queen. Twice a year, when the Queen confers honours, their hopes are stymied. Now, former BBC and ITV chairman Michael Grade (Baron Grade of Yarmouth CBE), himself born into an entertainment dynasty, has waded into the argument. In an interview with Radio Times he said: “It’s shocking that he and other variety performers are never knighted. There’s an innate snobbery in Whitehall that music hall is vulgar”.
Last year the Strictly Come Dancing presenter said: “I’m in very good company. Morecambe and Wise never got a knighthood, the two Ronnies never got a knighthood...I have a CBE which I was very pleased to accept and still am very pleased to accept, and if that’s as far as it goes, that’s as far as it goes”. Modesty is the best policy, but you get the feeling that, for this famous fuss-pot who lives on a private Surrey estate, being Sir Brucie would mean rather a lot.
Celebrated amateur hoofer and Liberal Democrat front-bencher Vince Cable, who has appeared on Strictly, has also lined up with the ranks of the “why, oh why?” brigade, saying the honours system is snobbish when it comes to the stars of light entertainment. It may be hard for some of us to understand the enduring appeal of Bruce Forsyth, but who could begrudge him or his wing of the entertainment industry the recognition that regularly falls on the shoulders of others? His catchlines “Didn’t he do well?” and to “Nice to see you, to see you nice...” may be cornier than Kansas in August, but many believe his shows brought family viewing and much-needed sparkle back to Saturday nights.
Few have paid their dues in quite so many spades as the man who started out in music halls in 1942 as Boy Bruce the Mighty Atom. He ran the gauntlet of fish and chip wrappers from the crowd as he worked his way up the billing to become top dog. He may not be the feminists’ friend, but it does appear to be time that Bruce took one on the shoulders – for himself but also for Ronnie B, Eric and Ernie, Tommy Cooper, Marie Lloyd and the other genius entertainers who went to their grave without such honour.