Lives Remembered

Bruce Forsyth: From Belfast to the Palladium, thanks for the memories

Anne Hailes with Bruce Forsyth when he appeared on Ulster Television’s Roundabout magazine programme in the 1960s

WHEN I first worked in Ulster Television we received complimentary tickets for the London Palladium and, with my parents, we took advantage on several occasions.

The fabulous Bruce Forsyth was mesmerising. With his whirlwind television appearances from the Palladium through quiz shows right up to Strictly Come Dancing, he had the impact of a fizzing, frenetic meteor hitting earth night after night.

Little did I know I'd have a connection with him in years to come.

Back in the 1960s he appeared on Roundabout, UTV's teatime programme. He took over and the studio was chaos.

I was timing the show, and we had to be finished to the second to join network for the news.

Bruce was clowning around on a three-wheeled caption base, singing and laughing, but the dear man obviously had an eye on the floor manager who was counting out the programme and at just the last second he stopped, smiled at his audience at home and waved goodnight. To say I was in a state of collapse is an understatement.

But my abiding memory came a few years ago when I was researching my book about the early days of Ulster Television.

I wrote to Bruce asking for a telephone interview. Nothing. I'd given up when one day the phone rang: “Anne. Bruce Forsyth.”

“Darling, I've just found your letter, am I in time for your book?”

The reply was obvious. “For you Bruce, we'll hold the presses.”

I asked if he remembered causing mayhem in Studio One.

“I remember a scooter, I think. Was it a scooter?” I told him it was a roller caption on wheels.

We got on well and he gave me his home number and his mobile if I wanted to talk again.

As it turned out I did.

Once married to a girl from Derriaghy, when I phoned it was his wife Wilnelia who answered. “Bruce darling, it's Anne in Belfast.”

I'd remembered that Belfast man Paddy Hopkirk had once appeared on the Palladium show.

“Hopkirk. Paddy Hopkirk.”

Thinks. “Mini Cooper S? Won the Monte Carlo Rally?” Spot on - 44 years later.

With his red Mini, Paddy had joined Bruce on the revolving stage. “Only time we ever had a car on the show. Marvellous,” was the compere's memory.

Later Paddy explained that Bruce was in front of the curtains when the noise of a racing car filled the theatre followed by the squeal of brakes.

“Who's that?”

“Paddy Hopkirk,” replies his gag man.

“Why didn't you stop him?”

“I tried to,” and the gag man turns round to reveal tyre marks right across his back.

“Then I drive onto the stage and do the interview," recalled Paddy. "Imagine, me on the revolving stage with Bruce, my hero Tommy Cooper and the Tiller girls.”

And Bruce remembered too. “You see,” he said, “the mind is a marvellous thing, it's an encyclopaedia but you need memory jogs, don't you?”

The last thing he said was how much he'd enjoyed our conversation and looked forward to getting a copy of the book, which he did. He added: “Thanks for the memories.”

Thank you, Bruce Forsyth, for the laughter and fun and so many wonderful memories.

Anne Hailes

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Lives Remembered