Long Runners: No 9: The Generation Game

Age: 22. Bruce Forsyth first struck the 'Thinker' pose at the top of the stairs on Saturday 18 December 1971 in an adapted version of a Dutch show, Ein van de Acht ('One Out of Eight'), which had been spotted by Bill Cotton, then head of BBC light entertainment. Larry Grayson took over the series in 1978 (when it, perhaps unsurprisingly, became known as Larry Grayson's Generation Game). It was during this period that the show gained its highest ever audience - a monstrous 23.9 million (Saturday 20 October 1979). Grayson continued saying 'Shut that door' until 1981, when the show took a nine-year sabbatical. At the instigation of Jim Moir, then head of light entertainment but also a former Generation Game producer (1971-75), Brucie bounced back in 1990.

Formula: Four couples, usually a parent and child (selected after a 50-minute interview from 4,000 applicants), are made to imitate experts in leisure activities - pottery, dog training, calypso singing, ventriloquism, judo, Polish dancing, whistling, dinosaur-sculpting, you name it - or participate in a ropey sketch starring Bruce. The winning couple get to sit in front of a conveyor-belt of consumer goodies (including the famous cuddly toy) for 40 seconds. They keep all those they remember afterwards. The show ends with the couple dancing to the theme tune with the host and hostess.

Has it changed much over the years? No, although the set - a sprawl of pastel-shaded squiggles - is 'more of the 1990s,' as producer David Taylor puts it. The other appreciable change is in Brucie's hair; he seems to have more now than he did in 1971. Otherwise, it's as you were for the Gen Game, which trades to a great extent on its familiarity (read, nostalgia): the theme tune ('Life is the Name of the Game'); the catchphrases ('Nice to see you, to see you nice', 'Didn't they do well?'); and the presence of a glamorous assistant - between 1972 and 1977 it was Anthea Redfern, then Mrs Forsyth. Grayson's henchperson was Isla St Clair. Giving Bruce a twirl now is Rosemarie Ford, who moonlights as presenter of Come Dancing.

Little-known facts: A notorious perfectionist, Bruce's off-stage catchphrase is said to be 'lackadaisical people make me angry'. Fifty-one years ago, he was a ukulele-playing child music-hall star, known as 'Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom'. Larry Grayson, too, had an earlier career - as a drag artist. On the very first series, Marcus Plantin, now head of the ITV Network Centre, was responsible for wrapping prizes for the conveyor-belt.

Drawbacks: Bruce's oleaginous 'showbiz' manner can grate. He lavishes praise on the audience - invariably called 'lovely' - and laughs immoderately during games. He can also be a little too solicitous when

contestants are eliminated: 'You're not losers,' he told one couple recently, apparently in contradiction of events. To add insult to injury, the prizes for an early exit are pretty naff: losers receive a Generation Game phone.

Why do nine million people watch it every week then? Because it spans the generation gap. Taylor says that 'the Generation Game lives up to its name. One of the reasons for its success is that it appeals to young as well as old.'

The bottom line - is it any good? Well, it does a good job. The format is old-fashioned and desperately untrendy compared to, say, Gladiators, but in the field of family entertainment, being old-fashioned and untrendy can be an advantage. This sort of show lives and dies with the presenter (after all, it is called Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game). He may be follicly challenged, he may represent the pro-celebrity golf- circuit wing of comedy, but Brucie's a true pro. Whether double-taking at a double entendre, serving up puns (a man who dropped a tray of custard puddings is deemed 'a trifle clumsy'), or deriding a contestant ('What the hell's going on over there?'), his demeanour bears out one of his earlier catchphrases: 'I'm in charge.' He is too quick ever to be bested by a contestant eager for 15 seconds of fame. Taylor recalls that 'with one especially unruly contestant, Bruce said, 'Just stand there', before looking up to the ceiling and asking, 'Have you got the weight ready now?' ' Ultimately, his stardom is confirmed by the fact that he is universally known by his forename. Sounding suspiciously like Gus, the executive in Drop the Dead Donkey, Taylor concludes: 'When Bruce, the contestants and the games come together, we're cooking with gas.' In other words, Bruce loves being in control - and that's what makes the Generation Game so successful.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering