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
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there