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1978 was not Bruce Forsyth’s year. Since 1971 he had dominated popular television in The Generation Game which he’d made a Saturday night institution.
But he made the mistake of thinking that he was bigger than the game and believed that his West End production The Travelling Music Show would take him triumphantly to Broadway. It folded in just four months.
When Michael Grade at LWT offered Bruce £15,000 a week for two hours of peak viewing-time on Saturday nights in a show whose budgets would be a massive £250,000, he needed little persuasion.
But Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night turned out to be Bruce Forsyth’s Big Nightmare.
Despite a decent new game, ‘The Pyramid Game’ hosted by Grade look-alike Steve Jones, despite the presence of Bruce’s sidekick Anthea Redfern, despite the revival of Jimmy Edwards’ brilliant comic family The Glums and Charlie Drake’s The Worker, and despite the fact that Cannon and Ball recorded six sketches and were billed but didn’t appear – the big audiences shrank fast.
Unfortunately, to get to the highlights, the viewer had to wade through large stretches of some of the most cringingly embarrassing items ever aired in the name of television entertainment. A segment at a bar where members of the public tried to impress Forsyth with their joke-telling fell into the tedium camp, while at the embarrassment end of the scale there was a fancy dress competition won by a woman dressed as the Post Office Tower.
Somewhere in the middle, the game ‘Teletennis’ proved to be a very strange way of spending even part of a Saturday night, with the contestants whooping and yodelling to control their computerised paddles.
The press attacked the formerly bumptious Bruce for the show’s failure. Bruce bit back, claiming it was everyone else’s fault and, anyway, the only thing you can believe in the newspapers is the date.
Big Night was moved to an earlier time slot, then reduced in length to ninety minutes. When all that failed to work, it was dropped completely.
In retrospect, the show’s biggest problem was that it attempted to be too many things at once.
By 1980 Brucie had moved on to Play Your Cards Right. He had kept his big chin up and had some new ginger hair on. And didn’t he do well?