When Len Goodman met Bruce Forsyth

Strictly Come Dancing waltzed onto our TV screens 20 years ago, bringing ballroom dancing to a whole new audience.

The concept of a reality show where a celebrity partners a professional dancer to learn complex ballroom routines in just a week has grabbed the public’s attention.

© Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

A host of famous people, from politicians and athletes to television presenters and actors, have graced the BBC dancefloor since the show’s launch in 2004.

Today, as the iconic series celebrates two decades of success, we’re looking back at two of its brightest stars, who, sadly, are no longer with us.

Veteran entertainers Len Goodman and Bruce Forsyth delighted viewers when they joined the show, as judge and presenter respectively, bringing with them wisdom and wit. Former dancer Len and comedian Bruce became good friends during their memorable stint together on Strictly, which lasted for almost a decade.

Len Goodman

Born in April 1944 in Farnborough, Len trained as an apprentice welder on leaving school, but wanted to become a professional footballer.

He discovered his talent for dancing by chance, at the relatively late age of 19, after a doctor recommended it as physiotherapy for an injured foot and while this ended his dream of playing football, he discovered a love of dance that lasted for the rest of his life.

After turning professional, he won many ballroom competitions, including the British Championships held at the world-famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

After retiring from dancing, he became a competition adjudicator and ran his own dance school in Kent.

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce followed a very different career path, entering show business as a child.

Born in February 1928 in Edmonton, Middlesex, he grew up around music, as his parents both played brass instruments.

Aged eight, after seeing Fred Astaire films, he wanted to become a dancer, so his parents sent him to dance school.

In 1939, aged 11, he made his TV debut on a BBC talent show, Come and Be Televised.

At 14, he was appearing on stage as Boy Bruce the Mighty Atom, singing, dancing and playing accordion. This was the start of his long show business career, with his big break coming in 1958, when he hosted Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

He was best known for being a game show host, including The Generation Game in the 1970s, Play Your Cards Right in the 1980s and The Price is Right in the 1990s.

BBC Strictly Come Dancing

Prior to Strictly, the BBC had broadcast a long-running ballroom dancing show called Come Dancing between 1950 and 1998. It featured amateur ballroom dancers competing in regional and national championships across the UK. In its heyday during the 1960s and ‘70s, it attracted ten million viewers.

In 2004, the BBC created a modern version of the show, Strictly Come Dancing, presented by Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly and first broadcast on 15th May 2004. The couples had one week to whip each dance into shape, with the public and the judging panel voting on who to save and who to send home.

Bruce was a natural as the host, with vast experience of television presenting and an entertainment background.

Len was chosen as head judge as a result of his career as a professional ballroom dancer and dance school owner. His fellow judges were choreographers and dancers Bruno Tonioli, Arlene Phillips and Craig Revel Horwood.

First meeting

When Len Goodman met Bruce Forsyth, the TV newcomer was having an attack of nerves, and the veteran performer gave him a much-needed pep talk. For Len Goodman, Strictly Come Dancing represented his first foray into television, but a fear of failure made him jittery before the show.

Speaking in an interview with Esther Rantzen in 2021, Len said Bruce visited him to ask how he was feeling just before the first episode. Thinking this was a “lovely thing” to do, Len told Bruce he feared appearing “wooden” on screen when giving his critique on the dancers.

The five simple words of wisdom that Bruce offered stuck with Len for the rest of his life: “Bruce said, ‘Be yourself and be honest’. This is great advice for everyone. What more do you want?”

Len became a popular judge, with a reputation for being honest and fair, for 14 seasons of the show, which made him a household name.

He also credited Bruce with a useful piece of health advice that he followed every day. In a 2019 interview with the Mirror, Len revealed, “He used to say to me, ‘When you get up in the morning, before you do anything, have a stretch’. Brucie did it all his life.”

Len would stretch his legs, touch his toes and do circles with his arms, which helped keep him supple and aided his wellbeing.

Great moments

Together, they witnessed some great live moments, such as former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe’s famous samba with Anton Du Beke in 2010, when Len joked, “You don’t really want to watch, but can’t help yourself!”

In 2006, Bruce saved the day when former cricketer Mark Ramprakash’s microphone became entangled in dance partner Karen Hardy’s dress during their salsa. Ever the professional, Bruce walked over, even finding time to jokingly dance with a sound technician on the way, untangled the microphone and quipped, “This is what live television’s all about!” The couple went on to win the competition, notching up only the second perfect 40 score.

Len and Bruce’s great onscreen partnership ended in 2013, when Bruce left Strictly at the age of 85. He received a BAFTA Fellowship, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Royal Television Society and the CBE in the Queen’s 2011 Birthday Honours.

They remained friends for life until, sadly, Bruce passed away from bronchial pneumonia on 18th August 2017, aged 89.

Len received the Carl Alan Award to recognise his outstanding contribution to dance before finally leaving Strictly in 2016. He continued to host the US version of the show, Dancing With the Stars, until 2022.

Sadly, Len lost his secret battle against cancer at the age of 78 on 22nd April 2023.

While Len and Bruce are no longer with us, marking the end of an era, their legacies continue to resonate deeply within the industry and the shows they helped shape.

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