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About the Change

George Carden Dancers...

reminisce about Sunday Night at the London Palladium & Bruce Forsythe

The hit of its day 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium' would have been nothing without its host and its dancers - a different side of the dance life and popular culture remembered by 3 of those dancers.

© Jeffery Taylor
Former dancer, Dance Critic and an Arts feature writer for the Sunday Express. Pub 03 10 2010

© Sunday Express

Wikipedia on Sunday Night at the London Palladium

Jeffery Taylor reviews

Web version held on by kind permission of Jeffery Taylor and the Sunday Express

Express Website

I slapped her across the face with a shoe once. She was the only girl I really hated." So recalls Mo Bucchioni (nee Blaine) of one of her colleagues when she was one of the girls in the Fifties troupe of George Carden Dancers on television's Sunday Night at the London Palladium, as we sit around a table, looking at a huge pile of pictures from the era.

"Do you remember Fay?" asks Val Hammond (nee Dorling), chestnut in her dancing days, now ash blonde and still with a smile to light up any room, as she looks at another photo. "We had lunch with her the week before she got killed in a car crash."

Liz Hodgson (nee Fields) tidied up the piles of photographs on the kitchen table and added: "Steve died too. He limped a lot. I swear he had one leg shorter than the other."

The chat and banter ebbed and flowed, the half century between us old TV hoofers and our days on the now famous Sunday Night revolve dissolving in a tidal wave of memories.

Such stars as Judy Garland, Mario Lanza, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles joined presenters Tommy Trinder and Jimmy Tarbuck among many, along with a regular 25 million viewers, in a 12-year British show business phenomenon, now a cult.

There are just five episodes left on tape out of a total of 126 recorded as they went out live. We dancers occasionally meet to celebrate but one famous face, the most familiar of all, is always absent. Bruce Forsyth, 82, fronting another small screen sensation on Friday, Strictly Come Dancing, will never mingle.


George Carden Dancers (London Palladium dancers) with Bruce Forsythe
© Sunday Express
Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window

Throughout my journalistic career, he has resolutely refused, mainly ignored, my requests for interviews.

Val, Mo and Liz, then strangers, all auditioned on the same day in 1954 for the show's Australian choreographer, George Carden, the Craig Revel Horwood of his day. Val says: "Our first job was with Bruce; he'd just taken over from Tommy Trinder. There was a rota and most of us girls took it in turns."

Mo asks: "Do you remember how he used to play the piano in the corridor outside our dressing room? It drove us mad, we used to open the door and shout: 'Will you please shut up!' He'd smile and say something rude, then stop."

"He was just one of us in those days," says Val. Mo says: "one night a lady contestant in Beat the Clock [a game in the show run by Forsyth each week] started to tell him what to do and Bruce got a bit fed up and turned round and said: 'Just a minute, I'm in charge,' and the audience went wild." Liz recalls: "That catchphrase was the beginning of his big time.

"And what about that hospital number," Liz goes on, "with Bruce wheeled about on a stretcher? When the boys pushed him off, you were one of them, Jeffery, you bashed him straight into the scenery and broke his toe. Don't shake your head, I've got the video!"


George Carden Dancers (London Palladium dancers) with Bruce Forsythe
© Sunday Express
Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window

"Bruce never pushed himself into our conversations," Val insists, "he was a worker, he never stopped until he got it right. You've got to remember this was live television and we only had Friday, Saturday and Sunday to rehearse, with the stars only coming in on Sunday, usually jet-lagged from America."

Mo says: "We were running up and down the stairs to rehearsals, either on stage or in the Palm Court Circle Bar, where Harry Secombe's brother Fred, an Anglican priest, used to say prayers on Sunday morning, then back to the stage when the orchestra arrived." The women's recollections set my memory off and I remind them that very often, the booked star didn't arrive and we would turn up on a Sunday morning to meet a replacement celebrity and start all over again with fresh numbers while Bruce learned a new script. It was often madness. "It's amazing," says Val, "to look back at how he's managed to go on and on."

A great number of people who profess to know Bruce feel that his failed bid in the United Sates to be a song and dance man, like his great friend and hero Sammy Davis Jnr, made him bitter and disappointed. Mo strongly disagrees. "He's been so successful over here, everybody has loved everything he's done. His one-man shows were tremendous hits. I get very upset when I hear this about Bruce.


Val Hammond, Liz Fields and Mo Bucchioni,
George Carden Dancers as they are now
© Mark Kehoe / Sunday Express
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"Many people say he's so obsessed with himself but what are they going on?" Val agrees: "we never saw anything like that." Mo's answer is: "He didn't go down well in the US because their humour is very different. They didn't get it."

"Bruce was a very ambitious man," Val reminds us. "He was always doing new things, dashing about the country. No way was he chatty and easygoing like Tommy Cooper, he didn't operate like that." Liz has her own theory. "It's quite possible that Bruce Forsyth is one of those people who always wants to do something more. To the rest of us, Bruce has done everything, from dancing with Sammy Davis, game shows and now Strictly's so massive. he's always in the limelight but I wouldn't be surprised to hear him say: 'I always wanted to do Shakespeare.' People in the theatre always have a little dream in the background. It's not necessarily a chip, more a madcap ambition."

Neither Bruce nor us dancers had much spare time to mingle; we were all too busy on the Sunday. He had so many links and sketches with the big stars because they only arrived on Sunday, the day of transmission. Then there were his own solo spots. Bruce was a very driven man in those days, supremely professional and very ambitious. Mo remembers it was his first wife, Penny Calvert, mother of his three eldest daughters, Debbie, Julie and Laura, who mixed most with us.

They married in 1953, but divorced 20 years later and he married Anthea Redfern, his hostess on The Generation Game. Bruce has now been married to ex-Miss World Wilnelia Merced since 1983.


Liz Fields as a George Carden Dancer
© Sunday Express
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The three women all agree Sunday Night At The London Palladium was the happiest and funniest time of their lives. Val says: "We were together all day and night, in the same dressing room for years, so we got very close." "We all met the love of our lives," says Mo, "and it makes me sad that Bruce ignores us; it was such a big part of his life as well as ours. He's so dismissive of us, I find it very hurtful."

What would you do, I asked, if Bruce walked through the door right now? "Ask him in," says Val. "There'd be a bit of a standoff," suggests Liz, "and we'd want to know why he avoids the Palladium days but he'd still be Brucie, one of the gang."

"Whatever you do," says Mo, "you can't pretend you're not part of history."

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