Dame Esther Rantzen has hailed Sir Bruce Forsyth for being able to outdo other performers “decade after decade”.
Stars across all generations, and those who worked with him and knew him personally, have paid tribute to the British entertainer following his death on Friday aged 89.
Dame Esther, a friend of Sir Bruce, said that he had the ability to turn his hand to anything and that he was a “rare” sort of entertainer.
She said this was the secret of his enduring appeal across seven decades.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “His longevity is extraordinary, isn’t it?
“One of his first triumphs was something called Beat The Clock on the Palladium show, where he first discovered his wonderful knack of working with the public with the theatre audience, which translated so brilliantly to television.
“And the thing is, he was able to beat the clock – decade after decade, he remained at the top of the tree.”
Dame Esther said that, after Sir Bruce encountered “one tiny glitch” in his career when one of his programmes was not as successful, he became determined to do something completely unlike he had ever done before.
“He once described how he was lying in bed with (his wife) Winnie and watching Have I Got News For You, and he said to her, ‘you know, I could do that’. And he did it.
“That is a cutting edge, satirical programme… what was an old variety song and dance artist doing there? The answer was, they were in awe of him.
“He turned Have I Got News For You into a mini-version of the Generation Game, and you could see Paul Merton and Ian Hislop looking at him, mesmerised by the fact this genius of variety was able to outdo them at their own game.”
Dame Esther added: “That’s what he managed to do. Decade after decade, he outdid all the other performers at their own game.”
The broadcaster, Childline founder and former Strictly Come Dancing star was joined on the Today programme by Denni Kemp, who appeared with Sir Bruce on his Play Your Cards Right gameshow as a Dolly Dealer.
Kemp said: “He had time for everybody, he had time for the contestants, he used to meet them before the show, put them at ease… We went into hospitality after a very long day and we’d have a sort of mini party up there, and they left saying they’d had the best day of their lives.
“That was what Bruce was always like to everybody.”
Kemp said Sir Bruce was “consistent to the end, kind and generous with his time”.
TV and radio presenter Nicholas Parsons was among the many other stars to hail Sir Bruce, calling him the “most entertaining performer this country has ever produced”.
The Just A Minute host remembered the “exceptional” TV legend as he spoke on BBC News just hours after Sir Bruce’s death.
He said: “(Sir Bruce) was the most entertaining, multi-talented, all-round performer that this country has ever produced.
“He made you smile. The way he embraced you when you spoke to him came across to the public always. He was exceptional.”
TV personality, entertainer and close friend of Sir Bruce, Des O’Connor, told the Press Association: “This is incredibly sad news. Bruce was so very special, he had such warmth and humour and he was such a superb talent.”
He said Sir Bruce “will be irreplaceable in people’s hearts”.
An emotional statement from Dame Barbara Windsor read: “This is the end of a showbusiness era, and the last of the truly all-round great entertainers that this country has ever produced.”