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The late variety performer, who died from bronchial pneumonia three years ago, was 14 years old when he first took to the stage. Soon after he became known as ‘Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom’ because of his dancing talent and went on to have an illustrious career on TV. Sir Bruce savoured seven decades in show business before he was forced to retire from Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 after numerous bouts of bad health. In unearthed accounts, the legendary performer gave insight into his early career on stage and the women he danced with.
Sir Bruce was described as an “unlikely sex symbol” during his younger years and had a number of relationships including with two international beauty pageant winners.
After two failed marriages and a string of reported affairs, he married Wilnelia Merced in 1983, who had been crowned Miss World eight years earlier.
His career took off after a stint at Soho’s Windmill Theatre in 1949, shortly after he had turned 21 years old and had left the RAF.
The venue was known for performances where women, known as The Windmill Girls, stood nude on stage and before he joined Sir Bruce was given a stern warning.
He previously described the performers as “scantily dressed showgirls” in a 2017 Times article.
Casting director Anne Mitelle told him: “Even the girls you will be dancing with – those who are allowed to move – will have very, very little on.
“So, please, you must understand that you are not allowed to fraternise with them, and must not make it obvious, by staring at them, that you are aware they have very little on.”
In a 2009 Daily Mail article, Sir Bruce recalled his response: “I’ve never danced with girls wearing see-through tops before. But I think I can cope with that.”
Despite his ‘attempts’, he admitted it was a difficult task and stated: “When I was first around the girls, I couldn’t fail to notice how lovely and sexy they were.”
Soon after, he fell for one of the dancers Penny Calvert, who he married soon after in 1953 and had three daughters.
He explained that they tied the knot “very, very quickly” – mainly so that they could share a cabin together on a cruiseliner during a four-month cabaret tour.
Sir Bruce felt that their performance to the 1951 song How Can You Say You Believe Me When I’ve Been A Liar All My Life? was “one of our best”.
Their marriage fell apart shortly after the star’s rise to national fame in 1958, when he was selected to host Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
He said: “Sadly, such prolonged absences eventually did put a great strain on our marriage.”
During that time he was linked to a number of women and by June 1964, knew his “marriage was over” when he starred in a summer season show in Bournemouth.
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He reflected: “There are always temptations. Whether you take them or not is up to you. It depends how happy your private life is.”
Sir Bruce also married Anthea Redfern, his co-host on The Generation Game, in 1973 and then Ms Merced a decade later, but he was adamant his true love was for performance.
One-year before his death, he stated that “no formal or informal decision” had been made about his retirement and told the Daily Mail that he would stay on TV for as long as possible.
He said: “Retire? Me, retire? I don’t want to give up. I’m going to keep on going as long as people want me and nothing stops me.”
Strictly Come Dancing airs tonight at 7.25PM on BBC One.
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