Bruce Forsyth knighted after life in entertainment

Much-loved gameshow host Bruce Forsyth was knighted this week after 70 years in the entertainment industry. But how does he compare to his chivalrous predecessors?

The commoner kneels on a velvet stool and bows his head. Queen Elizabeth II lays a centuries-old sword on his shoulders. Invested with knightly insignia, he contemplates the honour bestowed on him, with humility to the Crown and a new conviction to continue in his life's calling.

Then, Sir Bruce Forsyth, the gameshow host responsible for the catchphrase 'nice to see you to see you nice', leaves the hall with a wink, and a knighthood.

In being 'dubbed' this week, Sir Bruce joins the ranks of men and women recognised for outstanding contributions to the UK. Today, knighthoods are granted after a lifetime of experience of fields as diverse as education, medical research and theatre.

But it was not always so. In mediaeval times, knights were fighters: noblemen trained to the highest level of combat. On reaching adulthood, worthy young men would receive their titles in an elaborate ceremony, symbolising purification and devotion to God and King, before embarking on a life of military service.

At the heart of the old knightly life were the ideals of chivalry – an inflexible moral code that demanded (at least in theory) an unfailing commitment to honour and virtue.

These ideals were elevated to the level of art by mediaeval romances like the legends of King Arthur and his knights. Generations of budding warriors thrilled to the tales of Gawain and Lancelot, Galahad and Guinevere, dreaming of a world of daring quests and damsels in distress. Steel-clad lords thundered into battle like dragon-slayers. The winners of royal tournaments and jousts became heroes, celebrated like modern rock stars.

All this seems very different from the life of brave Sir Bruce, who rose from being a humble accordion player (known as 'Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom') to become the host of Strictly Come Dancing and Britain's best-loved national treasure – but who couldn't slay a dragon to save his life.

Knight to see you…

Do men like Bruce Forsyth deserve to share in the ancient and honourable tradition of the knight? Sir Bruce has many qualities, but he hardly lives up to the Arthurian chivalric ideal. Knighthood, say traditionalists, was meant to be a sacred calling, not a cheap title handed out to retiring TV stars.

That's just snobbery, Forsyth's defenders might reply. Sir Bruce has contributed more happiness to society than his mediaeval predecessors ever did. We ought to be celebrating the fact that where once men were honoured for their skill at war, they now receive their titles just for making people smile.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather be a 21st Century knight, or a mediaeval knight?
  2. Are the ideals of chivalry worth anything in modern life?

Activities

  1. Write your own Arthurian legend. You could follow – or subvert – the traditional model.
  2. Conduct a piece of literary research into one telling of the Arthurian legends. How do the adventures of the knights explore ideals of chivalry?

Some People Say...

“Chivalry is just an excuse for glorifying violence.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Did ancient knights live lives of luxury?
The life of a mediaeval knight would have been characterised by battles and tournaments. But there was luxury, too. A good experience of this contrast is inGawain and the Green Knight which places gruesome descriptions of hunting and butchery next to lavish accounts of a delicious feast.
How true-to-life are the stories of knighthood?
Though the magical elements are obviously fiction, the knightly way of life in these stories was very real.
Who wrote these stories?
Sadly, the authorship of many of these stories has been lost. Famous writers include Malory, who wroteMorte D'Arthur, and Spencer, who wrote the Faerie Queen. Their work is written in Mediaeval English, which can be difficult to read, but is strangely evocative.

Word Watch

Dubbed
When someone is made a knight, they are 'dubbed', i.e. touched on each shoulder with a ceremonial sword.
Chivalry
a set of values relating to the expectations people had for knightly or courtly behaviour. Key characteristics include valour, duty to monarch and country, abstinence and bravery.
King Arthur
A mythical British king who figures centrally in the Arthurian legends – mediaeval stories about the king and his band of knights. Legend has it that King Arthur will return to Britain in the hour of the country's greatest need.

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