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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK


Cheering up the troops

It Ain't 'Alf Hot Mum: Immortalised Forces entertainment in the 1970s

Dame Vera Lynn became a national heroine when she cheered up the UK's troops abroad - and now a new charity is being set up to ensure the armed forces are kept entertained in the future.

Generation Game presenter Jim Davidson has launched the British Forces Foundation to help safeguard the future of the armed forces' entertainment.

It has a target of raising 1m in its first year to entertain troops in the Balkans, the Falkland Islands, Kuwait and Northern Ireland, and put on bigger names and bigger shows.

[ image: Windsor Davies with Melvyn Hayes: Now new stars are being sought by the BFF]
Windsor Davies with Melvyn Hayes: Now new stars are being sought by the BFF
Davidson himself has played to troops around the world since 1974. He has just returned from a four-day trip to Macedonia.

The BFF wants to get big names involved with projects, and is believed to be in talks with EastEnders star Barbara Windsor about a forthcoming project.

Davidson said he was hoping to enlist singer Robbie Williams, Irish pop group the Corrs, and comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

He said: "It is very important to show the troops abroad that people back home care about them.

"I have been lonely myself and I know what it's like to be far from home, bored, and missing your family. It's great if someone turns up to cheer you up with a strike of the banjo."

Defence Secretary George Robertson welcomed the launch, saying: "The British Forces Foundation is a very worthwhile initiative indeed. Brining entertainment to our troops is vitally important to their well-being."

Immortalised in comedy

Forces entertainment was immortalised in 1970s sitcom It Ain't 'Alf Hot Mum, in which Windsor Davies led a group of concert party soldiers in Asia.

It started out under the auspices of Ensa, the Entertainments National Service Association, which was set up during World War II to provide amusement for troops at the front.

[ image: Jim Davidson: Regularly works entertaining British troops]
Jim Davidson: Regularly works entertaining British troops
It soon became affectionately known as Every Night Something Awful to millions of service men and women who watched its shows around the world.

A host of showbusiness legends built up their careers in barracks, mess halls, fields, and on the back of military trucks. Vera Lynn built up her reputation as the "forces' sweetheart", while Gracie Fields also topped bills.

George Formby took his ukelele to France in 1940, while Sir Harry Secombe launched his career with Ensa, meeting fellow Goon Spike Milligan along the way.

The Association was phased out along with National Service in 1958, and replaced with Combined Services Entertainment.

Over recent decades acts like Davidson and Jimmy Tarbuck have travelled from the Falklands and the Gulf to Belize and the Outer Hebrides to entertain service personnel, along with lesser-known acts hoping for a big break.

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