Live Events

Are The Forces Entertainers Another Casualty of COVID-19?

Were events for the Chelsea Pensioners and soldiers on Op Cabrit CSE's last?

Most military personnel will have heard of or seen a CSE show at some point in their career.

During its 75-year history, the brand has become synonymous with the delivery of high-quality live entertainment for troops in operational areas from hostile environments such as Afghanistan to less dangerous locations like the Falklands.  

In more recent times, CSE has also recognised the wider forces community and put on events for families of serving military, wounded, injured and sick personnel and veterans, funded by their Beneficiary Fund.

CSE was known as Combined Services Entertainment when it took over from the disbanded Entertainment National Service Association (ENSA) in 1946 and has also gone by CSE Forces Entertainment and CSE Events and Entertainment.

Now the CSE brand has seen its final show but do not worry, the team are still going strong and have re-branded to BFBS Live Events which makes sense as they have always been part of the charitable organisation - BFBS.

It was fitting then that the last ‘CSE’ show was held at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea Pensioners and winner of Britain's Got Talent, veteran performer, Colin Thackery.

Thankfully the event was scheduled a few weeks before COVID-19 first hit the UK.

This special audience included members that had attended some early CSE performances and they fondly recalled their experiences. Gary Lloyd, Chief Clerk, Royal Hospital Chelsea spoke of the importance of such shows for the pensioners, saying:

“It's an opportunity for them to come out of their berths and interact with fellow residents, not only amongst their own individual cap badges but amongst their friends and family.

"It's fantastic seeing the boys and girls here this evening enjoying themselves, having done their bit for the country.

"They've served all over the world, they'll have seen the CSE in the distant past so it's really an opportunity this evening to relive those memories and see the wonderful entertainment, we're very grateful.”

He also spoke of his own experience of CSE, saying:

"It's a wonderful opportunity to take a little bit of a break from the intensity of the operational theatres and let your hair down a bit and have a laugh, as they say laughter's the best medicine."

Special guest and host of the evening was legendary comedian Stan Boardman.

Another fitting tribute to CSE of old, Stan was called up for National Service when he was 20 and went on to serve in the Royal Engineers, with 5 Field Squadron at Paderborn in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

He became a comedian after his big break on the television show ‘Opportunity Knocks’ in the 1970s. Stan even performed to troops in Germany himself after he became famous.

There was also magic from Natalia Love, who had everyone spellbound with her charming routine and live music from Eric Clapton Tribute, Cream of Clapton who had everyone cheering for more.

The headline act was Danny Foster and the Big Soul Corporation. Danny is a former member of Hear’Say, the band formed from ITV reality TV show 'Popstars', and although it was his first time performing for CSE, he spoke of the time that got away. He said: 

"I remember many years ago when I was in Hear'Say, CSE did actually ask the band if we would do something for them, but because of our schedule, it didn't quite work.

"Then we met CSE a few years ago and they asked us if we could do a few shows and our schedule never married up.

"Finally tonight it all came together and we were able to come and perform for this wonderful place."

Star of the show Stan Boardman created a real buzz among the audience and was happy to pose for selfies with the Chelsea Pensioners and sign autographs. He was even presented with a framed picture at the end of the night as a sign of appreciation.  

Stan reflected on his performance and had a message for the youth of today. He said: 

“I've never been here before, I've always seen all these soldiers on television, very famous - I made a faux pas today saying that they wore red tunics and I got shouted down because they're scarlet.

"Coming down here to Chelsea ... seeing the plaques on the wall, seeing the history of this place over the years and to be proud of being a sort of soldier myself and also to see these lads who've all been soldiers.

"Any kids around with nowhere to go, nothing to do and they're on the corners of the streets - join the Army.” 

Operation Cabrit

And no sooner had the iconic forces entertainment brand been put to bed, a couple of days later the team were producing the very first BFBS Live Events show for troops deployed on Op Cabrit in Estonia.

The show featured comedy from Matt Reed and Britain's Got Talent's Jonny Awsum, who had the crowd crying with laughter and a few lucky souls up on stage too.

Music came from covers band Brainscape who got the crowd on their feet and singing along.

And for the first time on Op Cabrit, the BFBS Dancers made a very well-received appearance. WO2 Alastair Walker said: 

“Thank you on behalf of QRH BG for providing us with a fantastic BFBS Show to end our tour in Estonia.

"Each of the acts' performance was brilliant and you could see on the soldiers' faces (from the mosh pit) how much they enjoyed the night.”

The first BFBS Live Events show was also the last before COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 events scene. However, the team are working on best practice for COVID-19 secure delivery and are standing by for anyone who needs them.

They look forward to spreading some much-needed entertainment and morale to our hard-working forces when it is safe to do so. In the words of Forces Sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn, We'll Meet Again.