I used to love staying up late to watch the BBC’s ‘Film…’ programme to hear what Barry Norman thought about the latest movie releases. Despite being shifted around the schedules, I never missed an episode and would soak up every last ounce of film knowledge that was imparted every week. Today, as the news breaks of his passing, I wanted to pay my own tribute to the king of critics – Barry Norman.
Being the son of a film director, producer and editor (Leslie Norman) you would think it was inevitable that Barry Norman would somehow end up in the film business. But it didn’t start out that way. His career began as a print journalist where he spent some time in South Africa during Apartheid. Upon his return to the UK he worked for The Daily Sketch before becoming the showbiz editor for The Daily Mail until 1971 when he was made redundant. This redundancy was referred to in his memoir ‘And Why Not?’ as ‘The night of the long envelopes’.
He began presenting the ‘Film…’ programme in 1972 and stayed until 1998 when he moved to Sky. His presenting style and sometimes frank honesty about the films he was reviewing gained him many fans, some of which now work as film critics themselves. He was dry, honest and for a generation of film fans his was the defining voice of critics. Over the years he interviewed many of the world’s biggest stars of the time, covered film festivals and hosted the BBC’s Oscars coverage before Sky bought the rights.
For many years he was the main film critic for The Radio Times and the author of several novels and books on film. He published his memoir ‘And Why Not?’ in 2003, the title referring to “his catchphrase” that he never actually used. It was thought to originate from his puppet on Spitting Image but he later confessed that it was impressionist Rory Bremner who coined the phrase and it stuck with him from then on.
Following constant schedule changes and the BBC’s reluctance to give the show a permanent time slot, Norman left the ‘Film…’ programme and defected to Sky where he hosted a similar review programme for three years. Never afraid to make fun of himself, he appeared in a classic Morecambe & Wise sketch along with fellow news presenters and journalists. ‘There Is Nothing Like A Dame’ was a stroke of genius and is fondly remembered by fans as one of their finest moments.
Away from the spotlight, Norman was happily married to Diana until her death in 2011 and the father of Samantha and Emma. He was, perhaps, also quite famous for his range of family-made pickles which went on sale in 2007.
His death marks the end of an era for film fans. I for one still miss his presence on our screens and refuse to watch the later versions of the ‘Film…’ programme because, for me, he was the only person who could present it. His knowledge, delivery and personable style was unique. He was never afraid to criticise the good or bad films – a particular favourite moment of mine is when he reviewed the Jon Voight disaster “Anaconda” where he made much fuss of Voight’s “leering” style of acting. He was, without doubt, the don of film critics and will be sadly missed by all who knew him and those of us who weren’t so lucky.
BARRY NORMAN 1933 – 2017