It’s unlikely that on a film website such as ours that we should mourn the passing of a film critic but Barry Norman was undoubtedly the Godfather of modern film critics in the UK and was liked and respected by all.
Born on 21st August 1933 it was almost inevitable that he would somehow end up in the film industry in some manner as his father, Leslie Norman was a film director and his mother, Elizabeth, who worked in the cutting rooms. Having gone to high school he avoided going to university instead moving straight into journalism on the Kensington News and in turn he went to South Africa to briefly work on two newspapers there before returning to the UK to work at the Daily Sketch as a gossip columnist before moving to the Daily Mail as the showbiz editor where he eventually met his wife Diana marrying in 1957 until her death in 2011.
Ultimately he was made redundant from the Mail and moved across to the Guardian where he wrote film reviews which in turn got him the presenter’s role of the BBC’s Film 72 show, a programme that changed title with each passing year. It was a job that he was well suited to with his easy going style hiding an incisive opinion with an often dry wit. It was here that his catch phrase, ‘….and why not?’ was established, at least it would have been if he’d ever said it whereas the truth was that satirical puppet show Spitting Image and also impressionist Rory Bremner were really to blame. But he didn’t complain and he used it as the title of his autobiography some years later.
Unlike so many of us who have to attend junkets and endure the vanilla ramblings of some stars who often don’t warrant a column inch Norman had little time for the fluff of Hollywood. Most famously when he turned up for an interview with Madonna she made him wait almost two hours and when she did deign to turn up he’d got so frustrated at her rudeness that he left without even interviewing her. He was however normally both diplomatic and friendly but sometimes he had fall outs with respected actors for the most bizarre reasons. His interview with Robert de Niro was best known when he asked him about his wanting to have landed the Tom Hanks role in ‘Big’ whereupon De Niro stormed out of the interview followed by Norman and each have a shouting match with each other in the hotel corridor. But these occasions were extremely rare and ultimately he had enough clout to only interview the people whose work he liked.
He left the BBC’s film show in 1998 annoyed, much like his fans, that it was regularly shunted around the schedules and so he he moved to SKY television to present a similar show but he quickly got irritated with the channel and soon left and went on to write several novels. Many had wanted him to return to the BBC to present the show after Jonathan Ross took over presenting but the show went into freefall after Ross had left and Claudia Winkleman took over – an excellent light entertainment presenter but after the gravitas and wit of Norman she came over as an over excited child high as a kite on fizzy drinks and E number riddled corner shop sweets (although the respected critic Danny Leigh was a good counter balance).
In his last years Norman had suffered from lung cancer which he had kept quiet about to all but his two daughters and several friends and having greatly missed his wife he passed away in his sleep.