Since 1972 Barry Norman has been critiquing the work of top accolade earners in the international film industry. With 20 books under his belt, a plethora of broadcasting hours in both radio and television, and now a second one-man show, Mr Norman has indisputably earned the title of Britain’s foremost expert on the world of film.
Speaking to the Leader recently, the native Londoner described how he fell into this world “by accident”.
“I was a freelance journalist at the time (early 1970s) and I was writing a satirical article for The Guardian newspaper. I was invited onto ‘The Late Night Line Up’ (a British television discussion programme that ran until 1972), and I was seen by the ‘Film 72’ producer and they called me in,” said Mr Norman.
He added: “They liked what I was writing in the Guardian and wondered what it might be like to try that approach on a film television programme.”
It was Norman’s refreshingly honest and sometimes brutal presentation that saw him turn a three-week contract with the BBC into a 26-year commitment to the programme. During this time, Mr Norman became firmly established in the minds and hearts of viewers as one of the industry’s foremost film critics.
“I just decided to be myself,” he said. “I decided that it was of paramount importance to be totally honest with the audience and tell them what I thought of a film.”
Among his most “challenging” interviews was one with John Wayne on the train from Denver to Salt Lake City.
“He threatened to hit me,” recalled Mr Norman with a laugh. “Also Robert de Niro and I ended up standing nose to nose and snarling at one another infront of the Savoy.”
Perhaps it was these encounters that led Mr Norman to prefer his conversations with screen-writers and directors.
“The ones I enjoyed the most over the years were the directors and the writers. It was always a pleasure to talk to people like Billy Wilder, Steven Speilberg and Martin Scorsese,” he said.
In January 2011, Mr Norman experienced an immense personal loss with the death of his wife of over fifty years. A mother to his two daughters, Emma and Samantha, Diana Norman was also a grandmother to his three grandchildren Bertie, Harry and Charlie.
“They say that the second year of bereavement is the worst and I tend to agree. I miss her dreadfully all the time. She was my best friend. There’s nobody to talk to anymore. So yes, there is a lot of loneliness,” said Mr Norman.
Mrs Norman also began her career as a journalist, which is how the couple met in 1957. Over the years, however, Mrs Norman developed her writing further and became a well-known novelist. Under the name Diana Norman she wrote 11 meticulously researched novels ranging in period from the 12th to the 18th centuries.
One book was titled ‘The Pirate Queen’ and was based upon the story of Grace O’Malley. Another work was ‘A Terrible Beauty’ and it centred around Countess Marckievicz.
Also, under the pen name Ariana Franklin she wrote a series of 12th century thrillers featuring a female pathologist, Adelia Aguilar.
The first of this series, ‘The Mistress Of The Art Of Death’ was on the New York Times best-seller list and won a number of prestigious awards.
Mr Norman (78) is about to embark on an Irish tour with his one-man show, ‘Barry Norman’s Favourite Films’. During his performance, Mr Norman presents extracts from his all-time favourite films.
“I have no one favourite film. How could I? I love westerns and I like good thrillers too like ‘The Godfather’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ etc. I don’t have a favourite though,” said Mr Norman.
It is unlikely that the night in Longford’s Backstage Theatre (April 3), which will include a question and answer session, will pass without reference to cricket.
“It’s my passion. I have to say that I’m really disappointed to see Eoin Morgan was dropped recently from the team,” he said.
Tuesday April 3 at the Backstage Theatre promises to be an unmissable night. Tickets €18/€16 available on 043 33 47888, from Farrell and Coy in Longford town or online on www.backstage.ie