News of another heartbreaking loss was announced today with the death of legendary film critic and the former and longest serving presenter of the BBC Film... series Barry Norman at the age of 83.
Because I was a weird film obsessed kid, the news that Barry Norman has died makes me mourn for my childhood in the same kind of way that I did upon hearing that Brian Cant or Michael Bond had passed away. Because despite the Film... show always being on quite late at night, I seemed to watch a fair amount of it, either because dad let me stay up for it whilst waiting for mum to finish her evening shift at work, or because I taped it (like I say, I was probably a strange kid). Barry Norman was the face of Film... for twenty-six years from 1972 to 1998, and in that big chunk of time he covered my childhood right up to my late teens. He was a seemingly permanent fixture; a somewhat creased yet reassuring weekly presence, sitting in often bobbly looking grey armchair in a dimly lit studio at TV Centre, beamed into millions of homes but with a manner that felt like he was just shooting the breeze with you personally. You didn't always agree with what his opinion was, but you respected it nonetheless because it was never delivered crudely or with a sneer, it never felt that he was placing himself above whatever it was he was reviewing. And it's so easy to overlook just how important a show like Film... was in the pre-internet age. If we wanted to see trailers or clips from films that were still a long way off general release, it was only on his programme that we could see them. There was no YouTube or movie sites then. I've previously blogged about Film... here. It's a programme that still runs to this day and, though I watch it and enjoy it, it's never felt the same since Norman took his leave. Even now I can hear his voice discussing the latest blockbuster in my head, so ingrained is he in that role.
Barry Norman is one of the reasons I am so obsessed about film now. Barry Norman showed to me that obsessing and talking about film was a perfectly acceptable and normal thing for an adult to do. He showed to me that film was important and he helped cultivate my personal taste regarding the medium with his reviews, not only on television but also in the Radio Times - I used to blissfully devour the film pages of the bumper Christmas edition of the Radio Times for example for hours, noting what I wanted to watch and record. He also showed me that people could actually write about film and now, as I do that here or at Letterboxd, The Geek Show or in the liner notes of Arrow Films DVD releases, I like to think that it was Barry Norman who helped lead me to this.