Sunday, 2 July 2017

RIP Barry Norman

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.



  1. Nice. We all grew up on watching FILM 72 onwards - the only show on movies and current releases then - and yes we loved the bumper Christmas editions of "Radio Times" back when the Beeb ran seasons on old movie and suddenly, from the late 70s onward, we could record them on those new video cassettes ....
    Up to last week Barry was still doing his weekly column and "film of the day" reviews in Radio Times.

    1. I stopped buying the Radio Times this year when they upped the price to £2.50 per week. I just couldn't justify such a luxury any more and it was a shame as I've been taking it all my life. Good to hear Norman was still working for them though. It reminds me of another reason why I admired him; back in the Xmas of '99 he made a point of recommending Billion Dollar Brain as a film worth seeing. He may be the only critic who has had a good word to say about that film, which is one of my favourites.

  2. Goodness, I didn't know about this til now. When I first got in to film seriously, I used his 100 Best Films book in my local library as my guide in to the world of World Cinema and classic film.
    I always held a small grudge towards him because of his opinions of Vertigo, but his film programme and gentle and warm presenting style make me still mourn for a kind of television that doesn't seem to exist any longer, and I do still miss the old Christmas Radio Times. It was more exciting than Christmas itself.

    1. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

      You're so right, that warm, gentle style really doesn't exist on TV any longer. Like I say I still watch the Film show and I appreciate it, but that endless chatter around the film is more like the kind of conversation you have with friends after leaving the cinema, or trying to convince friends in the pub that they should go and see it, or steer well clear. When writing this obit it surprised me to think Norman hasn't been the presenter now for almost 20 years, because it's never probably really settled since then. No one has ever made it there own away from him, and I doubt anyone ever will. Then again, it's probably much better to be different than to try and imitate, and fail.

      I have to say, and please don't hate me for it, I always kind of sided with Norman re Vertigo!