Media families 14. The Normans

Leslie Norman (direector and producer) begat Barry (film guru), who begat Samantha (journalist) and Emma (journalist and film writer)
Click to follow
The Independent Online
You're no longer born in a trunk like Judy Garland: modern dynasties are swept up off the cutting-room floor. First there was Leslie, born 1911, a producer-director whose long association with Ealing Studios (his most famous film was the war classic The Cruel Sea) was marked on his death in 1993 by the presentation of a cutting from Michael Balcon's rose garden at the studio to his son, Barry. While Leslie was a respected figure in the business, Barry has become, albeit indirectly, one of its most powerful figures: by the positioning of Barry's thumbs on Film 97, the BBC's review programme, careers can live or die. Known, apparently, as Breezy Bazza at the BBC and the Thinking Woman's Crumpet in broader parlance, his weary eyes and laconic delivery earn him sacks of fan mail, and not all of it in green ink.

Educated at Highgate School, north London, he initially wanted to follow the old man into the movies, and indeed directed an episode of The Saint during his father's stint on the series. He went, however, into print journalism, starting off on the Kensington News, and later spending 15 years as showbusiness editor of the Daily Mail. While a columnist on the Guardian, he tried out temporarily on Film `72 after the suicide of his predecessor, and has stayed ever since, apart from a hiatus in 1982.

Barry married Diana, also a journalist, in 1957, and they produced Samantha and Emma. The screen, it seems, features big in the girls' psyche. Emma made her TV debut at the age of 10 reviewing Swallows and Amazons on papa's programme - such cutesy moments are, fortunately, aberrations in its otherwise dry style - and put in slightly more adult stints reviewing for Greater London Radio and Sky 18 years later. Samantha, meanwhile, in deference to her blond glamour, went the televisual route. First she was a presenter on the post-pub phone-in show Dial Midnight a role which earned her the soubriquet "the Barbie of late-night television", although, to do her justice, she was actually quite good. And then as an entertainment correspondent on Carlton's flagship of quality programming, London Tonight.

In 1993, and with some fanfares, the Daily Mirror employed the pair, at a reputed pounds 80,000 (they come cheaper in twos) to be reviewer and purveyor of "hot movie news" for their Screen supplement. According to a former editor, Emma "did okay. Her copy wasn't brilliant, but it was competent and at least she delivered it on time." Samantha, meanwhile, was "lovely and beautiful and completely hopeless". The partnership ended in 1995; Emma now reviews for Woman's Journal and Samantha recently popped up, in customary decorative fashion, on C4's Travelog.

Both girls insist that Barry has had little influence on their careers. "I've always got jobs on my own merit," Samantha has said. "I'm certainly not averse to nepotism. He has introduced me to people in television, but none of them has ever given me a job." Emma: "Of course my name has opened doors for me and it's a very good name. Still, I've experienced a lot of hostility in my life." None the less, Emma's style owes much to the genetic strain: a reader could be forgiven for believing that her views and how she puts them were formed, happily, at her father's knee. One of Emma's earlier literary efforts was The Good Night in Guide (1992), co-authored with one B Norman. This was, actually, a good combination, as Emma is rather more forgiving toward modern comedy than Barry, who has Halliwell-like tendencies: he rarely thinks that anything made after 1951 is funny.

And Samantha? Well, she's a source of pride to both father and sister. Reviewing Chris Jones's White Angel, a not-wildly successful serial-killer movie starring Peter Firth in which Sam had a small part; both Emma and Barry trashed the film, though the budding actress garnered a mention from both. "For that fine - albeit brief - performance alone, I recommend you see the film" said Emma. Barry was less fulsome, calling her merely "the best thing in the whole film". Aah.

Comments