My Greatest Mistake: Barry Norman film critic

In the mid-Seventies, when I was presenting the Film programme for BBC1, we had a lad called Benny who was on secondment to us from the World Service. His attachment was coming to an end, so we decided to have a farewell lunch for him in the TV Centre restaurant.

Benny said he would buy all the booze and he was a very generous host. So we sat around the table as he flitted about, filling every glass as soon as it was half-empty. The conversation was articulate and lively, and when we got up from lunch and walked back to the studio, everything seemed fine. It was only when I got into the studio, the lights came on and I started rehearsing that the effect of the wine struck me. I fluffed my way through the opening link - and at the end of it I was greeted in the studio with total silence.

After a long pause, someone in the gallery said: "Would you like to try that again?" The booze had really kicked in, so I said: "No, what I want to do is to get out of here and walk round and round the building for as long as I possibly can."

So I walked around Television Centre, God knows how many times, and every time I came by, there was a fresh cup of black coffee waiting for me. It was obvious we had to do something, as we had the studio for only a limited time. So I went in and rehearsed, which was a lot better. I drank some more black coffee, plunged my face into a bowl of cold water and then came back and recorded the show.

It was quite probably the most sober programme I have ever done. It was also the most boring. You would never have known that alcohol had passed my lips - the whole tenor of the programme was one of solemnity. It was a salutary lesson: I have never again had a drink before going in front of a camera. I knew that if it had been a live programme, it would have been the end of my career - no doubt about it.

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