My Life in Media: Barry Norman

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The Independent Online

Barry Norman, 74, was the face of the BBC's Film series for more than 20 years. He left in 1998 to sign off his career as television's best-known film critic at Sky, on Barry Norman's Film Night. Norman trained as a showbiz reporter on Fleet Street, has written 10 novels and is still working he tours with a one-man show and is selling a range of pickled onions from a secret family recipe. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife, Diana, who writes historical novels, and has two daughters.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I was always destined for it. I come from a film family but the film business was in a parlous states at the time and it was decided journalism was a better bet for me.

When you were 15 years old which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

The Daily Express, which sounds laughable now, but in those days it was a good newspaper. Yes, I read it.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

I used to listen to The Goon Show and I can remember Dick Barton, Special Agent. The Goon Show was the one that really hit me because it was such an anarchic form of humour for the time.

Describe your job?

I'm semi-retired really but I'm doing all kinds of different things, like the show. This is my second one-man show; I'm a show-off at heart. I thought 30 years of television would have brought me to that conclusion but it's only when you're sitting in an audience of 300 people and you've got their attention that it strikes you.

W hat's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

The Today programme, which I used to present myself in the 1970s.

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

I read The Times and The Guardian. I always watch the Channel 4 News, which is the best news on TV.

What is the best thing about your job?

All my jobs have been great fun and they haven't felt like working. Work to me is being on the conveyor belt or down a mine.

And the worst?

I don't like deadlines.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I'd like to think in my incarnation as a television film critic I influenced a lot of people. I know that if I gave a good review to an art-house movie or a foreign language movie it would have an effect on its box office. There were lots of imitations of Film but they all seem to come and go.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Getting the Richard Dimbleby award from Bafta for outstanding contribution to factual TV in 1980. It's one of the few prizes in television for presenters; most go to producers or writers.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

I was recording my programme once when we had a farewell lunch with a lad who had been working with us. We always had lunch before filming and this lad, Benny, kept filling people's glasses. We walked out to the studio and everything was fine until I sat down in the studio and I started slurring my way through the first link. Thank God it was a recorded programme, as had it been live that would have been the end of my television career. I stood up and said I was going to walk round television centre and every time I come past this door I want someone to give me a cup of black coffee. I did this for about half an hour and then washed my face in cold water. It was the soberest and most boring programme I've ever done, but it taught me a lesson and I never drank again before I went on air.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

The Observer and The Sunday Times. The only magazine I get regularly is the Radio Times but I've been writing a column for that for 20 years. I do think it's a very good magazine.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.

I'd like to have written a best-selling novel. I've written 10 novels and, though they were well received, none of them was a best-seller.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

David Attenborough. Everybody likes David's stuff because it is very good. I have a feeling there'll never be another like him because when he bows out they'll want to make it more frivolous than David does.


1951 Joins The Kensington News as a reporter aged 18

1953 Moves to Africa to work on The Star in Johannesburg and The Rhodesia Herald in Harare

1955 Returns to London and The Daily Sketch as a trainee gossip writer, moving to the Daily Mail where he becomes showbiz editor. Made redundant in 1971

1972 Presents Film '72, as one of a group of rotating presenters, taking it on full time from 1973 until he defects to Sky in 1998

1974 Presents Radio 4's Today

1977 First chairman of Radio 4's The News Quiz

1982 Fronts Omnibus

1988 Presents Channel 4's coverage of the Seoul Olympics

1996 Makes an interview series for BBC Radio Five Live

Barry Norman's Interactive Film Quiz DVD is available now.

Interview by Sophie Morris