Straight producers told me to 'camp it up', says Norton

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The Independent Online

His outrageous double entendres helped propel him to the top of British television comedy, but Graham Norton has admitted that his camp act did not always come naturally.

In a documentary to be screened on Monday, Norton, who is hosting a second series of the BBC1 Saturday night entertainment show Strictly Dance Fever, reveals he was sometimes uncomfortable about the number of gay references in his work and was encouraged to "camp up" his comedy by straight television producers.

In the BBC3 programme, The Trouble With ... Gay Men, Norton said that when making his shows he was surrounded by "scores of straight producers making sure I am as gay this week as I was last week". He added: "So you say, 'I don't want to do this really gay joke' and they say basically 'you think of a better joke' and then you say, 'all right, I will be taken up the arse one more time'."

Kenton Allen, a producer who has worked with Norton, said: "TV production seems to me to be one of the most open, liberal and gay-friendly industries in the world. If you threw a football into the average TV production office, it would be quite unlikely to bounce off a heterosexual bloke first. I even doubt whether you could put a five-a-side team together. But I am speaking as a straight man and if this is Graham's take on the business they sometimes call show, then who am I to disagree?"

The Irish comic became a television superstar thanks to his late-night Channel 4 shows So Graham Norton and its successor, V Graham Norton, that was on five times a week. With smutty humour and the use of suggestive props, Norton interviewed stars ranging from Macaulay Culkin to Carrie Fisher.

Norton has commented: "It was hardly the most subtle of programmes, and I was hardly the most subtle of hosts."

Two years ago, the BBC poached Norton from Channel 4 in a £3.5m deal. Initially, the BBC appeared to struggle to find the right vehicle for him, as he made the transition from risqué to mainstream.

Last year, he fronted the first series of Strictly Come Dancing. That was followed by his own, more serious chat show, The Bigger Picture. He is also about to present the BBC1 show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? - a search for a new musical star to take the lead role in a new West End production of The Sound of Music.

The gay lobby group Stonewall published research recently on how the BBC portrays gay and lesbian people. It concluded gays and lesbians were getting "astonishingly poor value" for their licence fee, their real lives were hardly reflected and they were often depicted in "derisive and demeaning" ways.

The study found that gay life was disproportionately represented in entertainment programmes, including game shows, chat shows and comedy - the arena where Norton has made his mark.

It stated: "Gay people are often used as the subject of jokes on the BBC. Over half, 51 per cent, of all gay references were designed for comic effect. Most of these revolved around stereotypes of sexually predatory or camp and effeminate gay men."

The Trouble With ... Gay Men is the first in a new series and will be shown on Mondays at 9pm.

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