John Norman: Producer who filmed Sobers' sixes
Friday 01 August 2008
The cricketing world owes a huge debt to John Norman for his dedication to duty 40 years ago. For, despite having been told by the producers of Grandstand to shut down the cameras at the Glamorgan v Nottinghamshire county championship cricket match at St Helen's, Swansea on 31 August 1968, he kept them rolling.
Rather than take the easy option of having a cup of tea, Norman and one of his cameramen, John Lewis, decided to focus on the great West Indies all-rounder Garry Sobers, at the crease for Notts.
The game appeared to be going nowhere that Saturday afternoon until Sobers decided to make his mark in history. Five minutes of mayhem ensued and arguably cricket's most viewed and highly prized piece of film was captured.
Having broadcast some of the game to BBC Wales viewers earlier in the day, one of the production team from the BBC's flagship sports programme, Grandstand, had rung Norman at 4.45pm to say the camera and commentary crew could "stand down".
"We were told to go home by Grandstand, but John Lewis, the cameraman and a keen cricketer, asked if we could keep the camera running because he wanted to take a look at Sobers through a fixed lens," Norman recalled. "I rang Derek Griffin, the recording engineer in Cardiff, and told him to switch the tape on, just in case. It was all really a chapter of accidents."
The rest, as they say, is history. Malcolm Nash got thrashed all over Swansea as Sobers became the first man in cricketing history to hit six sixes in an over. The final shot went out of the ground and it didn't take long for the news to travel. "Fifteen minutes after it was all over, the Grandstand producer who had told us to stand down rang back and begged me not to spill the beans," Norman said.
The film that Norman and Lewis had shot, voiced by the commentator Wilf Wooller, made the national news and by the next day had been sold to 15 countries around the world. The bat that Sobers used that day was sold at auction in Australia for £54,257 in 2000, the ball that flew out of the ground for his sixth six raised £26,400 at Christie's in London two years ago and the current going rate to use the five-minute film at the BBC Wales archive is £18,000.
Born in Cardiff in 1928, Norman was a real-life "Sporting Sam" who became a Nigerian rugby international in the late Fifties when sent by the BBC to work as Head of Nigerian Broadcasting. He had joined the BBC in Cardiff as an engineer shortly after leaving the RAF in 1955. He had an electrical qualification and went through every engineering department learning every facet of broadcasting.
But sport was his great passion and he spent time in London working on Match of the Day and Grandstand, alongside the great commentators, David Coleman, Kenneth Wolstenholme and Harry Carpenter. He eventually returned to become an assistant producer within the newly created Sport Wales department in Cardiff and was responsible for bringing many sports to air, including baseball and bowls.
A dedicated follower of the fortunes of Old Illtydians RFC in Cardiff, he retired from the BBC in the late Eighties but was always in demand for freelance work.
John Norman, television producer: born Cardiff 26 December 1928; married; died Groes-faen, Rhondda Cynon Taff 29 July 2008.
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