Obituary: Leslie Norman

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Leslie Norman, film producer and director, born 23 February 1911, died Knebworth Hertfordshire 18 February 1993.

AS EDITOR, producer and director Leslie Norman made important contributions to the post-war British film industry before moving into television. His war films The Cruel Sea (as producer) and Dunkirk (as director) are particularly notable for their lack of flag-waving heroics - in the first a ship's captain has to run down British survivors in order to destroy a German submarine, while the second is about military incompetence and defeat.

Born in London in 1911, Leslie Norman left school at 14 and worked in the film industry from the age of 16, working his way up from sweeper of the cutting-room floors at Ealing (then General Film Renters) to become an editor at 19. In 1939, just before military service, he co-directed (with Anthony Hankey) Too Dangerous to Live, a light-hearted thriller with Sebastian Shaw and Greta Gynt. After war service as a major in a sonic-warfare unit, he rejoined Ealing studios where he became heavily involved in Michael Balcon's attempt to establish an industry in Australia. Norman was supervising editor on The Overlanders (1946), the first of Ealing Studios' productions there, the story of a real-life 1942 cattle drive over 2,000 miles to remove cattle from the threat of Japanese air attack. The film's brilliant photography of the Australian interior made it an enormous success, but the two that followed, Eureka Stockade (1948) and Bitter Springs (1950), both produced by Norman, were less successful and the studios there were closed.

Norman also worked as editor on Nicholas Nickleby (1947) and Frieda (1947) and co-wrote A Run for Your Money (1949). In 1951 he both produced and co-wrote Where No Vultures Fly which was shot in Kenya and loosely based on the true story of the gamewarden who started a national game park despite opposition from ivory poachers, hunters and local prejudice. Chosen for the Royal Film Performance, it is remembered for its superb shots of wild animals and a particularly riveting sequence in which the gamewarden's son innocently takes home a lion's cub and is trailed by its mother.

Before producing a sequel, West of Zanzibar (1954), Norman produced two enormous successes, Mandy (1952), the touching story of a deaf-and-dumb child, and The Cruel Sea (1953). The films made Jack Hawkins a leading film star and were notable respectively for their lack of sentimentality and avoidance of false heroics. Norman's first film as solo director was The Night my Number Came Up (1955), an effective thriller about premonition, followed by a Scottish-set science fiction thriller X The Unknown (1957). He returned to Australia for The Shiralee (1957) in which a swagman (Peter Finch), discovering his wife's infidelity, takes their small daughter with him to wander the countryside. Norman handled the growing love between father and child with touching sensitivity, but his next film, Dunkirk (1958), found him happier reconstructing the tumult and chaos of battle and its aftermath than in the stilted scenes of human interest.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959), shot in Australia and based on Ray Lawler's hit play, concerned the highly charged relationship between two country workers and the two women in the city with whom they have been spending summer for 17 years. Tension between conflicting personalities was also the theme of a war drama, The Long and the Short and the Tall (1960), and Spare the Rod (1961), in which Max Bygraves played an idealistic school teacher trying to cope with delinquents in a tough London school.

Norman's last film was Mix me a Person (1961), though seven years later he started directing The Lost Continent but was replaced by Michael Carreras. Norman had by then established himself as one of the most prolific and skilled directors on television. Between 1965 and 1968 he made 18 episodes of The Saint with Roger Moore (his son Barry Norman, now the noted writer and television film critic, also directed one episode), and in 1971 he directed six episodes of Moore's follow-up series The Persuaders. He also directed segments of Gideon's Way (1965), The Baron (1966), The Champions (1968), The Avengers (one of the last episodes, 'Thingumagig', in 1969), Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) (1969/70), Department S (1970) and The Return of the Saint (1978), directing six episodes before being forced to retire by a laryngectomy for cancer (by tragic irony the same ailment that afflicted Jack Hawkins).

In recent years he had given occasional lectures on how to overcome the lack of a voice box.

(Photograph omitted)

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