Passed/failed: Barry Norman

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The Independent Online
Barry Norman, 64, presents `Film 97' on BBC1, which next Monday will feature the Young Film Critic of the Year as part of National Schools Film Week. He is a former entertainments editor of the `Daily Mail', and has been reviewing films for the BBC since 1972.

Reel one? During the war I went very briefly to an "elementary" school in Edgware, until a bomb dropped in our back garden. My grandfather was hurled against the front door and made a nose-shaped hole in the glass, although he was unhurt and uncut. Then we moved to Taunton - and a bomb dropped in a garden a few doors down. I thought someone had it in for me.

A fistful of noses: Then I went to Highwood, a little prep school in North London. They tried to introduce me to boxing, but I got hit on the nose and decided this was not something I wanted to be involved in. I used to go on the bus with a friend, and we always liked it when a V1, or "doodlebug", came; the bus would stop and we would go home. You are quite callous as a kid. I was reasonably bright and at 12 passed the Common Entrance to Highgate School. The first term was sheer misery. I was a fat little boy and and was picked on. Then I started using sarcasm, and they weren't picking on me any more.

Mr Chips on my shoulder: One form teacher I remember with gratitude, though I was terrified at the time. We were reading, and he was writing our reports. Suddenly he got up from his desk, which was on a dais, came down and grabbed hold of me; he said what an idle little swine I was, that I was wasting my parents' money and his time, and that if I didn't pull my socks up I would be asked to leave. My report that term was an absolute stinker. Next term I moved from near the bottom of the form to near the top. He was also my English teacher, and I had to start paying attention. He certainly instilled a love of English into me, and I realised how marvellous Shakespeare and Dickens were if you worked at them.

Norman Wisden? You had a pretty easy ride at a British public school if you were good at games; I was in the second eleven at cricket and football - I was the goalkeeper. I was tempted to stay on an extra year just to get into the football first eleven; their goalkeeper would have left by then.

Closing credits: At School Cert I got seven subjects: four distinctions and three credits. In Highers I got As in French and German. The school was confident I could get into Cambridge and my father would have been proud to have a son there. But I felt I'd cost my parents enough money already and went to the Pitman college in Southampton Row, Holborn, where I got up to 19 words per minute in touch typing and 120 in shorthand. I got a job on a local newspaper, the Kensington News.

A film fan - and why not? My father was a director (Dunkirk) and producer (The Cruel Sea) and the house was full of film talk and film people. I used to go to the occasional premiere with him; my friends were envious, but to me it didn't feel like anything special. As a result, I have never been starstruck or overawed when meeting stars and I treat them as equals. Incidentally, I have defied people to find a programme in which I said, "And why not?" When I complained to Rory Bremner [about lumbering me with the expression] he said, "All right, think up your own bloody catch-phrase!"

Interview by Jonathan Sale

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