Miles Kington: I nearly turned into Barry Norman - and why not?

I remember going to the preview of a German film about the last days of Marcel Proust, and being the only reviewer who turned up
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Many years ago, when Barry Norman was thinking for the first time of giving up Film '81, or whatever it was called then, the BBC was looking round for possible replacements for the maestro. They settled on four people. Not that they thought it would take four people to fill one Barry Norman pair of shoes, but they had the idea of giving each of four people a few weeks doing the programme in order to see how we all came through the audition.

I say "we", because I was one of the four people chosen. Yes, children, there was a time when I was a fresh young hopeful face on the TV scene, and not the only one either, because the other three chosen were Maria Aitken, Tina Brown and Glyn Worsnip. We were given three weeks each to do three programmes, and the very first film I was sent to see was Mad Max, which was Mel Gibson's first big feature.

I do not think I had ever been to a critics' showing of a film before, especially not in the vast open spaces of one of the big Leicester Square cinemas. There were about 20 of us, in this enormous circus, and I remember the curtains slowly opening before the screening and opening and opening and opening because they were the biggest curtains I had ever seen, and the sound, when it came, was the biggest sound I had ever heard, and I jumped in my seat, and my heart went into overdrive, and I remember thinking: "Barry Norman takes this sort of thing in his stride, and here I am petrified already..."

For three weeks I went out almost every night to see new films, though not often in big cinemas. Usually it was in small viewing studios in Soho. I remember going to the preview of a German film about the last days of Marcel Proust, and being the only reviewer who turned up for the screening of this recherché film. I turned round at one point to say to the projectionist that he and I might be the only members of the public who ever saw this movie, but he had slipped off to the loo, or for a quiet cigarette or something, and I was in fact perhaps the only person who ever saw it...

It may have been because of lonely experiences like this that when the BBC did offer me the job of replacing Barry Norman, I turned it down. It may have been the scary effect of Mad Max. I don't know. But there it is; I could have been Barry Norman, and I wasn't.

Which all came flooding back to me this week, when I had the chance to go and see a preview of the new Mel Gibson film, Apocalypto, and my 19-year- old son encouraged me to go, on condition that I took him with me.

"I'm not sure," I said. "Mel Gibson films always seem to be full of suffering, and pain, and primitive barbarism..."

"Great!" he said.

But by the time Tuesday dawned, all the previews I had read said that the film was indeed two hours of unrelieved gore and violence. Gore and violence are not my thing, and two hours of it, especially if set in the primitive barbarism of the Mayan civilisation, did not sound like an alluring prospect, especially if we had to sit on a train for nearly two hours either side of it.

I put a proposition to my son. Put briefly, it was that we should do something else.

"OK, Dad," he said. "If we go to Bath to see the new James Bond film, I'll let you off the Mel Gibson."

So we went to see the new James Bond, in the Bath Odeon multiplex, and the only seats left were right in the front, so the noise was deafening. Nor did it help that in the first five minutes, to attract and keep our attention, there were half a dozen violent killings, several huge explosions, an ear-shattering encounter with a bulldozer and a scene in which Bond batters a man to death in a washroom.

The film was actually very good, but it was very noisy. It was also subtitled "for the hard of hearing". I am not surprised. If people go and sit near the screen in multiplexes, of course they are going to be hard of hearing. For the first time in my life, I am totally content that I never became Barry Norman. If I had, I would have been deaf by now.