Obituary: Norman Florence

Tony Heath
Wednesday 08 January 1997 00:02
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Ever since Hay-on-Wye gained the sobriquet "The Town of Books" bibliophiles from all over the world have flocked to its 30-odd bookshops stuffed with millions of books covering every subject from archaeology to zymurgy. In recent years its fame has expanded greatly thanks to the annual Festival of Literature, which attracts a growing and dedicated following to Hay to listen to authors ranging from Salman Rushdie and William Trevor to Edwina Currie and Roy Hattersley.

The festival's success rests squarely with its founder, Norman Florence. This year sees its 10th anniversary. In many ways it will be regarded as a tribute to Florence who, with his wife the actress Rhoda Lewis, and their son Peter, created the glorious jamboree in 1988.

Norman Florence was born in South Africa. While at the University of Cape Town he was spotted by Emlyn Williams, who was then touring the world. Williams sponsored him for a place at the Central School of Dramatic Art in London and he arrived in Britain in 1954. After graduating he appeared in numerous films and television plays, often starring as a "baddie" in series like The Saint, Z Cars, The Avengers and The Man From UNCLE. He also directed an award-winning film of Wole Soyinka's The Swamp Dwellers which won acclaim at the 1966 Berlin Film Festival.

In the 1970s he focused his energetic talents on theatre management, working alongside Sam Wanamaker on the Globe project. He managed theatres in Birmingham, Northampton and Ipswich before coming to Wales as the administrator of the ground-breaking bilingual theatre company Theatr Yr Ymylon. With his son he then set up Projects Company, commissioning and producing world tours of shows including The Pity of War, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog and a musical version of Christopher Fry's The Boy with a Cart.

Norman Florence's great ambition was to create something of excellence at home which would be recognised world-wide. That the Hay Festival has appeared on national television in 16 countries and draws thousands of adherents from across the globe is testimony to the fulfilment of that objective.

Norman Samuel Fredericksen Florence, actor and festival organiser: born Cape Town 3 January 1933; married 1960 Rhoda Lewis (one son); died Bronllys, Powys 17 December 1996.

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