Monday, 3 July 2017

Barry Norman: And Why Not

Anyone who loves film and who grew up in the 70s and 80s would know Barry Norman, who died at the weekend aged 83. More than that we loved Barry Norman. Even if you didn't actually go to see the films he talked about with such wit and style, you felt that you had. He brought his intimate knowledge of the subject but his love for it too and made it real. Yet this was a man in a studio in a chair reading a script for half an hour every week. Yes there were a few clips but this was minimalist television and through strength of personality and through his wit and style Barry Norman made his subject come alive. He made you laugh, he made you want to see the films. Or not in some cases of course.

Yet his verdict on the films didn't really matter to me. I was after all a teenager and he was a middle aged bloke in a jumper. Our tastes were probably a long way apart. I particularly remember his verdict on the Blues Brothers for instance, although I do seem to recall his enthusing about one of the Star Trek films - probably, let's face it, Wrath of Khan. But none of that mattered to me. As a lover of great writing I loved the way he said the things he said, even if I subsequently found that I disagreed. He did of course have the great advantage of seeing films and delivering his verdict before I got to see them. Either way I watched his reviews every week. It was unmissable. Quite an achievement for a man on a chair reading a script.

When Norman first started his reviews on the BBC, television could be stuffy and review programmes particularly so. Yet Barry Norman popularised his medium with his unceremonious and approachable style. He never said that his views were definitive. They were reviews from a man who loved films first and foremost.

Though the film review programme on BBC1 survived with different hosts and has been jazzed up in recent years, Barry Norman was and is the man whose boots they always failed fully to fill. He never took himself too seriously and as a consequence was taken seriously. For his pains he was even given his own Spitting Image puppet and catchphrase: And why not? He never actually said it. But it sounds like he ought to have done. In fairness though, he would never have used so pedestrian a phrase.

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