Rory Bremner explores the BBC archives for an affectionate look back at the career of Barry Norman, who hosted the BBC's Film Review show for 26 years.
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He wasn't an actor.
He wasn't a director or producer.
But for many years, Barry Norman was one of the key figures
in British cinema, helping to bring films to the masses.
The man who millions would turn to every week
to find out what he thought was worth watching.
But let's begin with Grease, which is nothing more or less
than a very old-fashioned Hollywood musical,
and a very badly-made one at that.
Star Wars is a phenomenon.
It only opened in America at the end of May,
but already it's the biggest box-office hit in cinema history.
It somehow combines elements of all the best-loved themes
of Romantic adventure, from the Arabian Nights to the Western,
from the Knights of the Round Table to science fiction and space fantasy.
It's a very thin list of new releases this month,
none of which I could, with hand on heart, recommend, so I won't bother.
Armed with one of the best theme tunes ever,
Barry presided over the BBC's Film... series
for more than 25 years,
from Film 72 right through to Film 98.
With, as we'll discover,
a few memorable detours and distractions along the way.
He was in the front row for all the films of the time,
had a personal audience with all the stars,
and became one of television's most familiar faces.
Good evening. Well, as you can see, I'm not quite myself this evening.
Indeed, I'm still positively recuperating from a week
at the Rude Film Festival, where a huge entry, if that's the word,
and often it was,
of rude films kept an enthusiastic audience on the edge of each other's
seats. And if any of those films hit your local cinema,
I can promise you there is enough fun and games to keep the
Festival Of Light foaming at the fritillaries for a fortnight.
Yes, like all the big names of the day, Barry was frequently imitated.
He even had his own special catchphrase,
which is where I enter the picture.
"And, why not?"
Tonight, we have Robert Altman's jazz opus, Kansas City.
Dustin Hoffman stars in American Buffalo,
and we look at the world of the film extra,
as we watch some of them at work on Oscar Wilde.
And we have an Australian film, Mr Reliable.
Good evening. And, talking of Mr Reliable,
your very own Mr Reliable himself, Bazza Norman, is here once again.
Hold on, hold on, who are you, and why are you sitting in my chair?
I didn't realise I was down to review The Three Bears, as well.
You are not reviewing anything.
And what do you mean by coming in here
with your impersonation of Richie Benaud?
Actually, it's supposed to be you. And, in a sense, why not?
I never said that! I have never said that!
It's all down to that bloke who impersonates Des Lynam.
Be that as it may, let bygones be bygones, and let Cecil B DeMille.
Despite eventually using the phrase as the title for his memoirs,
Barry always insisted that he never once uttered the words
"and why not".
..otherwise Rory Bremner will say it's my catchphrase!
-It was Rory Bremner did it!
-I know it was, yes.
-I'm going to kill him!
-But eventually you have to say it!
-No, I'm not, no!
-And why not?
I want to avoid it! I've never said it.
And now there's no way I ever will.
Naturally, we've scoured the BBC archives to prove that he did...
..and we failed,
but we have uncovered a wealth of material
that shows Barry at his best, and demonstrates why we trusted him
and his opinions for all those years.
The first obligation is to the people who
are watching the programme, and, on my say-so,
might be going out to spend actually quite a lot of money
to take the family out to the movies.
So if they do that, even if they don't like it,
I want them to know that I believed it was good, and truly believed it,
cross my heart and hope to die.
From the start, a career associated with cinema in some way always felt
inevitable. Barry's parents both worked in the film industry.
His father, Leslie Norman, was one of the country's finest editors,
and played an important role in the golden age of British cinema,
producing, amongst many films, The Cruel Sea,
and directing the 1958 version of the story of Dunkirk.
All of which actually had the effect of putting Barry off entering the business altogether.
Well, when I was a kid, I used to go to Ealing with my father,
and sit around the set and watch. If you've ever been on a film set,
it's the most boring place in the world to be,
unless you're the director, the actor or the cameraman,
and I used to get really fed up just sitting around.
And my father could never quite understand it, you know, because
he was the director, so he was right in the thick of the action.
And I would say, "God, that was a boring day, Dad",
and he'd be really quite upset. But I think that was the main reason.
I just haven't got the patience to make movies.
And then journalism changed me completely anyway because, you know,
in journalism you do a job, you forget it, you move on to another
one, forget that, move on...and that suits my temperament much
better than months and months of ploughing through the same stuff.
As a journalist, Barry eventually ended up working for The Daily Sketch
and The Daily Mail on the gossip pages, interviewing the famous,
but also covering the occasional quirky story,
like this one from 1968.
A bizarre re-enactment of Sherlock Holmes's battle with Moriarty
at the Reichenbach Falls, which features the earliest
of Barry's BBC appearances that we could find.
What do you think of this assignment?
Oh, it's quite barmy, of course,
and everyone on the trip knows it's barmy,
but it's an engaging kind of lunacy, and quite gloriously English.
Surely it was elementary that this was an exciting new talent
that should have instantly been offered an on-screen contract.
Well, not quite.
Barry stayed with newspapers until 1971,
but was eventually made redundant by the Daily Mail.
And then came a call from out of the blue.
How did he fancy being a TV presenter?
It was all so much simpler in those days.
Well, it's incredible,
because, as you know, there was no training for television,
and this is the amazing thing for presenters on television.
What happened was that somebody phoned me up, Ian Johnston, indeed,
who was the producer of the programme, phoned me up and said,
"Would you like to come and try your hand at presenting Film 72".
And I said, "Hold on, I've never done anything like this".
And he said, "Well, it's easy".
And, of course, it's not easy. But he conned me into believing it was
going to be easy. And so, without any kind of training whatsoever,
he just kind of stuck me down in front of the autocue and said,
"Go to it". I had a three-week contract.
And, you know, I'm still on trial!
You'd think that for a film-lover,
presenting a movie review show would be the ultimate job.
Well, you'd be wrong.
Barry would much rather have been a professional cricketer,
for cricket was his real passion,
way ahead of films. Eric Morecambe once described him as the biggest
cricket nut in the country, and there is evidence of that here.
A clip from Nationwide, featuring Barry and reporter James Hogg.
Every lover of Lord's remembers certain days when the sun shone
and the immortals were at the crease.
It so happens that writer and broadcaster Barry Norman and I
share such a memory.
Of an August day in 1948 when Don Bradman's Australians,
perhaps the strongest team that ever played,
made hay with the gentlemen of England.
And I got here about half past nine.
I was queueing up outside there,
and it was raining, and in those days,
you got crowds of about 30,000, you actually had to get tickets...
How did he get it, we missed that!
-Missed it completely!
-Talking about old matches,
we're missing the present one!
-Anyway, go on.
you used to get crowds of about 30,000 people in those days.
And I got here and it was raining, and I remember praying, you know,
because I was very young at the time,
I remember praying, "God, please stop the rain".
And it did, you know, it was one of those magical days of childhood
when the sun shone, and, of course, I remember Bradman vividly.
I remember him coming up there before the first wicket,
and we applauded him all the way to the wicket.
And then he got this marvellous 150.
It was not exciting, in a curious way.
It was terribly interesting,
because you knew he wasn't going to get out until he wanted to.
And when he got 150, he lobbed the ball in the air,
and it went to Martin Donnelly, the New Zealander.
It was off Freddie Brown - I remember all this -
and, to my recollection, Bradman was already halfway back to the pavilion
before the catch was taken, but he decided, that was it, 150 was enough.
Would you have liked to have been a cricketer of some substance,
a county player or something?
Oh, Lord, yes! Not just a county player...
-Oh, it's England for you, is it?
I was going to open the batting and the bowling.
And it's an awful sort of tragedy really,
an accident of birth that I didn't.
I was born without any discernible talent for the game at all,
you know. Sometimes, when I used to watch England playing against
Pakistan, I'd say to the selectors, what difference does that make?!
But they'd never have chosen me.
But, yes, that's what I would like to have been.
So, not a natural cricketer,
but definitely a natural when it came to presenting television programmes.
His skills as a wordsmith, the wit that he put into every script,
and his laid-back manner meant that he had that rare ability to make
viewers feel that they were enjoying a conversation with a friend.
Many of the period's biggest films - well,
the chances are that we first heard about them from Barry.
Here we find him looking back on the cinema of the 1970s,
and looking forward to the new decade ahead.
And so the decade ends as it began - with a notable war film -
MASH, remember, in 1970,
Apocalypse Now in 1979.
And, curiously enough, the 1980s are also likely to start with a
blockbusting war movie.
Steven Spielberg's 1941 -
a satirical view, so I gather,
of the aftermath of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor.
So, has anything really changed in the cinema in the last ten years?
Well, yes. Violence became fashionable.
The brutal violence of films like Straw Dogs
and the glorified violence of Taxi Driver and Dirty Harry.
Such pictures did at least have strong central themes.
But what they spawned were cruder,
uglier rip-offs in which there was virtually no theme except violence.
Disaster stories flourished, too.
We were subjected to earthquakes and towering infernos.
We were menaced at one time or another by sharks, killer whales,
piranha fish and even bees,
while the interminable airport series gave the impression
that planes were falling out of the sky like hailstones.
The British film industry,
which had thrived in the 1960s on vast injections of American capital,
went into such a decline when the Yanks took their money home
that at one point we were about to read the last rites over it.
No, it is picking up a little now.
Individual Britons, however, did well.
Glenda Jackson won another Oscar.
Sean Connery played James Bond,
became rich, and stopped playing James Bond.
Roger Moore played James Bond,
became rich, and carried on playing James Bond.
And let's not forget the enormous contribution made by British
technicians to the current boom in science fiction movies.
Where would Star Wars and Superman have been without them?
If only we had a bit of money, our film-makers could rule the world.
Ah, well. So much, then, for the past.
What does the future hold?
Well, more of the same, probably. Probably culminating in a movie
about some violently sexual disaster engineered by
the devil in outer space.
But it will also, I hope, bring forth new ideas and new talent.
It's worth remembering, after all,
that the hottest director in the world at the moment,
Stephen Spielberg of Jaws and Close Encounters fame,
was quite unheard of in 1970.
So, come to that, was this programme.
There's a thought to take with you into a new decade.
Over the years, Barry sat through many, many thousands of films.
Even when he wasn't being paid.
I must be out of my mind, actually.
There's been occasions when I've gone to see four films in a day.
One in the morning, two in the afternoon, one in the evening.
I've had to do this. And then I've gone home and got inside,
put on the kettle, made a cup of coffee, made a sandwich, sat down,
turned on the telly to see what's on the news.
A film is just starting, and I'm sat there watching that until after midnight!
You know, you have to be crazy to do this.
-No, no, crazy, crazy is the word.
Do you go along with the rest of us to the cinema and watch it?
You obviously go to a viewing cinema, do you?
No, I hate watching...
Well, listen, would you want to go to a cinema
with this lot behind you?! I mean, would you really?!
These are my people!
Later on, we drink and eat together!
No, they're nice! No, I wouldn't mind going to the cinema
with this lot...but...if you...
Well, I don't know how often you go to the cinema, Terry,
but people's manners in the cinema are appalling now.
Television has done this.
Because of television, they are all sitting, even now, even with you on,
people at home are chatting to each other.
-Oh, I'm afraid so!
You're not, are you?!
And they do this in the cinema.
They start chatting to one another, and then they start
eating hamburgers and frankfurters behind you.
They're opening crisp packets and peanuts.
Some of them are sitting here eating each other's faces!
You know, it's very disturbing!
I just like to go and concentrate on the film,
because, you know, I want to see and hear it all,
so that I can deliver my polished judgment.
As well as avoiding other cinema-goers
for fear of being distracted,
Barry was also careful not to compromise himself
by getting too matey with the big names.
Do you worry, though, about offending some of the big directors,
producers, maybe some of your friends in the movie business?
No, I don't, because I have made a point of not making friends!
No, this is true. I mean,
I don't imagine many of these people
want to make friends with me, either!
But I don't make friends with actors and directors, because,
if I did, and they'd made a film which I didn't like and I panned it,
they would think they'd been betrayed by a mate.
And now nobody has the right to think that now.
I have a very friendly acquaintanceship with a lot of people, but,
you know, I don't go to their homes and they don't come to mine.
But, almost despite himself,
there were many stars with whom he got on famously.
And, why not?
-I'm unemployable, actually!
I can't get a gig. Do you think I would have done this
if I could have gotten a real job?! Forget it!
-I'm dead serious.
Give me that again, take two, turn this around!
We want to see the "Really"!
Do the "Really"!
There are two lobbies.
There's the pro-Costner lobby, and the anti-Costner lobby.
What does that mean? Anti...?
Who would lobby against me and about what?
-Let me explain!
-I'm dying to hear this!
Since Coppola was the producer, did he interfere much?
No, no, he was a great supporter.
Interfere - what am I going to say, "Francis, sorry,
"what have you ever done, how dare you?!
"Interfering on a Kevin Brannanagan movie here, how dare you?!"
What was the thing he did, The Godmother or something,
The Fairy Godmother?!
Of course, Barry will forever be associated with film criticism,
but over the years, he did branch out,
and once he got his foot in the BBC door,
it was almost a Norman conquest.
He was, for a time, a presenter on Radio 4's Today programme, and,
on the same station, the first host of The News Quiz.
And, with his love of words,
he was an obvious guest booking for the popular panel game
Call My Bluff.
Well, Zakawinki is a drink made in Hawaii.
It's an alcoholic drink.
It's not made there any more, actually, because of the Americans,
who were very puritanical,
discovered that though, like absinthe,
it makes the heart grow fonder, it also makes people very drunk.
It is... Perhaps this will help Patrick Campbell,
it's a bit like poteen,
it's made from yams, and poteen is made from potatoes.
So it's a bit like poteen.
It's called "Pot-ee-en".
He even turned his hand to medical science,
trying acupuncture as a cure for his heavy smoking habit
for a programme entitled Medical Express.
There was no getting away from Barry Norman.
Whenever there's time in his busy life as a TV presenter,
Barry Norman starts the day by jogging 3.5 miles.
He plays a lot of cricket, too, and keeps his weight down.
All in all, he's pretty fit.
Well, yes, I am, but when I finish jogging, what do I do?
Well, I have a shower and I change and I have a cup of coffee,
and then I sit down and light a cigarette,
and that undoes all the benefit of the jogging.
There are times when I think I must be keeping fit solely in order to
carry on smoking, and that's ridiculous.
Essentially, I earn my living by writing,
and that's when the pressure is greatest.
I can't seem to think straight without the aid of tobacco.
A business lunch, and by the coffee stage,
a cigarette is both a necessity and a pleasure.
At the end of the day, there is probably another meeting in a bar
with a glass of wine, and, of course, a cigarette,
and by that time I'll have got through a full packet.
On a really bad day, maybe even a few more.
And I'm really fed up with it.
My problem is that though I genuinely want to be a non-smoker,
I actually enjoy tobacco, nicotine.
But tomorrow I'm going to start on a course of treatment
which I hope will take away the desire to smoke.
Once the needle is in, it must be stimulated.
In classical acupuncture, each needle is twisted by hand,
but nowadays, the job is done by a weak electric current.
..current, a little bit.
-Can you tell me if you feel that?
-Oh, yes, I can feel that.
The constant tingling.
Now I shall increase the frequency.
Until it feels like a continuous jab.
-Right, I shall have to leave you for ten minutes.
Like this?! Help!
Yes, you must feel totally relaxed.
I'll relax as much as I can.
-Thanks a lot.
-I just hope he doesn't forget me!
And such was the success of that experiment that,
just two years later, Barry was named Pipe Smoker of the Year.
As he grew older, Barry realised that it wasn't just anyone he wanted
to interview, but the stars of the great Hollywood films of the time.
Barry was a phenomenon,
a megastar, but the public intrusion into his personal life,
which such a lifestyle predicates, irritated him.
All Barry ever wanted was to settle down,
clean the house and cook meals!
He was that sort of man.
But the media were constantly harassing him.
I remember one time in particular
when he was standing over an air vent,
and the wind blew his dress up over his ears.
But the photographers blew it up out of all proportion.
Yes, that was indeed a young Emma Thompson,
then a member of The Cambridge Footlights,
who weren't, of course, the first to see Barry's comic potential.
Do you know, I didn't realise you were so athletic, to tell you the truth!
You know, people used to come up to me afterwards and say,
"How did you do that?" And I would say, "Well, the thing is,
you've got to get the height". They'd say,
"How do you do that?" And I'd say, "You've got this little springboard,
you see? And if you hit the springboard, you can do anything."
They would say, "Oh, is that it?" And I'd walk away and I'd think,
"Oh, God, they might go and try this and break their necks!"
Brilliantly put together, that, wasn't it?
How long did it take to put all those bits together
with the acrobats?
We did the whole thing in an afternoon.
And do you realise that half the population
of the country watched that show? It really was incredible.
That's why we all did it, because when the best come along and say,
"Do you want to be on our show?"
you don't stop to say, "Why should I?" You say, "Yes, please."
And Morecambe and Wise, for my money, were the best.
Now here's another example of Barry performing rather than presenting,
sort of - he appears opposite the great Diana Rigg
in a sketch that has her playing an over-the-top, over-the-hill
Hollywood nightmare, and Barry playing a version of himself
and, I might add, rather well.
The critic of the New York Times said you were a great performer.
Yeah. He said I wasn't bad in the movie, either.
Miss Scarlet, what are your ambitions?
Well, right now, I'd like a drink from that cute little jug there.
Well, of course, yes, awfully sorry.
I should have offered you before.
-It's only water.
-I love your English water.
-What the hell is this?!
What kind of dumb show am I on here anyway?
Diana Rigg was an actress that Barry revealed he'd once had a bit of a
crush on. In his memoirs he admitted it was fun meeting the film world's
great beauties - his wife, Dee,
apparently complaining that he once went on a bit too much
about just how lovely Michelle Pfeiffer was.
You and the rest of the world seem to be in some kind of conflict
over the question of your appearance.
The rest of the world regards you as an extremely beautiful woman,
and you think you look like a duck.
Now, how on earth did you come to that conclusion?
Well, I don't think that ducks are unattractive.
I don't know many ducks who look like you.
Ducks would have a very hard time if they looked like you, I promise.
Well, there are some people who disagree with you.
People who are very close to me, who know me very intimately.
However, you know...
I guess if there were...
..you know people say, "Well, if you were an animal, what would you be?"
And I kind of feel like a duck.
Where does the duck analogy come from?
-I can look at you as closely as I like, and I can't see ducks there.
-I don't know!
No, there is.
There is a resemblance!
It's kind of the way I walk, too.
I have a little bit of a waddle.
People always say to me, "I loved your walk for that character you played."
And I didn't do anything.
That's my walk.
And from one of his favourite actresses,
to a moment from one of Barry's personal favourite interviews -
an exchange with the great director, Sir David Lean.
It shows how Barry's hard-earned reputation as a film lover
meant guests sometimes opened up a little bit more with him
than they might have with others.
You know, for somebody who says, and, indeed, I believe you,
that you love making movies, you've made very few.
16 films in 46 years, I think.
Why is that?
Oh, it scares me stiff.
You know? I suppose...
If I take on a movie,
I'd want terribly to do it frightfully well.
one's got to have a very, very good script.
So I spend an inordinate amount of time choosing the subject
and then working on the script.
And...I suppose it's fear, really, to put your foot in the water.
Well, after all this time,
a couple of Oscars and several nominations,
I would have thought you could have done without the fear,
that you would have got rid of that by now?
It doesn't work like that, does it?
Do you ever get nervous?
-All the time, yeah.
-When you're doing this job, you do.
Yes, well there you are. That's the answer.
It's a sort of a...
It's a difficult job.
I feel fairly at home with you here,
because I sort of feel in my element, too,
and I know you like movies,
but when you see that eye boring into you, it is difficult,
and at this minute my lips are rather dry.
It's very difficult.
There were, of course, plenty of stars who left Barry
rather less impressed - notably Peter Sellers,
who got himself into Barry's bad books several times.
John Wayne once called him a "Pinko liberal" after a row over politics.
And Madonna managed to really wind him up, too.
MUSIC: Vogue by Madonna
We went to Paris to do an interview with her,
and she kept us hanging around for an hour and 40 minutes,
and I was steaming mad by the time her PR woman turned up and said,
"I don't think I want to bring my artiste into all this hostility",
and went off, and I said,
"Well, don't bother, because I'm not going to be here."
But Barry's favourite bust-up involved a real Hollywood superstar.
Robert De Niro and I almost came to blows in the Savoy Hotel.
He is really quite peculiar because,
I think he comes from another planet, frankly.
I mean he's the best actor in the world on-screen at the moment.
Gerard Depardieu is up there with him,
but there's nobody better. Anyway,
I'd always heard that De Niro was a very difficult man to interview,
so I'd never tried, and then one day the film company phoned up,
very excited. They said, "De Niro is in town, his new film, Goodfellas,
"is opening next week. He's agreed to do one television interview
"and he wants to do it with you." I thought, OK, fine.
You know, a nice compliment,
and if he wants to do it, it's going to be good,
so we went along to the Savoy Hotel, which is where he was staying,
and we set up in a room on the second floor.
His room was above us on the third floor.
It took him an hour to get from the third floor to the second floor,
and then the reason given was that he was waiting for his shirt
to come back from the cleaners.
You know, Robert De Niro has got one shirt?!
So he turns up, he was reluctantly introduced to me,
because we had never met, and to my producer.
Didn't want to meet anybody else.
Then spent five minutes wandering round wondering where he could
leave his newspaper so nobody would steal it. Then he sat down.
I thought, "Well, this is fun, and now he's going to talk."
Nothing. It was all monosyllables.
And he didn't look at me, he didn't look at the camera.
I would ask him a question and he would sort of look over there
and wave and say about three words,
and most of it was sort of muttered into his shoulder.
I was like, "What, sorry?"
It just went from bad to worse.
I was really getting quite cross, actually,
because it was a waste of my time apart from anything else,
and then I asked him a final question -
it's really too complicated to go into here, but
I could see he didn't like this question,
and at the end of it, I said, "Thank you very much",
went to shake his hand... He got up, ignored me,
and he said, "You had to get that one in, didn't you?"
I said, "What are you talking about?"
He said, "That last question, you had to get that in."
And then he walked out, and by this time I was furious.
I said, "What is your problem?" I chased after him.
"You know what my problem is."
I said, "I don't know what your problem is. Tell me!"
And we stood there, you know, nose-to-nose, snarling at each other.
I mean, it was ludicrous - this great star and me.
And in the end it sort of died away,
and he grinned and finally offered to shake hands himself,
and we shook hands twice, so I thought that was all right.
I hated the interview, but I loved the quarrel.
All the adrenaline came out.
-So that was the best part of it?
-Easily the best part of it.
If only the camera had been rolling then, it would've been good stuff.
Barry also wasn't that fond of Hollywood's most desirable figure,
otherwise known as Oscar.
He found covering the ceremony an annual nightmare.
Too much hype, too many crowds of reporters fighting for
bland comments, from overprotected stars.
You get a sense of his disdain in this clip from 1982.
This is what all the fuss is about.
This is Oscar. So-called, according to legend,
because soon after it was designed, somebody at the Academy said,
"Why, that looks just like my Uncle Oscar."
A most unlikely tale since in my submission nobody ever had an uncle,
or indeed any other relative, who looked remotely like that
unless they belonged to a family of Martians.
The actual statuettes that are handed out to the award winners
are 13.5 inches high, made of metal thinly-coated with gold,
weigh about eight pounds and cost only a few dollars to make.
But if you could buy one - if you could buy, let us say,
the Academy Award for Best Film,
there are people, companies, studios, who would bid millions,
because in this town Oscar is regarded as having all the magical
properties of Santa Claus and The Tooth Fairy rolled into one.
Ostensibly he is presented as a modest reward for excellence,
but in Hollywood, the possession of an Oscar is looked upon as
an instant passport to everlasting fame and wealth,
or if the new owner already has his share of these things,
to even greater fame and wealth.
Sometimes it works out like that,
but sometimes it doesn't.
You may have spotted that that report didn't come from
Barry's regular review programme.
It's often forgotten that his run on the Film series wasn't uninterrupted.
After Film 81, he left, and raised eyebrows by going highbrow
and becoming the presenter of the Omnibus programme,
covering all the arts, not just his comfort zone of cinema.
Well, I imagine they asked me to do Omnibus because they wanted me to
bring whatever it is I bring to Film 81, and that kind of approach,
which I suppose, I don't know, it's very hard to analyse it -
I hate to analyse what I'm doing -
but I suppose there is a certain irreverence in it,
and I hope a healthy scepticism.
I don't actually want Omnibus to fall for any hypes,
because I've tried very hard on the Film... programme
not to fall for any hypes either.
I'm very interested in the theatre as well as the cinema.
I haven't been to the theatre very much lately,
because I've been going to the pictures
practically every night of my life for the last eight or nine years.
But when I was on the Daily Mail in the late 1960s,
I was the showbusiness editor there,
and I appointed myself deputy theatre critic -
a perfectly arbitrary move that infuriated lots of people -
but for the simple reason that that way I could go to the theatre
three or four times a week,
and I look forward to doing all that again.
I don't claim to be an expert on very much, to be perfectly honest...
..but I'm looking forward to learning about music, ballet, opera, art.
I mean, I know a little bit about all these things,
but not enough to set myself up as an expert.
But I'm not sure that - I mean, that might be a handicap.
I'm not sure it is,
because it might be possible that while I am learning something about
all these things, then people who are watching might also be learning
something as well. So I'm quite prepared to make an ass of myself by
asking very simple, basic questions which the experts will frown upon
and indeed sneer at.
I don't mind doing that because I think if I don't know the answer,
then there's a fair chance a lot of other people won't know the answer
either, and will be interested to find out, along with me.
So we got reports on ballet,
Japanese art, avant-garde music,
cutting-edge Italian furniture.
The new role meant that our favourite critic suddenly found
himself being judged by television reviewers, and opinion was divided.
I wouldn't say that he gives the impression
of being a man in an intimate
relation to seriousness.
I think he is not on very good visiting terms with serious themes,
so that he doesn't quite know how to deal with them.
But I think he seems peculiarly uncomfortable
when a theme arises which has to be taken seriously.
I think Barry Norman is the best TV pundit that we've ever had.
I would go so far as to say his autocue roll should be taken
down to the NFT and rolled down before they show
some of the films that he's reviewed.
They are wonderful. They are clever, they are witty,
and when his claws are out, really savage and really good.
But regardless of what everyone else thought, Barry himself wasn't happy,
and stepped off the Omnibus after just one series.
It wasn't actually the smartest career move I ever made,
but it was an interesting...
-I've made a few of those!
-You've made a few of those, have you?
Yes, you sort of wince a bit, you know,
and the scars still bleed occasionally.
But, no, it was fun.
Luckily for him, and us, the BBC gave him back his old job,
doing what he did best.
Good evening, and welcome to Film 83.
It is a curious convention, isn't it,
whereby people like me sit in studios like this
and grandly bid you welcome to your own homes.
Bit of a cheek, really, I suppose.
Still, what I'd now like to say is that it's very nice
to be back, and I hope that over the next few months,
that feeling will become mutual.
Of course, the feeling did become increasingly mutual
as Barry guided us through the next two decades.
It's a busy, busy programme tonight, so let's not hang about.
The Shawshank Redemption is a prison drama based on a story by Stephen King.
It's a long, sometimes violent film, which,
while never losing sight of the main narrative, is rich in subplots.
Some obvious, others much less so.
Four Weddings is the kind of film they just don't make any more.
A delightfully feel-good movie that feels good because it is crammed
with believable people whom you grow to like and care about.
Huge credit for this goes to Richard Curtis for his clever
and original script, to Mike Newell for the delicacy with which
he directed it all, and especially, Hugh Grant.
And then also opening on January 8th, there's Reservoir Dogs.
Which marks the astounding debut of writer-director Quentin Tarantino.
It's about as violent a film as I've seen in years,
and is simply not to be missed.
Local Hero is that rare thing - a life-enhancing film.
It contains no big dramatic conflict and no villains, and you come away
from it feeling that there may yet be hope for the human race.
Well, he wants some whisky,
and Ben wants some beef sandwiches with mustard and no salt.
-Did Happer say anything?
-Oh, he doesn't want any mustard at all,
-he just wants the salt.
-Nothing else happened?
-I asked them if they wanted water for the whisky...
And Local Hero remained one of Barry's favourites
joining Citizen Kane and The Searchers
as rare constants on his list of best-ever films.
One of the things viewers liked about Barry was that you didn't just get straight reviews -
you got background, context,
the facts behind the gossip,
and some strong opinions, too.
I don't wish to linger much longer on Beverly Hills Cops II,
but I must point out one aspect of it that I found deeply offensive.
The young, naive policeman, Judge Reinhold, has, we are told,
become a gun freak, turning up in scene after scene
with a terrifying collection of lethal weapons.
And this is treated as a joke.
We, like Mr Murphy and Mr Ashton,
are expected to laugh at this appalling obsession,
but surely a character whose ambition is to blow
other people away with anything from bullets to guided missiles
is not funny, and shouldn't be treated as such at any time,
especially, I would have thought, in a country like America,
with its frightening history of psychopathic snipers.
Anyway, that's the end of the moralistic bit.
In the nonstop, fast-changing world of cinema, Barry was our inside man,
shedding light on Hollywood's internal workings.
As he does here, talking to Rob Reiner,
the director of Spinal Tap and A Few Good Men,
about the power, even then, of Tom Cruise.
Are actors pricing themselves more reasonably these days?
Yes, I think they are.
I think there will always be a handful of actors
who actually can open a picture - and by that I mean,
the first weekend will be a sizeable box office
by virtue of their presence in the film.
And there's always a handful of those actors
who can do that in certain kinds of films, and for that,
the studios are willing to pay a lot of money,
because it's like an insurance policy.
For instance, somebody like Tom Cruise, the minute you say you have
Tom Cruise in the film, all of a sudden, your deal
with the cable company is a little bit better.
They'll pay you a little bit more upfront for
a Tom Cruise picture than they will for somebody else.
As long as Tom Cruise can command that,
as long as by him being in a picture in the opening week...
Look at Far And Away, you know,
the opening week in Far And Away was 14 million.
But it was only the opening week, wasn't it?
-It faded after that.
-It doesn't matter.
Tom Cruise can't guarantee the picture's going to be a hit.
I mean, what guarantees a picture to be a hit is that it's a good quality
script, that there is, you know, a great story,
that the film works on all these other levels.
The only thing a star can do is hopefully guarantee the first weekend.
He can get the people in the theatre that first weekend.
Then the film has to perform.
If the film performs, then the word-of-mouth is good.
So, if Tom Cruise doesn't open this picture big for you on the first
weekend, you're going to take all of the money away from him?
Yes. We're going to come to his house,
we're going to strap him down and we're going to rummage through his
jewellery, and take some of Nicole's stuff, too.
Even though she's not in the film, but she's married to him, so we
feel like we have a right to take any kind of jewellery or furs
that she might have. She probably doesn't have any furs,
because it's California, but I bet she's got some good jewellery.
Well, when you do that, let us know, and we'll come and film it.
-You know, it's very interesting, just before A Few Good Men opened,
I was talking to Rob Reiner,
and he expected you to open that film.
He didn't expect Jack Nicholson to open it,
he certainly didn't expect Demi Moore to open it,
and what he actually said to me was that if, because of Tom,
that film takes less than 15-20 million in its first weekend,
I'm going to send men round to his house to get his fee back and hurt him!
-That's what he said!
This puts a big responsibility on you, doesn't it?
I mean, you must be aware of that!
Come on, Tom, it wasn't that funny, was it?
Now, we've already mentioned how Barry wasn't a massive fan of the Oscars.
By contrast, the Cannes Film Festival was an event he seemed to enjoy.
Yes, it was an opportunity for some serious discussion with some people he respected,
but he also revelled in the sheer ludicrousness of it all,
the levels of which seemed to increase every year, with
the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a dunderhead in Barry's books,
and Bruce Willis, who he considered a plonker.
Excuse me! Can we have one here, please?
-You may be wondering what's going on here.
Well, to put it simply, the Cannes Film Festival is going on here.
In there is Phil Collins,
but it wouldn't really matter if it was Joan Collins,
because in a Cannes, if it moves and it's in a movie,
this kind of thing happens.
The most blatant publicity, was a huge, inflated
Arnold Schwarzenegger doll in the middle of the harbour.
I tell you, the temptation to let the hot air out of it was enormous,
and, glory be, that's what somebody did!
It's nice here, isn't it? Right, well,
in there is Arnold Schwarzenegger,
come to talk not about his latest film,
but about 15 minutes of his latest film -
I'll explain later. What I have here is a letter from Columbia Pictures
which says, "Your appointment with Arnold Schwarzenegger is for 2:28pm.
Did you get that?! Not 2:27pm, not 2:29pm, but 2:28pm.
I mean, how precise can you be?
Well, Arnie is the executive producer of the film, so I suppose
he is trying to inject a little Teutonic thoroughness
in the proceedings. Anyway, it's 2:25pm now, so I'd better be going.
I mean, I don't want to turn up at 2:28 and 30 seconds and
be kicked out for being late!
But look at this.
I'm on time, but Arnie's strutting his stuff elsewhere.
It's really not good enough!
You know, Arnie, I'm a little bit disappointed.
I had a letter from Columbia Pictures telling me that
you and I had an appointment for 2:28pm prompt!
And look at it now, it's well after three o'clock!
What do you think, who else is disappointed!
Have you been waiting with bated breath?!
because Columbia made me wait that long to see you!
My desire to see you was tremendous, right from the beginning,
right from 9am in the morning I said I've got to see you right away,
and they made me wait! But you know something...
-Any time, I'm happy to wait for something good.
We all have our magic Cannes moment,
and my came at the end of the 15-minute show reel
for Bruce Willis's Armageddon,
when a deeply emotional and tearful scene between
an amazingly brave Willis and his on-screen daughter, Liv Tyler,
so moved the entire audience they fell about in helpless mirth.
So much for the hubris of those who seek to hijack
the Cannes Film Festival for their own purely commercial ends.
That was an interesting experience yesterday,
that 15-minute showreel that you showed,
because it was part extended trailer, and part sneak preview.
Yes, that's a good way to put it.
I think it's a little bit of both.
I've never been involved with a film where they've done that,
where they've shown a 15-minute commercial for a film.
-No, I've never heard of it before.
-No, it's interesting.
But you must have been disconcerted when they started laughing
-during your big emotional scene!
You take any film and chop it up like that
and you put scenes that don't necessarily follow
as they would in the film,
it's taken out of context.
You could take any film.
Take, you know, The Godfather,
chop it up like that and move scenes around
and people would laugh at inappropriate times.
That last report was made during Barry's final visit
to Cannes for the BBC, in 1998.
That same year, he was made a CBE.
But after more than a quarter of a century at the corporation,
he'd become disillusioned with the management
and decided it was time for a change.
When he accepted an offer to up sticks and join Sky television,
it was a real end of an era.
Barry stayed at Sky for three years,
and when he left, well,
he did what any self-respecting ex-presenter would do,
and became a successful purveyor of his own brand of pickled onions.
The obvious career path.
Barry also continued writing -
books, columns, and, of course, reviews.
In June this year, the release of Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk
led to a piece for the Radio Times looking back affectionately
on the film of the same story that
his late father had directed 59 years earlier.
It would turn out to be his final column for the magazine.
A few days after submitting it, Barry died in his sleep.
He was 83.
The tributes from the worlds of film,
television and journalism were unanimous in describing him as
a great communicator and a lovely man.
As a critic and presenter, he'll be remembered
as one of the untouchables,
a top gun, the godfather,
and, in an industry dominated by Hollywood and America,
a real local hero.
And, why not?
Rory Bremner explores the BBC archives for an affectionate look back at the career of Barry Norman, who hosted the BBC's Film Review show for 26 years, and passed away in June 2017 at the age of 83.
The programme pieces together a selection of Barry's best bits, from famous interviews to reviews of classic movies, encompassing his frequent trips to Hollywood and the Cannes Film Festival.
Barry's love of language and ability to puncture the ego of Hollywood's most pompous superstars made him the nation's favourite film critic.
Plus a look at his life before television beckoned, discovering how his first love wasn't films at all; he actually preferred cricket.