"I was a teenage Barry Norman fan" – Andrew Collins celebrates his childhood hero
The critic and Radio Times film editor pays tribute to "the nation’s most recognisable film critic", who has passed away aged 83
At the close of 1981, an inveterate 16-year-old list maker, I rounded up the passing year with a series of valedictory charts and imaginary awards in my diary.
I named my Heroes ’81, a rum bunch reflecting my interest in films, comedy, music and children’s TV watched ironically at lunchtime on a school week. I penned encomia for the actor David Warner, Peter Sellers, David Dixon (he played Ford Prefect in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy), Bill Murray, U2 and the historian and presenter Michael Wood, who “helped me and Paul survive the summer without Barry.”
This was a reference to – firstly – my filmgoing companion Paul Garner, and – more importantly – Barry Norman, the host of Film ’81, and hitherto the host of Film ’80, Film ’79 and so on, back to Film ’72.
The show took a recess, like Parliament, and Paul and I had to put up with Wood, whose replacement slot was called Now Showing. I had been a school-age viewer since ’79, but my interest in Barry’s weekly deskbound bulletin, shown at some exotically amorphous time between 10.10pm and 11.35pm on a Monday, had by the turn of the decade turned into an obsession.
Which is why the nation’s most recognisable film critic found himself at Number 5 in my 1981 Heroes. “Representing the vital people in my life,” I wrote, “Barry fills my week with facts and fun. Film ’81 is my favourite programme. Not only for its info, but for its natural, witty, honest, reliable presenter.” (For the record, he was beaten only by Michael Palin, Clare Grogan of the band Altered Images, Dustin Hoffman, and the stars of Rainbow.)
In an awards spread at the back of my 1981 diary, I named Barry as my Person of the Year, and Film ’81 as TV Show of the Year. In his last show before Christmas, he announced his own Top 12 films, including Atlantic City, Raging Bull, Long Good Friday, Ordinary People, Gregory’s Girl and the politically-charged Andrzej Wajda drama Man of Iron, a list I described as “not too embarrassing.” We were both list makers.
Without Barry Norman, I would not be sitting here now, able to describe myself as Radio Times Film Editor and privileged to share my own opinions about movies on a weekly basis with the magazine’s readers.