Opinion: Barry Norman & Me

There isn't really a comedy angle to this opinion piece, apart from the fact that when the death of film critic Barry Norman was announced yesterday the Mail Online illustrated the story with a picture of Barry Cryer. Not very funny if you are a member of Barry Norman's family or Barry Cryer's family, but another reason why it is hard to take anything connected to the Daily Mail seriously.

Anyway, I just wanted to jot this anecdote down as I once interviewed Barry Norman and have often cited it as an example of how journalism and access to "talent" has changed in recent years and how things were better when they were less controlled. Back in summer 1985 - before a lot of you were born – I was just starting out and used to write about music for Jamming magazine, a punk/mod fanzine that did so well it ended up as a glossy monthly and expanded its brief to cover other aspects of popular culture.

I pitched an interview with Barry Norman and the editor Tony Fletcher said if I could get it he'd run it alongside interviews with Gil Scott Heron and Talking Heads. I'd never dealt with the BBC before, so rather than call the press office (they had lots of press officers back then) I called BBC TV Centre and simply asked for the Film '85 office. I was put straight through so I naively asked to speak to Barry Norman. I was told that he wasn't in the office that day. This was not a brush off though. They then said "try him at home" and gave me his home phone number.

So I rang the number and sure enough Barry Norman answered. He said he would be happy to do the interview and I could come to his house if I wanted. I think it was somewhere up near Borehamwood - handy for various film studios – and he added that if it was too far to come I could meet him at BBC TV Centre when he was next in. He could not have been more helpful unless he had sent a car to get me and cooked me lunch. I've heard since then he could be grumpy but he was a total gent.

Anyway, the following week I went and met him at TV Centre and we did the interview in his office overlooking the round garden in the middle. It's all being turned into luxury flats now, of course, and that's not the only thing that has changed. If I wanted to interview the latest film programme host - whoever that is – I expect I'd have to go via the press office (if press officers are still employed), put a request in, give details of the kind of publication I was writing for and then sit and wait and hope that I could snatch a bit of time with them. And the press officer (if press officers are still employed) would sit in on the interview just in case I said anything too challenging.

Times have clearly changed. Barry Norman was very much old school. When things were better. The funny thing is that reading his obituary I remembered that one of his early jobs was writing for the Daily Mail. I wonder if the wrong pictures ever accompanied his articles.

Barry Norman Guardian Obituary.


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