Barry Norman: Movies, cricket and pickled onions

PUBLISHED: 16:10 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:11 20 February 2013

Barry Norman

Barry Norman

Think Barry Norman and you immediately think of films. But there is so much more to him than that, as Richard Cawthorne discovers

MILLIONS of people know Barry Norman as the man who brought the world of film into their living rooms via his long-running BBC and Sky television shows. He began with Film 72, as in 1972, the year when it all started, departed the BBC 26 years later after Film 98 and then spent three years with Sky doing essentially the same thing but for a change of programme title.

His experiences still pepper his conversation and he uses them to good effect as an after-dinner speaker, as when he opened the Stevenage Holiday Inn earlier this year, and in his one-man stage show with which he tours the country at regular intervals. It's a bit of a surprise after all that to discover he is just as passionate about cricket but now, at 76 and almost as busy as he ever was, he has found time to redress the balance with the publication of an anthology on the subject.

'I've been a cricket nut since I was about 10,' he says from the book-lined study of his home in one of the more picturesque Hertfordshire villages. 'It started during the war when my maternal grandfather, who was a very big Surrey fan, used to talk to me about it. I think I was the only one of his grandsons who listened eagerly to what he had to say and as a result I got hooked on the game long before I ever saw it played. I used to go to the public library and borrow every book on it I could lay my hands on; I was a mine of information and then I went to my first game at Lord's in 1945 and saw one of the great names, Walter Hammond, score 83 for England, a marvellous innings.'

Barry, who lives within fast-bowling range of Hertford, turned his interest into action, playing at school and, for 25 years, for his village team. He was also a member of the Lord's Taverners, made up partly of people like him, Robert Powell and Chris Tarrant and partly of people who used to play for England. Speaking of them, Barry says, 'These were the kind of people as I've often said who wouldn't normally let me in the same ground, so one way and another I have a great affection for cricket and cricketers are my favourite sportsmen.'

Born and brought up 'in and around London' and a former showbusiness editor for the Daily Mail, Barry has now lived in Hertfordshire in the same house with his wife Diana, also a novelist of note under her own name and as Ariana Franklin, for more than 50 years. 'I now regard myself as very much a Hertfordshire person,' he says. 'It wasn't our intention to stay here but we got sucked into the village. We were both journalists so immediately headed for the nearest pub, which was wonderful. We met everybody in there, I joined the cricket club, then we got involved with the church and various other organisations in the village and after a bit we decided we liked it here so much we would stay.

'I regard myself as very much a Hertfordshire person'

'I am happy to say I think Hertfordshire is a most underrated county and long may it remain so because I would hate it to be full of the sorts of people who just turn up for the weekend. This is a working village and I love that. Downtown is two shops and two pubs, which is what a village ought to be, it has a lovely green where one can play cricket and it's only 30 miles from London.'

Despite being the son of film producer and director Leslie Norman, Barry says his involvement with the movie business was coincidental, he having elected to go into journalism instead. He concedes, however, that it was a help having his father as his father when the Daily Mail was looking round for a showbusiness reporter and decided the young Barry was 'as good a bet as anybody' because he probably had better contacts in the film world than anybody else.

Having progressed to showbusiness editor, he was made redundant, which he says was a happy event because when he was asked by sheer chance if he would like to present Film 72 as a guest presenter he was able to accept. In his self-deprecating way, he says now, 'They didn't seem to find me out, so I stuck around for a while' - 26 years, as it happened.

Along the way, he has produced a film column, still going strong after 20 years, for the Radio Times and a number of books on film as well as 10 novels, though he says it has been some time since the last one. He is playing with the idea of writing another but is worried about finding the time to research it.

And then there are the pickled onions.
Like so much else, this too, he says, came entirely out of left field. 'I like pickled onions and so do my family and I had a recipe that came from my mother and she got it from her mother and so on back well into the 19th century.
'I would produce a batch quite often and one night my younger daughter served them at a supper party and one of the guests was an advertising and marketing man, John Wringe, who was also a huge pickled onion enthusiast. I wasn't there, but he ate one and as I have often said, it was like St Paul on the road to Damascus. He said they should be marketed. I didn't think much more about it but he charged ahead with the idea and to my eternal astonishment, there they are on the market, soon to be joined by pickled shallots, pickled gherkins and pickled eggs.'

Latest from the Hertfordshire Life