You will notice that I did not title this review 'And why not?'. And why not, I hear you ask? Well, because it is a quote attributed to Barry Norman by the ex-comedian turned political commentator Rory Bremner, never at any time uttered ( well, maybe once or twice ) by the real Bazza. Funny why he should use it as the title of his autobiography though. Oh well...
'Film 72' began, you will be surprised to learn, in 1972, and was presented originally by novelist Jacky Gillatt. I never saw her ( for reasons I will come to later ), but a clip on an anniversary show in the early 1990's told me she was very beautiful, if somewhat uncomfortable on television ( she sadly later took her own life ). Barry, son of director Leslie and a former film critic for 'The Daily Maul' ( sorry, Mail ), made the show his own.
Down here in the Welsh valleys, it was an unknown quantity until 1978. Those nice B.B.C. programme planners must thought of us Taffies as having no interest in films, save for those set in doomed mining communities and starring coal-dust covered men with operatic voices and names like 'Ianto' and 'Dai'. Common sense finally prevailed and it crept onto Sunday nights, competing against re-runs of 'Police Surgeon' ( a U.S. import starring Sam Groom ) over on the other channel. That theme tune - 'I Wish I Knew How It Felt To Be Free' - got me hooked.
Barry earned my undying admiration by reviewing a Clint Eastwood picture - 'Every Which Way But Loose' - and favourably comparing the acting skills of Clint's simian co-star - Clyde the orangutan - with those of then teen-sensation John Travolta ( in those days we had only seen J.T. in 'Saturday Night Fever' and 'Grease' and were ignorant of his true abilities ). From then on, I watched Barry in order to see him bash the latest 'blockbusters'.
His reviews were like great works of art; the words just came flowing out of his mouth, all well-chosen and aimed with the accuracy of an Exocet missile. He could take the most mundane picture and rip it to shreds in a few seconds. For instance, he said that 'Table For Five' ( 1983 ) screenwriter David Seltzer "lacked the fizz of his better-known brother Alka". John Lydon ( better known as 'Johnny Rotten' of The Sex Pistols ) made a film called 'Copkiller' and Barry said he "sounded like a speak-your-weight machine that had been programmed by E.L. Wisty" ( a comic character created by Peter Cook who spoke only in monotone ). Sylvester Stallone came in for a Bazza bruising when the 'Rambo' films went on release. The film director Cecil B. De Mille had, according to Barry, "parted The Red Sea twice ( he had made two versions of 'The Ten Commandments ). Not even God managed that!".
I did not agree with all his opinions - he was much too kind to Peter Greenaway for instance, and overpraised the work of Robert Altman and Woody Allen, yet came down hard on horror films. He raved about Brian De Palma's 'Dressed To Kill' when it opened, yet later recanted, describing it as 'luridly distasteful'. Ah well, we have all changed our minds at one time or other.
In addition to the reviews, there was a regular competition, such as 'Spot The Film This Snatch Of Dialogue Came From', the lucky winner receiving the latest copy of Halliwell's Film Guide. And interviews galore.
One problem I had with the show had nothing to do with Barry. Some of the flicks he raved about were nowhere to be found outside of London, and by the time they made it here I had forgotten what they were about, and what he thought of them, and went to see 'Zombie Flesh Eaters' instead.
Barry quit in 1982 to front the arts show 'Omnibus' and in his place we got various celebrities such as future 'Vanity Fair' editor Tina Brown, actress Maria Aitken, Michael Parkinson, the late Glyn Worsnip, and Iain Johnstone. But none could hold a clapperboard to Barry and it came as a relief to see him back a year or so later.
In 1998, he left the B.B.C. to move to Sky T.V. It turned out to be the worst change of channels made by anyone since Simon Dee defected to L.W.T. in 1969. The new show was a pale shadow of his old one, and was annoyingly interrupted by commercials. Sky eventually dropped it. The B.B.C. replaced Barry with Jonathan Ross and he has been there ever since.
Barry continues to write for 'The Radio Times', but it is a shame that he is no longer to be seen on the box, sitting in that comfortable-looking chair, talking about a subject he both knows and cares about.
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