Barry Norman’s grief at losing love and soulmate
- Credit: Archant
When Barry Norman’s beloved wife Diana died two years ago, his grief-stricken response was to put pen to paper.
His raw and moving tribute to 54 years of marriage to his “soulmate” drew a huge response when it was published in his old paper The Daily Mail.
“I originally wrote the piece just for me, then I felt I would like other people to know about her,” explains the former journalist and film critic. “Writing about her death did nothing to assuage the sense of loss, but it did help me to express those feelings.”
Diana died aged 77 of heart failure following her battle with vasculitis and Norman has expanded the theme of life, love and loss to a memoir, See You In The Morning – the habitual phrase they would share before sleep (Transworld, £18.99).
Shot through with his trademark wit and anecdotes, the book’s touching underlying theme is Norman’s constant surprise at being lucky enough to win such a “beautiful, gifted, loving” woman, he describes as “the best friend a man could hope for”.
When he met Diana Narracott, she was the darling of the Daily Herald, a serious news journalist who had been the youngest reporter on Fleet Street and was successfully negotiating the testosterone-fuelled environment with charm, professionalism and intelligence.
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Norman was a lowly gossip hack for The Daily Sketch, “well aware that she was a better journalist than me. “I was a mere gossip writer and she was highly regarded.”
After meeting on three journalism jobs in the same week they seemed fated to go on a date and the relationship grew.
But their marriage in 1957 started inauspiciously when they moved into a Highgate flat and Norman began to take his new bride for granted.
Although a terrible cook she diligently rushed home after news shifts to knock out one of only two dishes she knew, only to find her husband carousing nightly with fellow hacks.
“I knew Highgate because I had been to school there. I liked it and we both thought it a good place to start married life. But the flat was gloomy and full of old Victorian furniture. It wasn’t conducive to happy times. We weren’t getting on at all well because I had never shared a flat with anyone before, I was 24 and thoughtless. It didn’t occur to me I should go home as soon as I knocked off work so I joined my colleagues in the pub.”
Diana briefly moved back in with her mother, suggesting separation, but luckily they tried again and continued dual careers until their move to the country.
“Women had a raw deal in the ’50s. In Fleet Street the idea of a woman editor was unthinkable. It was a tough time with these older blokes feeling they had some kind of droit de seigneur with the women. Diana had to suffer letchery and heavy breathing but she handled it with grace.
“Lots of men fell in love with her, not necessarily in a carnal way. When she died so many blokes came to talk about her – we all loved Diana in our own way. My great advantage was I could always make her laugh.”
After raising two daughters Diana had a successful career as a novelist, writing 16 books as Diana Norman then as Ariana Franklin.
Norman was proud to step back as her popularity took hold. “Getting into the spotlight never entered her head. She wrote because that was what she always wanted to do and she was very, very good at it. She really was perfectly happy to be known as my wife, but when her books meant she was greatly in demand for literary events, I was there as Diana Norman’s husband and that was just fine by me. There was never jealousy at each other’s success. I was proud to be her husband and she was proud to be my wife.”
Although the son of film director Leslie Norman, Barry decided not to follow his father into the business for fear of being loaded with nepotistic luggage.
“When I began to make my way in newspapers it became important I had done it on my own efforts.”
But growing up knowing British film actors (Richard Attenborough, Sylvia Sim and Donald Sinden attended his wedding) understanding “that they were just like the rest of us” proved an advantage when interviewing movie stars.
“I was never star struck. I admired Olivier that was the closest I came to being in awe of an actor. Diana was similarly unimpressed and hardly ever attended a premiere.”
After becoming the Daily Mail’s showbiz editor and presenter of the BBC’s film review programme from 1972-1998 he retained integrity through a personal rule never to get close to an actor.
“I had friendly acquaintances, but I didn’t become friends so if I said disparaging things about their films they couldn’t say: ‘You stabbed me in the back’.”
Norman quit when the film industry became dominated by special effects and sequels, and the target audience dived to 15 to 18.
“A bit terrifying – these are not people who want to take their brains to the cinema – they want to feel, be moved and excited, that’s what movies do with stunts and special effects, but there’s too little emphasis on plot, characterization and dialogue – they don’t make many like that any more.”
n Barry Norman talks about See You In The Morning at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, 94-96 North End Road, NW11, on November 20, at 8pm, as part of the ongoing Hampstead and Highate Literary Festival. Details at www.ljcc.org.uk.
or 020 8457 5019.