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Norden, Denis (1922-)

Writer, Presenter

Main image of Norden, Denis (1922-)

Following work experience as a cinema manager and then war service, Denis Norden (born in Hackney, London, on 6 February 1922) launched himself upon an unsuspecting nation as a freelance comedy writer in 1945. He later estimated that over the following two years he supplied gags for at least 163 different comedians.

He met his future writing partner Frank Muir in 1947, and together they would write one of radio's most influential post-war comedy series, Take it From Here (BBC, 1948-60), starring Jimmy Edwards, Joy Nichols (June Whitfield from 1953) and Dick Bentley. Their other radio work includes In All Directions (BBC, 1952), with Peters Ustinov and Jones, and Finkel's Café (BBC, 1956) starring Peter Sellers.

They made the transition to television in 1951 with Here's Television (BBC, tx 6/1/1951), a sketch show featuring Sidney James and Ian Carmichael. Other highlights - include Dick Bentley's sole starring enterprise, And So To Bentley (BBC, 1954); their most successful television venture Whack-O! (BBC, 1956-60), with another TIFH graduate, Jimmy Edwards, as the irascible, cane-wielding headmaster of Chiselbury Public School; and The Big Noise (BBC, 1964), a sitcom vehicle for Bob Monkhouse. In 1961 they received the Screenwriters Guild Award for Best Contribution to Light Entertainment.

Appointed joint advisors to the BBC Light Entertainment Department in 1960, Muir took to the role with alacrity and decided to pursue an executive career. In 1964 the writing partnership was amicably dissolved.

On his own, Norden wrote material for Not so Much a Programme More a Way of Life (BBC, 1964-65), in which he also appeared, BBC-3 (BBC, 1965-66) and The Frost Report (BBC, 1966-67), among others. He also worked on the screenplays of five forgettable comedy features, taking sole credit for The Best House in London (1968, d. Philip Saville), a Victorian-period romp with David Hemmings.

He finally found his post-Muir niche as a television presenter. Although he had been a familiar face and voice since the 1950s with appearances on radio and television panel games, and had starred with Muir in the comedies How to be an Alien (ITV, 1964) and A Child's Guide to Screenwriting (ITV, tx 28/4/1964), he would become firmly established as a television personality in the 1970s.

His hosting of the nostalgia-themed Looks Familiar (ITV, 1972-83; Channel 4 1984-86) launched him as both a genial, avuncular host, and as the doyen of nostalgia celebration. Ten Years of London Weekend (ITV, tx 1/9/1978), Denis Norden's Trailer Cinema (ITV, tx 28/11/1992) and 40 Years of ITV Laughter (ITV, 1995) provide a flavour of the many titles in this vein that he has written and hosted.

He is probably best known for writing and presenting, omnipresent clip board in hand, the long-running It'll be Alright on the Night (ITV, 1977-), overseeing these compilation shows of film and television out-takes. A perennial favourite with viewers, there are no signs of it coming to an end. With its cornucopia of bizarre adverts and live television mishaps, the longevity of its sister series, Denis Norden's Laughter File (ITV, 1992-), also seems equally assured.

He was a regular panellist on the long-running panel game My Music (BBC, 1977-86), with Frank Muir on the opposing team (they also appeared on the radio version between 1967 and 1994). They were briefly reunited as a writing team on The Glums (ITV, 1978-79), returning to the dysfunctional family they had made popular in Take it From Here by adapting their earlier radio scripts. Jimmy Edwards reprised his original role as the head of the family.

He was awarded a CBE in 1980 for his services to entertainment.

John Oliver

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Thumbnail image of Song of Paris (1952)Song of Paris (1952)

Comedy about a French cabaret star falling for a passing Englishman

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