Denis Norden

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Denis Norden
Born Denis Mostyn Norden
(1922-02-06) 6 February 1922 (age 96)
Hackney, London, England, UK
Occupation Writer, television presenter (retired)
Years active c. 1939–2006
Spouse(s) Avril Rosen (1943–)
Children 2

Denis Mostyn Norden, CBE (born 6 February 1922) is a retired English comedy writer and television presenter. After an early career working in cinemas, he began scriptwriting during the Second World War. From 1948 to 1959, he co-wrote the successful BBC Radio comedy programme Take It From Here with Frank Muir. Muir and Norden remained associated for more than 50 years, and after they stopped collaborating on scripts, they appeared regularly together on radio panel programmes My Word! and My Music.

Norden wrote scripts for Hollywood films. He also presented television programmes on ITV for many years, including the nostalgia quiz Looks Familiar and blooper shows It'll Be Alright on the Night and Laughter File. He retired in 2006.

Early life and career[edit]

Norden was born in Mare Street, Hackney, in London's East End, and was educated at Craven Park Elementary School and the City of London School where he was a contemporary of Kingsley Amis. Upon leaving school, he worked as a stagehand, moved into cinema management by the age of 17 and quickly progressed to be the manager of a cinema in Watford. He also organised variety shows. He joined the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and was a wireless operator with a signals unit. His writing career began in the Royal Air Force when he wrote for troop shows. Whilst preparing for one of these shows in 1945, Norden, accompanied by fellow performers Eric Sykes and Ron Rich, went to a nearby prison camp in search of stage lighting; the camp turned out to be the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which had recently been liberated by the Allies. Norden, Sykes and Rich organised a food collection amongst their comrades to feed the starving camp inmates.[1]

After the war, Norden wrote material for comedian Dick Bentley, before meeting Frank Muir (who wrote for comic actor Jimmy Edwards) in 1947. Muir and Norden's first joint venture was a radio show for both performers, Take It From Here, which they scripted from 1948 to 1959. They went on to write many successful radio and television scripts, including Whack-O! (1956–60) and three series of Faces of Jim (1961–63) which were vehicles for Jimmy Edwards. They also wrote the satirical sketch Balham, Gateway to the South for the BBC Third Programme. The sketch, which had originally been broadcast in 1948 as part of a comedy series called The Third Division and which featured actor Robert Beatty, was later performed by Peter Sellers for his LP, The Best of Sellers (1959). In the early 1960s Muir and Norden wrote the sitcom Brothers in Law, an early series featuring Richard Briers, and its spin-off Mr Justice Duncannon.

In 1964, their writing partnership ended, as Muir moved into management with the BBC. Over the next several years, Norden, who had long had a fascination with Hollywood, wrote the scripts for several films, including Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell and The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom. Although he was no longer writing with Muir, the two regularly appeared together on panel shows My Word! (1956–1990) and My Music (1966–1993), first on radio then TV.

In 1965, Norden wrote, narrated and starred in a featurette jointly made by the James Bond producers and the Ford Motor Company. The colour short, entitled "A Child's Guide to Blowing up a Motor Car", went behind the scenes of an exploding car stunt being filmed for Thunderball. Norden takes a young relative on a day out to a film set, where they meet several stars and production team members, but not Sean Connery. Lost for many years, it is now available on the 'Ultimate Edition' DVD of Thunderball, as released in late 2006.[2]

ITV presenter[edit]

Norden was also later well-known to television audiences for his ITV shows: Looks Familiar, It'll be Alright on the Night and Laughter File.

It'll be Alright on the Night, which has been broadcast since 1977, consisted of out-takes from film and television linked by witty comments. Much of the material from the early episodes was used on Dick Clark's "Bloopers" specials which aired on NBC a few years later. A couple of mid-1980s editions featured several home video clips: with the increasing private ownership of domestic camcorders, clips were spun off into the long-running You've Been Framed! (1990–).

Laughter File, first broadcast in 1991, showed spoof adverts, real foreign adverts, practical jokes, live television mistakes and other various 'oddities', which Norden said, "tickled our fancies, just when they needed tickling". These items included virtually everything discovered during research for material suitable for Alright on the Night that was not eligible for that show.

Retirement and legacy[edit]

Norden announced his retirement from his two long-running ITV shows It'll be Alright on the Night and Laughter File on 21 April 2006 because of his age (84) and also because of poor health. A special show was recorded on 14 May 2006 as a 'farewell tour' to all his shows over the years, called All the Best from Denis Norden, which was shown on 2 January 2007. As the show's closing credits were shown, the studio audience gave Norden a standing ovation, which was then followed by Norden placing his trademark clipboard on his desk, which the camera then zoomed in on to as the credits ended. He has since been succeeded on It'll be Alright on the Night by Griff Rhys Jones and later by David Walliams.[3]

For years, he was resistant to producing an autobiography, claiming that much of his life and career had already been well covered by Frank Muir's A Kentish Lad and that a book called The Bits Frank Left Out would be too brief. Nevertheless, in October 2008, a book containing a sequence of autobiographical sketches was published entitled Clips from a Life. He continues to make occasional television and radio appearances. He contributed to a BBC Four season about the history of satire, and he appeared as a guest on The One Show on 2 October 2008 to talk about his life and career as well as his book. He was interviewed in a one-off documentary Der Sommer 1939 ("The Summer of 1939"), which was broadcast on 12 August 2009 on the German television station Arte. Norden also appeared as part of a contribution of showbiz friends, writers and performers in the BBC documentary, The Secret Life of Bob Monkhouse in January 2011.[4][5]

Norden and his wife Avril have a son, Nick, an architect, and a daughter, Maggie, a radio personality and lecturer at the London College of Fashion. Maggie was a presenter on London's Capital Radio in its earlier days and presented the Sunday afternoon programme "Hullabaloo". Affected by macular degeneration, Norden joined Peter Sallis and Eric Sykes in 2009 as a patron of the Macular Society, after becoming a member in 2004.[6]



  1. ^ "How Denis Norden stumbled upon concentration camp horror". BBC News. 23 June 2015. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "A Child's Guide to Blowing up a Motor Car". 
  3. ^ Liz Thomas (21 April 2006), Norden calls it a night after 30 years at ITV, The Stage, retrieved 15 April 2013 .
  4. ^ Gerald Jacobs (3 October 2008), Interview: Denis Norden, The Jewish Chronicle online, retrieved 15 April 2013 .
  5. ^ Kit Hesketh Harvey (8 November 2008), If in doubt, say 'Cockfosters', The Guardian, retrieved 15 April 2013 .
  6. ^ "Macular Society: Patrons". Retrieved 23 July 2018. 

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