‘Norbert Smith: A Life’ (DVD) reviewed

With Harry Enfield and Chums’ recent arrival on Netflix, this largely-forgotten gem is perfectly timed for those wishing to rediscover more of his output. 

“Norbert Smith: A Life sends up not just thespianic tribute shows, but also the story of British cinema from wartime information films to bawdy sex comedies, by way of gritty early-60s depictions of grim working class existence… Cameos are made by Carry On legends Jack Douglas, Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Connor.”

Sir Norbert Smith was one of the true giants of 20th century stage and cinema.  Even prior to the launch of his film career in 1936, he had trodden the boards with the likes of Sir John Gielgud (‘I performed with him before he was Sir John; when he was plain Larry Olivier.’) before he took the lead in Noël Coward’s post-war version of Hamlet (‘To be or not to be: that, my dear, is the question.’ ‘I rather feared it might be.’).

Forever finding new audiences for his screen presence, Sir Norbert thrilled in the action classic Dogs of Death – leading an all-star cast of Richard Smashed, Oliver Guinness and Peter O’Pissed – and won youthful affection in British musical comedy Keep Your Hair On, Daddio: a film so disastrous that it has been shown on peak-time Christmas Day television every year since.

It was in 1989 that Sir Norbert was profiled by Melvyn Bragg, looking back at his storied career while interviewing what could best be described as indifferent acquaintances.  Now, at last, this profile – written by Harry Enfield and Geoffrey Perkins – has been brought to DVD by Simply Media.

With Enfield and Perkins’ keen eye for genre spoofs, Norbert Smith: A Life sends up not just thespianic tribute shows, but also the story of British cinema from wartime information films to bawdy sex comedies, by way of gritty early-60s depictions of grim working class existence.  All are done in the pointed yet affectionate style which they would go on to perfect in such works as Smashie & Nicey: The End of an Era.

As well as Bragg, who sends up his South Bank Show persona better than anyone attempting to portray the same character, cameos are made by Carry On legends Jack Douglas, Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Connor.  There are also appearances by future comedy luminaries such as Josie Lawrence, Joe McGann and Felicity Montagu.

With Harry Enfield and Chums’ recent arrival on Netflix allowing us to revisit his work, this release is perfectly timed for those wishing to rediscover more of his output.  A more personal project than his sketch show, it also gives us a glimpse of the pop culture nerd behind the catchphrases.

A largely-forgotten gem, well worth a look.


Norbert Smith: A Life will be released on DVD by Simply Media on 16th July 2018. Region: 2; Discs: 1; Minutes: 50; Catalogue: 188950. RRP £12.99. Order directly from Simply Media HERE: https://www.simplyhe.com/products/norbert-smith-a-life-dvd . Apply the discount code CULT10 to get 10% off all orders on www.simplyhe.com. If you apply the code at checkout you will get 10% off. Following this link will also automatically apply this discount: https://www.simplyhe.com/discount/CULT10

Stephen Graham – he feels so awful and ghastly and frightful and sordid and dirty – can be followed on Twitter at @PlopGazette

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