Frank Norman

Frank Norman (9 June1930 - 23 December1980) was a British novelist, playwright and autobiographer.

His reputation rests on his first memoir "Bang to Rights" (1958) and his musical play "Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be" (1960), but the much of the remainder of his work remains fresh and readable. Norman's early success was based in part on the frankness of his memoirs and in part on the style of his writing, which contained both renditions of cockney speakers and his own poor spelling. Jeffrey Bernard in an obituary of Norman wrote that he was

:"a 'natural' writer of considerable wit, powers of sardonic observation and with a razor sharp ear for dialogue particularly as spoken in the underworld."

Early life

Norman was born in Bristol in 1930 and abandoned by his natural parents. After an unsuccessful adoption he was committed to a succession of children's homes in and around London -- the story of which is recounted in his childhood autobiography, "Banana Boy" (1969). After the homes came a succession of petty crimes for which he was imprisoned, finally leading to a three year stretch at Camp Hill Prison on the Isle of Wight.

Writing career

Released from prison in 1957, he started writing what was to become his best known book. Norman's own accounts of how he came to write are at variance with one another, but within a year of his release, he had published in "Encounter" magazine a 10,000 word extract from his prison memoir, "Bang to Rights". Championed at first by the editor of "Encounter" Stephen Spender, and subsequently by Raymond Chandler, who wrote the foreword to "Bang to Rights", Norman's literary success was assured.

After the success of "Bang to Rights" Norman wrote a draft of what was to become the musical "Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be". This draft found its way Joan Littlewood who produced it for the Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, with Lionel Bart writing the music for the songs. The play transferred to the West End, and Norman won the Evening Standard Drama Award for best musical in 1960.

Around the same period Norman was writing "Stand on Me", an autobiographical memoir of his life in Soho in the 1950s before imprisonment. His next book "The Guntz" was a follow-up to "Bang to Rights", relating stories from his life as a successful writer. "Soho Night and Day" (1966) was a collaboration with Jeffrey Bernard whose photographs enlivened Norman's text. Two novels followed in quick succession: "The Monkey Pulled His Hair" in 1967 and "Barney Snip - Artist" (1968).

Later work

A further novel, "Dodgem Greaser", published in 1971, contained the fictionalised memoirs of a fairground boy, certainly based on Norman's own boyhood fairground experiences.

"Norman's London" reprinted a selection of Norman's early journalism, while "Lock'em up and Count'em" provides an appraisal of and a plan of reform for the British prison system. The Penguin collection "The Lives of Frank Norman" (1972) contains extracts from four of his previously published autobiographical books. A further memoir "Why Fings Went West" (1975) deals specifically with theatre life in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His last published work of non-fiction was "The Fake's Progress" written in collaboration with its subject Tom Keating, the art forger and his wife Geraldine Norman, whom he married in 1971.

Norman's novels of the 1970s lacked some of the power of his earlier work. "One of our Own" is a rambling novel of East End life; "Much Ado About Nuffink" (1974), is a semi-autobiographical novel of a working-class playwright whose play "Who Do They Fink They're 'Aving A Go At, Then" becomes a critical success. "Down and Out in High Society" (1975) is a novel about Soho.

Three late novels, "Too Many Crooks Spoil the Caper" (1979), "The Dead Butler Caper" (1980) and "The Baskerville Caper" (1981) found Norman back in strong form in a series featuring Ed Nelson, an under-employed Soho private detective.

Frank Norman died in December 1980 of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Works

*"Bang to Rights" (1958)
*"Stand on Me" (1960)
*"The Guntz" (1962)
*"Soho Night and Day" (1966)
*"The Monkey Pulled His Hair" (1967)
*"Barney Snip - Artist" (1968)
*"Banana Boy" (1969)
*"Norman's London" (1969)
*"Lock'em up and Count'em" (1970)
*"Dodgem Greaser" (1971)
*"The Lives of Frank Norman" (1972)
*"One of our Own" (1973)
*"Much Ado About Nuffink" (1974)
*"Why Fings Went West" (1975)
*"Down and Out in High Society" (1975)
*"The Fake's Progress" (1977) (with Tom Keating and Geraldine Norman)
*"Too Many Crooks Spoil the Caper" (1979)
*"The Dead Butler Caper" (1980)
*"The Baskerville Caper" (1981)

Plays

*"Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be" (1959)
*"A Kayf Up West" (1964)
*"Insideout" (1969)
*"Costa Packet"

References

*Jeffrey Bernard, "Mr Frank Norman", "The Times", 28 December 1980.


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