Painting, Norman

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Norman George Painting was born on St George's day (23 April) 1924 at Leamington Spa, the son of Harry George Painting, a railway signalman, and his wife Maud Dyde. His sister, Edna, was over six years his senior. Norman attended Milverton Junior School, moving on to Leamington College. From an early age Norman displayed enthusiasm and flair for theatrical writing, production and performance: he wrote poetry from the age of ten and wrote and produced his first full play, 'The Deception', for a school variety concert in 1938, when he was fourteen. In 1938 when the family moved to Nuneaton, for a short period Norman commuted weekly back to Leamington College, but later attended King Edward VI School in Nuneaton. He was, however, obliged to leave before completing the sixth form due to the family's financial circumstances. He took a job for three years as an assistant librarian and studied for the Library Association examinations by correspondence course.

In 1942 Norman went up to the University of Birmingham where he studied English and Anglo-Saxon, took an active part in Guild work and with BUDS (Birmingham University Dramatic Society) performed in and directed a number of dramatic productions. He was not called up for military service due to poor eyesight and flat feet, and worked his way through university in a number of ways including by doing extra fire-watching. Having gained a first class degree, in 1946 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he tutored students of Exeter College in Anglo-Saxon whilst himself researching Old English poetic diction. In 1947, upon advice, he changed his course of research to romantic poetry and drama, writing a dissertation on the rewriting of Coleridge's 'Osorio'. With OUDS [Oxford University Dramatic Society] he joined a tour to France in 1948, and even after leaving Oxford he was invited back on its tour to America in 1950 in a company which included Robert Robinson, John Schlesinger and Peter Parker. His dissertation was failed; but by this time, 1950, he had already been working for some five years for the BBC as an actor and poetry reader. This involvement developed into writing news talks, features, children's programmes, poetry, original drama and adaptions and serials both in his own name and as 'Philip Bentinck', throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He later also wrote under the name of 'Bruno Milna', a name known to millions of followers of 'The Archers' radio serial, for which he was to write over 1,000 scripts between 1966 and 1982, which earned him a Writers' Guild Award in 1967.

Television documentaries followed, and Norman made three films for 'A Summer of Gardens' (1975-1977); 'One Man's Warwickshire' (1976); 'Gardens of Delight' (1978); 'A Prospect of Gardens', (1979); and 'The Garden Makers', (1980). He was chairman of 'The Garden Game', a quiz he had himself devised, between 1975 and 1980; and made other appearances on programmes including 'Midweek', 'Stop the Week', 'Quote ... Unquote', 'Call My Bluff' and 'The Garden Quiz'. He was the subject of 'This is Your Life' on ITV in 1991 and of 'Desert Island Discs' in December 2000.

As well as numerous plays and adaptions for stage and radio and documentaries for television, Norman wrote six books: 'Stories of the Saints' (1956); 'More Stories of the Saints' (1958); 'St Anthony, the Man Who Found Himself' (1957); 'Forever Ambridge: twenty five years of The Archers' (1975); which was updated as 'Forever Ambridge, thirty years of The Archers' (1980); and his autobiography 'Reluctant Archer' (1982). He had hoped to write more: he advanced work for a book about his dogs and garden in Warmington under the title 'Gardens and Cavaliers' but it was not accepted by the publisher. Towards the end of his life he was actively gathering material together for a book on his childhood and early life, a project to which he alludes in his 1982 autobiography.

Music played a large part in Norman's life. He sung and learned to play the piano as a boy, and played provided the musical accompaniment in his own pantomimes. His later compositions included the signature tune to the radio series he wrote in the 1950s, 'The Incredible Adventures of Simple Simon'. In 1954 Norman was co-founder, with conductor Brian Priestman, of the Midland Opera Company 'Opera Da Camera' which produced a number of performances under the patronage of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury, holding meetings at their home in Ingestre, Staffordshire; he was also to be heard playing the organ and piano in his character in a number of episodes of 'The Archers'. He amassed a large collection of recordings of classical music on records and CDs, and had a number of 1970s-1980s LP records, some of which he was introduced to by his friend Trevor Harrison.

On the domestic front, Norman moved from London to Warmington in Warwickshire in 1967, purchasing 'The Old Rectory' there. He developed its gardens, which became the venue for a number of village events, and installed an indoor swimming pool, which was to become a financial burden. In the later 1970s he began on the conversion of a barn in the grounds into living accommodation; Norman sold off the old rectory for financial reasons in 1983 and moved into the barn, which he continued to convert. Norman never married; but from their early years grew close to his sister's two children.

Norman was made an OBE for services to radio in 1976; that same year he became an honorary life governor of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, in recognition of his 25 years' service to agriculture in the United Kingdom. In 1988 he received an honorary degree from the University of Birmingham. He was made an honorary member of High Table at Christ Church, Oxford; was awarded the Personality Award by Birmingham Press Club and in 2008 was awarded a star in Birmingham's 'Walk of Stars'.

Shortly after having completed the writing for this autobiography Norman sustained five heart attacks. He recovered, but suffered further health complications over the next years. To accommodate Norman's multiple heart by-pass operation in 1990 'Phil Archer' accompanied his radio wife on an extended holiday, but returned to play his full part in 'The Archers', with his final contribution being broadcast just days before his death.

Norman Painting died in on 29 October 2009. In March 2010 his ashes were scattered at 'Painting's Plantation' an area in the grounds of Campion School, Leamington Spa, where trees had been planted by the Tree Council to mark Norman's 80th birthday, when he was its vice president.

Sources: 'Reluctant Archer' by Norman Painting (Granta Editions, 1982); 'Forever Ambridge' by Norman Painting (Michael Joseph, 1980); obituaries published in the 'Independent' and the 'Telegraph' newspapers; autobiographical notes and other material within MS200: the Norman Painting Collection

From the guide to the Norman Painting Collection, [1790]-2009, (University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections)

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creatorOf Norman Painting Collection, [1790]-2009 University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections
referencedIn Cleverdon mss. II, 1926-1988 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly
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associatedWith Cleverdon, Douglas. person
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Birth 1924-04-24

Death 2009-10-29

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