Nottingham-born Henry Normal co-wrote the Royle Family, Mrs Merton and many other television comedies, was a co-director with Steve Coogan of Baby Cow Productions and Executive Producer of ‘I Believe in Miracles’, the real life story of Nottingham Forest’s European Cup triumph. As it turns, we share educational, musical tastes and neurology – although Henry has made far better use of his – and it was a pleasure to interview him about his influences, autism, family and future plans, particularly his return to his first love, poetry.
– Trevor Wright.
You’ve recently left Baby Cow and started to re-engage with poetry. What was the thinking behind that?
I worked in television for about thirty years. I’ve always loved comedy, I think there’s something akin with comedy and poetry and it comes down to truth. I think you’re searching for truth in poetry and there are certain things you only laugh at if they’re true. Comedy is a bit like playing a musical instrument, you know when it’s off tune and you know when it’s right. Comedy is exact, whereas poetry requires a little bit more imagination, and a little bit more interpretation.
I was at a stage in my life around thirty when I was doing them both, but I was making more money from comedy and I was asked to go on the television (Packet of Three.) They only wanted the short funny poems and certainly didn’t want the serious poems so I was corralled into this persona, into this creativity that I didn’t really want. I did a series for Channel Four, and for a moment had minor fame but I didn’t like it at all and I wasn’t happy. I had lots of money at that point and I just thought, well, this is not how I want to live my life; I don’t want to do another series of this. It wasn’t for me.
The next thing I did was a one-man poetry show in Edinburgh (Encyclopaedia Poetica). It was me doing what I wanted, I got a radio series out of that, and I felt more at home with my work. At the same time Steve Coogan wanted me to write for him, (Paul Calf) and Caroline (Aherne) wanted me to write on Mrs Merton. I sort of fell into it and then you don’t pursue your own dream. For thirty years, I’ve helped other people pursue their dreams. When I set up Baby Cow, there was very much a sense of doing that. I think we built something quite brilliant and I enjoyed the last sixteen and a half years. We made over four hundred television shows and over thirty films. But getting towards sixty years of age, I thought, well, what do I really want to do? And what I really want to do is to express myself and try and find the truth of things in that more personal poetic sense. So, I gave up work and I started writing poems again.
Just recently my dad had died, and my brother had died, both of cancer. So it did strike me that at some point, I’m going to die of cancer. My brother was sixty one when he died. The last time I saw him, he was in bed, last time I saw my dad, he was in bed, so when I wake up in bed, sometimes, I think, oh, this is how I’m going to go. I do believe though there’s something that I’m doing in poetry that, for me, is worthwhile, whether or not anybody else gets what I’m doing with the mix of comedy and emotional poetry. I am trying to communicate important things, but if I did an hour of just serious poetry, everybody’d slit their throats……whereas if you mix it up, you know, real life’s full of comedy and also more serious things.
The great thing about poetry is you can make your own rules. There are rules that some people abide by, and there are set forms that historically people like, but strictly speaking, the artists that we like the best are the artists that disobey the rules. If you look at early Picasso, technically brilliant, but you look at later Picasso, that’s a man expressing himself. And the same with Miro and all these great artists and poets. Shakespeare doesn’t obey all the rules. He breaks rules and you love him for breaking the rules. It really should be about self-expression and finding your own voice. Whilst I don’t equate to any of those big artists, they are an inspiration to say don’t just count your syllables, don’t just make it rhyme, just decide what it is you want to say, and then find a way of saying it.
Why poetry in particular – did you ever study poetry and wider literature?
No, I didn’t. I went to William Sharp (Nottingham School) I did English and I wasn’t even in the English Lit class because I wasn’t good enough. We had a great teacher, Peter Inskeep and he was one of those who wouldn’t let you get away with anything, and I loved him for that. So he inspired me. But at that point, my mother died. I was eleven and we didn’t have books in the house and I became a bit introverted. I knew I liked literature and books, I knew I liked poetry, but I was still, you know, a young lad who liked football and girls and stuff like that so I didn’t fully grasp poetry until later.
I did start writing seriously around eighteen. I did maths and applied maths A level , and geography (so I could go on a cheap holiday) but when I used to come home of a night, I’d read Spike Milligan, Small Dreams of a Scorpion and I’d read Monty Python and I’d write comedy and serious poems. It’s a means of expression, and you can say stuff in poetry that it’s very difficult to say in any other format, and say it well.
Some great poems like, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. That’s one of my favourite poems, and I’m not sure anyone would say that sentiment in any other format because it’s a man talking to his dad. If it was any longer, it would be too much, and, and if it was a song, it probably be too syrupy, there’s just something stark about it that I love. Ozymandias (Shelley) is one of my other favourite poems. That says more about television than any other poem. That idea of a single image that’s essentially, this is what fame means, this is what all your bluster amounts to…and it’s just sand.
How would you describe your process when you’re writing poetry?
It varies in that sometimes, I’ll be walking round and there’ll be something I’m trying to work out, in my head, but I can’t grasp it, I can’t make it solid. So I’ll sit down and it’ll pour out of me. Sometimes there’ll be a bit of repetition in it, and I’ll knock out the repetition. I did an exercise with photos, to start off with, because I’d not written for twenty years and I thought, as my dad and my brother had died, I’d look at family photos.
There was a moment, when Johnny (Henrys son who has autism) was sixteen, when, it was quite a kick in the guts, the council came round and said, because he is mentally incapacitated, he’s now a ward of court so you don’t have any control here, you can’t even take him to the dentist, and stuff like that, it needs our authority. I thought we were the people taking care of him, and of course we were, but I was knocked off balance …so I sat down and I got all these photos of Johnny when he was younger, thousands of them.
Johnny and Henry on the beach
I looked at them, and I thought why some of them didn’t affect me and others did. I found some positive and encouraging and some that made me cry. So what is it about that image that’s affecting me? I started writing down my reactions to these photos and that got me back into poetry. I think that got me into a better voice than I’d had when I was writing twenty years ago.
King Canute Should Have Checked the Tides
Taking your own chair to the beach
Is a commitment
Better to keep your limbs moving
some might say
but sitting is a definite statement
We are not just passing through
we are making a stand
Day trippers we are not
nor ill prepared tourists
We are stones amongst scattered pebbles
rock amongst shingle
Bring on your highest wave
the glory is ours
we live here
we own this weather
I think a lot of the poems I’ve written over the last two years are more me than my early attempts which were sort of influenced by the Liverpool poets, Adrian Mitchell and bits and bobs of the more famous poetry knocking around. I’d had a bit of pain in my life and coming back to poetry as an older person; I think I’ve got more of a voice. So I just sit down and think, what is it that’s happening in my life that I want to communicate? You don’t have to communicate everything, yet there are things that we see around, and we just think, why is nobody saying that?
What has poetry, if anything, taught you?
It’s taught me loads of things. It taught me that everybody has got a perception of the world. Reading somebody else’s poem, you’re reading their perception of the world, and it can be very different from yours. We were talking earlier about the Les Murray poem (It Allows a Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen), that’s a brilliant poem, I would never write that poem and what I like is that you realise your view of the world is not the only view. It (poetry) taught me some of the importance of trying to think a bit deeper and trying to investigate a bit deeper, and that what you see on the surface are like icons on a computer screen. We see the icon, and go, oh that is representative of something. But you don’t know the full story because it has to be simple for us to, for us to identify ….
You don’t know the code underneath it.
That’s right and the complexity of it all.
Do you think that the internet has changed poetry?
It’s changed mine. We go back before the internet, and there’s lots of things that I was interested in and I wouldn’t know where to find an answer. I love old cave paintings and so I’m on the internet and I’m looking at old cave paintings and I find out about all the first hand paintings…rock art and the very first animals that were drawn. Then I find out that there’s a cave painting in Nottinghamshire at Creswell Crags. I didn’t know that and the fact that I can find that out within five minutes of going on the internet is fantastic. Then I can get involved, I can investigate, I can learn more. It’s a blessing to be able to do that.
Do you have favourite poets?
I do I have an affinity for Spike Milligan’s Small Dreams of a Scorpion, because that was probably the first book of serious poems I ever bought myself, and, for a man who was so funny, the fact that he could be so moving, I was blown away. The Liverpool poets I like, all of them. Adrian Mitchell I like. John Cooper Clarke I like, on the performance side. Carol Ann Duffy, I think she’s great and she’s sort of got her foot in both camps, she’s a very good reading and performing but she’s obviously technical brilliant.
Kipling’s If is a great poem. Maya Angelou’s got some brilliant poems. One that probably most people won’t know but I rate is Susan Wicks. I set up the Manchester poetry festival about twenty years ago, and she brought out a book published by Faber at the time (She’s one of those hidden gems. She’s as good as Wendy Cope, but everybody knows Wendy Cope and adores Wendy Cope. Susan’s just as good, yet people don’t know her.)
Didn’t you have a strapline at that time, something like poetry that people can understand?
Poetry so cunningly conceived that people can actually understand it. Yeah. I set up, with a chap called Zak, a sort of writer’s group in Manchester. Then I put this festival on with Ric Michael and it’s still running now in the form of the literature festival, but we ran it for about ten years as a poetry festival. The first one we called Excite the Mind and we put up posters like a rock and roll event, and we had Tony Harrison, who I’m a big fan of. You can’t go wrong with Tony Harrison. He was the first poet we had along and we had about two hundred people come to see him, and over the course of the, the ten days of events, we had so many packed houses.
My favourite was Seamus Heaney the day after he got his Nobel Prize. He came in from Scandinavia, and he landed at Manchester Airport and we got him for about four hundred quid. He said, you haven’t got it cash, have you? He’d got a cheque for around a million pound in his pocket for the Nobel Prize but he’d got no cash. So we went to a cash machine and we got him some cash out. Then we arrived at the Whitworth Art Gallery where he was on, and there was about three hundred and fifty people, and they all stood when he entered the room. It was beautiful.
What was the last piece of art or poem that left a big impression on you?
My son paints every day. And, I love the fact that he paints a set of pictures again and again and again but his use of colour is so different from the way I would use colour, like, he would paint a swimming pool black, whereas, I would never think of painting a swimming pool black. He’s done a self-portrait of himself black and I love that his view of colour is so radically different from what you’re supposed to believe is the way colour works, I find that quite inspiring. One of his paintings is on the front cover of my new book.
Johnny’s painting that will be the cover of Henry’s new Poetry Collection
Do you have any obsessions and are they evident in your work?
There’s definitely a strand of science in my work. I’ve just read Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything. I love knowing how things work. I recently found out that tears that you cry when you’re sad or when you’re happy have a different chemical composition from tears when you poke your eye say. There’s actually a painkiller in tears that you cry when you’re sad. Little understandings of the way nature works and the way science works I find quite inspiring. Because I’ve been fifty nine years not knowing that fact and you go, well, yeah, that makes sense, that when you cry, you’re soothing your own pain and…nature’s helping you do that.
You’ve talked about difficult times and living with pain…has writing been a comfort or release?
It’s very cathartic writing, helping you understand what it is you’re thinking about, or you’re feeling. I sometimes think one of the attributes of the autistic spectrum is, a bit like Spock, it’s not that you don’t have emotions, it’s just that you can’t quite understand them. And I think poetry is one of the ways of understanding your own emotions, understanding how they fit into the world. Poets, they talk about the heart, but all emotions are in the head. The heart has no thinking capacity, it’s an icon because we have to distance it but it’s all in the head. Trying to understand the factual stuff in the head, and the emotional stuff in the head, it’s a bit like science and God. You look at what’s spiritual and what’s emotional, and then what’s science and what’s factual, and equate the two and find a way of coming to terms with what seem like very different things. I find poetry is very good for that, so a lot of my poetry is me trying to find a foothold between logic and emotion, science and spiritual.
You’ve focused on poetry not writing in general, and not comedy?
You can ask questions in comedy but comedy is about a release, I read Freud’s jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious when I was in my early twenties. He was going on about the fact that we laugh because we’re tricked. Tommy Cooper used to do a joke. He used to say, A man walks into a bar, and says Ouch. It was an iron bar. That’s a perfect example of trickery. You’re given an image in your head of a man walking into a pub bar and then the pun on the word bar twists the image. There’s something about the speed of the trickery, of the pulling the rug from under you. You realise you’ve got it wrong, you realise your frailty, your human error, and the laugh is about coming to terms with that. There are rhythms and logic to comedy and you can move people with comedy as I think we attempted to do in the Royle Family, but… it’s not got the same breadth, of being able to tackle the rest of the question as poetry has.
To tackle whatever you’re struggling with? We talked earlier about autism. Are you conscious now, knowing what you know about yourself, that it’s been a strong factor in your work?
Yeah. It was only when Johnny was diagnosed that I gave it any thought, I’d seen, like a lot of people, Rain Man. I liked Rain Man. I think it was a pretty good representation (of autism) and my wife wrote a film called Snow Cake (BBC Films DVD, 2008) where Sigourney Weaver plays an autistic woman which I think is a very good representation. That was my only experience of it. Then, when we were told about Johnny, I researched it and I realised there has been an autistic spectrum link in my family, and probably in Angela’s. Looking back on the poems I wrote years ago, I can see the influence, but, like you said about yourself, we’re able to devise strategies and work round it. We’re able to mimic, we’re able to see patterns, which works in comedy, because you see a pattern……and then you disturb the pattern and that’s what makes people laugh. In poetry, you can see patterns and you either work with the patterns or you work against the patterns.
All the comedians I’ve ever come across, at one point in their lives, stepped back. You’ll never see a comedian in the middle of a crowd jumping up and down to music. They don’t do it. They’re too conscious of the world. The comedians are always on the side, the poets are always on the side. There’s something about the fact that you’ve stopped being in the world, and you observe the world and you’re conscious of your edges, conscious of what the game is, and you’re trying to understand it. So, probably, the nicest thing is when, tricked into engaging with the world without realising that you’re becoming part of it, you’re not stood at the side anymore. You do find yourself dancing occasionally.
Does that outsider view enable you to think objectively, look inside yourself, at your own emotions as well as the outside world?
You can see what you’re supposed to do. Even if you don’t feel like doing that. And then you have to try and be truthful to yourself and go, well, is that what I want to do, and is that what I should be doing and, do I feel comfortable doing that, whether it’s in a relationship or whether it’s a more general social sense. You can get bullied by social norm, can’t you?
Yes. I was very conscious very early on that the images on the television weren’t the images in my life. What I was seeing on the television and in my own life, weren’t quite right. All the heroes, when I was a kid, they weren’t me. I wasn’t John Wayne, I wasn’t any of these people. And then I saw Bilko, and I thought……Oh, I love Bilko, I could be Bilko. I saw James Garner in Rockford Files, and I thought, that’s who I want to be, he just wants to go fishing with his dad. He gets pulled into these adventures, and gets pulled into these things, but, strictly speaking, he doesn’t want to mess with anyone, he just wants to go and have a nice time. The representations of where I was at, internally, on television were very few and far between. There was a film called Broadway Danny Rose and I just remember seeing that character and thinking, Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could be in that world and you could be that character and there’s some beautiful, poetic tenderness that you don’t get in a Steven Seagal movie.
You mentioned your dad. Is autism something you managed to talk to him about?
We never talked about it. There’s so many things we never talked about. We never talked about my mum, really, who died when I was eleven, he wouldn’t talk about that. He’d talk about his job at Raleigh, he’d talk about politics, he was very left wing, he’d talk about news items. He’d talk about, you know, my sisters and stuff, how they were doing. My dad was a clever bloke but he purposefully kept things on a domestic, matter of fact, light level. I’ve written a poem about him,, the line I used was absent within the same room. He just wasn’t there sometimes. His mind was elsewhere and, you know, he never did anybody any harm. If ever he had any sins it was what he didn’t do as you as a kid would want your parents to do. You realise, as you have your own kids, that parents are human beings and personalities and, and have their own agendas and then you forgive your parents as you forgive yourself, that none of us are perfect. And, you know, I don’t think my dad ever did anything wrong in his entire life.
You also mentioned coping strategies. Did that something that’s just come over the years and got better?
It’s a gradual process, isn’t it? I see it with my son, you know, he finds ways, we have headphones for him when the noise gets too much. But he does stimming which is a coping strategy. I can recognise all his coping, if he doesn’t like something, he’ll say I want to go to the toilet (where it’s nice and quiet). Looking back on my life, I’ve found those ways of getting myself out of a situation or ways of being in a room without, having to cope with the thing in the room that I don’t want to cope with.
It’s weird, isn’t it? It would be lovely to think that nobody in the world means you any harm. Because I don’t think, generally, people do mean you any harm, but unfortunately, life on earth is scary. We’re wired up a little bit like meerkats, aren’t we? I can’t not be positive, my wife is the most positive person I’ve ever met and, and beautiful, all the way through, like a stick of rock. She keeps me grounded and Johnny keeps me grounded. I always thought, if you keep battling then something good’s going to come.
And my overall view of the world is, despite the fact that there’s always wars and there’s always inequality, generally, if you were to look at the world in any previous period of history, if you could measure joy, if you measure progress and people’s lives in terms of hardship, I would hope that we’re getting better. It’s trying to take everybody with us. I mean, if you’re born in this country, and you’re able to cope, you’ve got to be in the top two percent luckiest people in the history of the world. And if we can’t be happy, who can be happy?
Another of Johnny’s Paintings
Has music had an influence on your writing, either comedy or poetry?
Yeah. I love music and the exploration of the world through music. Great artists like Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, David Byrne are great inspirations. REM and the National of the current ones. Music exposes all sorts of things and punk came along and impacted on the way relationships are viewed, but also your position in the world. I was an insurance broker up in Hull at the age of about twenty, and the Specials ‘Too Much Too Young’ came out. I’d gotten a flat, I’d gotten a job which I could be in for the rest of my life, I’d gotten my knives in the knife bit of the knife drawer, my forks in the fork bit of the knife drawer, all matching, and I thought, why am I already old?
I went for a job in North Notts, to be an insurance broker, and if I’d have got that job, my life would have been so different, I’d never have got into performing. I wasn’t good enough to get that job. I saw the film National Lampoons Animal House, and there was all these people having fun. And so, I gave my job up, and I went to live with my elder sister Linda in Castle Boulevard, and that’s when I decided to be a writer…nobody in the schools in Nottingham was going to say to me or anyone else, creative writing’s the way forward. I had to work it out for myself.
I remember a bloke came to us, in the fifth year at William Sharp, and he said, I’ve got a job here, it’s the best job you’re ever likely to have, I’m afraid it’s not for all of you, it’s only for the top people. And I remember thinking, oh, Alan will get this job, because he was like, the cleverest lad, you know, the boy most likely to succeed. And the job the bloke was offering was British Telecom engineer, and that was considered to be the best that we were capable of at William Sharp. Because people used to either work in Raleigh, Player’s, Boots, Plessey, or Crossland Filters.
I remember thinking, oh, I’m not good enough to be a British Telecom engineer. And I was sad about it, that my life would not be that good. But, it’s funny, isn’t it, the perceptions of yourself. Self-perception has been an interesting thing I’ve seen change through music, and the perception, in punk – or new wave – of ‘ you have the right to exist…and to express’, and ‘what you say is as valid as what somebody else can say’. Certainly, when we wrote the Royle Family, Caroline, Craig and I, we were writing down what we knew, and Steven Fry, for all his brilliance, couldn’t write that, because that’s not his experience. And I think that, for me, that came from punk, that breakthrough.
Are you interested in visual arts? Take photographs? Paint?
Yes – I love art, I love photographs and wherever we go we’ll always look at an art gallery. I’ll tell you a funny story, I was in Amsterdam, and I was looking at Van Gogh’s last painting, it’s called Crows in a Field. And `I was looking at it and thinking, a couple of hours after he painted this painting, he died. And you could see the image of the black crows in the field and I’m empathising with him and I’m trying to imagine how he could kill himself. I’ve looked at all his other beautiful paintings, and his beautiful view of the world, and I’m looking at this final painting, and an American woman leans in, she goes, Cows in a Field? Those things are birds and walked off. Didn’t even read it properly. Totally dismissed it, and walked off. And I thought, you either take the trouble and you connect or you don’t.
Is there one thing that you’d pass on to someone who wants to begin or is writing poetry?
Be true to yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else. What is it you want to say to the world? What is it you want to say to any other person? What do you want to say to yourself? Because if you say a lie, what’s the point? If you’re putting somebody else’s words down, what’s the point? When I know a poem’s good is, I weep when I write it. I often have toilet paper next to me because sometimes I write something and if it’s something that is there that I want to say and I have a need to say it, sometimes, I’ll write a line and I’ll just weep and after, I go and wash my face, have a cup of tea, I’ll come back and I’ll write a bit more.
So, looking forward, your new poetry collection Staring Directly at the Eclipse, your first in 20 years, comes out soon.
It’s published by Nottingham Press Five Leaves. I’ve got this launch gig on at the Lakeside (October 6th) It’s going to be a new and selected poems, some from stuff I wrote twenty years ago, there’s only a dozen at most. The rest of them are new, some of them are about Johnny, our relationship, some of them are about my relationship with the universe and some of them are love poems, so it’s an array of different stuff, but I’m trying to make it the best poetry collection I could ever put out. And if I die the day afterwards, at least I’ve put the best stuff out.
Write as though it is your last poem?
I’m looking at each poem and I’m thinking, if people only ever remember that one poem, is that poem good enough to be in the collection? So, hopefully, if anybody likes what I do, it’ll be the book to have. I enjoyed the comedy, I was quite good at it, in terms of scripts and organising and you tend to enjoy things that you’re good at. But if I had been able to earn a living writing poetry, I would have preferred to write poetry.
Everybody I spoke to at last year’s Nottingham Poetry Festival said what a fantastic thing it was. Is it on again in 2016?
I got involved then, because I was working with Craig at Notts TV, on the football film (about Nottingham Forest) I Believe in Miracles. He said, do you want to do a poetry gig because he’s got this new theatre in Hockley he’s involved with. And I said, all right, I’ll put you a couple of other poets on, Brian Patten on and Attila, and we tried to get Carol Ann Duffy, but she was already doing Nottingham around the time. I tried to get Jackie Kay and a couple of others but it was very difficult in the time we had. Anyway, I said I’d put three gigs on, at this theatre, and then we’ll ask other people to get involved and see if we can make a little festival as a way of starting it off.
With Lemn Sissay at the Nottingham Poetry Festival 2015
We got some flak in Nottingham to start off with because people misunderstood, we weren’t getting any grants or anything, Craig and I were doing it with our own money. People came round to understand what we were doing and, it was a brilliant festival. I went to a lot of the gigs and I was amazed at the amount of talent there was.
So I said to the City of Literature, I’m happy to do it again, this year. But I think they’ve got plans, so they will put on a literature festival as opposed to a poetry festival this year (November 8th – 13th) . It’s bigger so I sort of stepped to one side. What I decided was that, if there was an appetite next year, then we could put on a poetry festival in April or May 2017.
Henry performing at Speech Therapy during Nottingham Poetry Festival
You’re obviously proud of your Nottingham roots. What is it, do you think, that makes us different, and how does that link to the literary tradition?
I am proud of my Nottingham roots. I do find it’s difficult to generalise about people, because people are individuals, but there is something about people that I’ve met in Nottingham that I like. I think there’s a stoicism that I like, that’s borne out of hardship. Certainly, over the last few generations, the industrial base of Nottingham and the mining and just that sort of hard graft of getting there, there’s stoicism to that. I find that a very attractive quality.
Then there’s an understatement and an underplay people have, that they don’t come ‘the big I am’. I think that’s very much a Nottingham thing, and having worked in London, Manchester and Brighton, there’s a swagger to London, there’s a swagger to Manchester. It’s a nicer swagger in Manchester, I’ve got to say, but there is a swagger, and with Nottingham, I don’t get that. It’s not that there’s no swagger but it’s more, I feel, a solidness of, you won’t back down and you won’t get pushed. I like that, and there’s certainly a questioning of authority to Nottingham I pick up on that I like.
I’d cite Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner as being two of the reasons why I really wanted us in Nottingham to have a statue for Alan Sillitoe. Because, I think, for my generation, they truly are inspirational literary landmarks – the idea that you can defy authority by just simply not running.
Just being what you are?
Yeah. I mean, it’s sort of Gandhi, isn’t it? The idea that you can just not play somebody else’s game. Staring Directly in the Eclipse, my sub-title for it is, A Quiet Act of Defiance, and I think, with Nottingham there is that quiet defiance.
And that comes through in the local writing?
There’s a thing that I see as I go round the country and I sit on a bus, or I sit on a tram or I sit on a train, or I go into a café. There are a few places in the country where people say ‘Ayup’, or ‘How you doing miduck’. Something that is … human and personal and not distancing. It’s not hello sir, it’s not what do you want? Nottingham is one of those places. I think it’s a sense of community that you’re treated as a welcome equal. I do love that about Nottingham. I wish we could distil that and import it round the rest of the world. I don’t know whether it’s from a working class thing or whether it’s from a sense of self-assurance.
Because if you’re comfortable with yourself, you can make other people comfortable. I’m sure this is in all sorts of traditions, if you go into somebody’s house, you’re made welcome. And there’s something about Nottingham that I’ve always found, where the majority and the prevalence of the connections are on that basis. I love that, I think it’s strangely enough worth shouting about, although nobody in Nottingham will shout about it.
If your house was burning down, your family are safe, and you’ve just got time to nip back in and take one book, what would the book be?
Well, our photographs, if I could take anything. Because they’re the only thing you can’t replace. Everything else can be replaced. If it has to be a book then my wife’s poetry book she wrote many years ago. She was a poet, when we first met. She’s since gone on to write films and, and TV and drama, and done well at that but she doesn’t write poetry anymore. Yeah, something I couldn’t replace.
So the next step will be the poetry book launch. What about the longer term?
I’ve no long term goals anymore. When I was younger, I’d have all these daft stepping stones and markers and everything that you might think are important. As you get older, you lose them. We’re all going to die. And then most of us are going to be forgotten. It’s only the people around you that carry you within them that are going to remember you, so be nice to them, be as kind as you can to people.
I’ve won several BAFTA’s and they mean nothing, I don’t keep any award in the house. I’ve got a couple of pictures around of people that I like, that I’ve worked with, but the end goal is in the creation. I like to keep creating stuff and once I’ve done this book, I could do a book that’s better and get that out, at some point. The poems I’ve written about my son are based on photographs. If there was a publisher that was interested, I’d love to that get out, as a book because I think it’d be an interesting book. But, if it doesn’t get out, it don’t get out.
I don’t know what would be a better endgame, I’ve no idea. You know. I always remember a chap called Norman Vaughn. Very few people do…he was the highest paid comic of his day, the first comic to host Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He did those (Cadburys) television adverts as well, Roses grow on you. So all the kids were doing that at school and yet, you’ll never hear him mentioned now. If somebody that was that famous can be so forgotten… what’s the point of being famous? I’m here now, talking to you. You know, you didn’t have to come all the way down to talk to me… you didn’t have to invite me… I know, but we’re having a nice time, and that’s an end in itself, isn’t it?
* * *
‘The lone and level stretched far away’
From Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley published 1818
Trevor Wright interviewed Henry Normal during August 2016
for Burning House Press.
Massive thank you to Clare Stewart for her hard work transcribing the interviews.
Thanks also to Henry’s son Johnny and Angela Pell.
Henry Normal’s Staring Directly at the Eclipse: A Quiet Act of Defiance will be published by Five Leaves Press.
There will be a book launch at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside, Nottingham October 6th, National Poetry Day. Tickets can be booked via;-
Henrys Facebook page can also be accessed at;-
Henry’s wife, Angela Pell has also adapted part of the story from The Reason I Jump, Written by Naoki Higashida when he was only thirteen and translated by David Mitchell by about a 13 year old with Autism animation script which should be in cinemas in 2017.
Speech Therapy hosted by Miggy Angel is a long standing open mic poetry night at the Chameleon Arts Café, Angel Row, Nottingham the fourth Thursday of the month from 8pm.
Trevor Wright is a member of Nottingham’s DIY Poetry Collective, Nottingham Writers Studio, Derby City Poets and the Hello Hubmarine writers collective. He has had work published by Derby Museums and Bulwell Arts and in Over Land Over Sea, Poems for Those Seeking Refuge edited by K. Bell, E. Lee an S. Logan published by Five Leaves Press. His first poetry collection, Outsider Heart, will be published by Big White Shed in November 2016.