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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Norman Painting obituary

Phil Archer (Norman Painting) and Jill Archer (Patricia Greene) from The Archers

Norman Painting played the part of Phil Archer in The Archers for nearly 60 years, since its trial run at Whitsun in 1950. He was also script-writer on the programme, now broadcast on BBC Radio 4, from 1966 to 1982 and wrote 1,198 scripts under the pen name of Bruno Milna.

Born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, in 1924, Norman spent four years at the University of Birmingham, where his contemporaries included distinguished conductors Sir Edward Downes and Brian Priestman, with whom in the Fifties he was co-founder of Opera da Camera. He also directed a full-length opera for the Arts Council.

His undergraduate production of Shakespeare's King Lear – in which he also played the lead – was long remembered. He graduated from Birmingham with first-class honours in English, having also studied music, acting, theory of drama and theatre arts.

He won a number of prizes and a research scholarship which took him to Christ Church, Oxford where he researched and taught. He was inevitably much involved in university drama, both as actor and director.

By coincidence he took part in another production of King Lear with a (now) distinguished cast including Sir Peter Parker as King Lear, Shirley Catlin (now Baroness Williams), Robert Robinson, John Schlesinger and Jack May (who later played Nelson Gabriel in The Archers).

Norman wrote, or adapted for radio, many drama and documentary scripts, as well as the scripts he wrote for The Archers, and in 1967, along with Edward J Mason, he received a Writers' Guild Award.

He also wrote and presented a number of TV documentaries, and is probably best known to Midlands viewers as chairman and presenter of his quiz programme The Garden Game, which ran for five years.

He appeared in a variety of radio and TV programmes including Call My Bluff for BBC Two, Radio 4's Quote... Unquote... and On The Air for BBC Radio 2.

In 1991 he was the subject of This Is Your Life, and was the castaway on Desert Island Discs as part of The Archers' 50th anniversary celebration programmes on New Year's Day 2001.

Norman returned to the stage in 1984 to play the King in Jack And The Beanstalk at Porthcawl, returning to the role two years later at the Arts Centre, Horsham. He also played Gepetto in Pinocchio at the Playhouse, Bournemouth, and was the Baron in Cinderella at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge with Frazer Hines (Emmerdale Farm). In 1988 and 1989 he spent two long, but happy, seasons with Russ Abbot at the Birmingham Hippodrome and the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

He scored a personal success in David Storey's The Contractor at the Birmingham Rep with Jack Smethurst and Paul Henry.

A vice-president of the Tree Council, he was especially proud to have been instrumental in finding the site for the Shakespeare Tree Garden at Stratford-upon-Avon, where the first tree was planted by HM The Queen Mother. The garden was officially opened by HRH The Duke of Kent, patron of the Tree Council, and Norman himself opened the final phase by unveiling the visitors' guide.

He was appointed OBE in the New Year's Honours for 1976 and was the only honorary Life Governor of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

Norman was a patron of The Friends of Birmingham Cathedral where he gave numerous readings of verse and prose and was a trustee and for some years Chairman of the Warwickshire and Coventry Historic Churches Trust. For many years he was Vice-President of The Friends of St Mary's Collegiate Church, Warwick.

He was made a temporary honorary Member of High Table at his old college, Christ Church, Oxford, a privilege he enjoyed enormously, and in 1988 the University of Birmingham awarded him a much-cherished honorary degree.

Norman was also a contributor to The Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography, 2005.

Phil Archer (Norman Painting) and Jill Archer (Patricia Greene) from The Archers

Norman was patron of First Steps To Freedom which helps people nationwide with their phobias. As a Warwickshire person he was especially honoured to be made patron of Age Concern for Warwickshire and he also worked as the patron of the North Oxfordshire Prostate Cancer Appeal.

Over many years he, like most of his colleagues, spent a great deal of time in fund-raising for charities, from local appeals to national and international aid organisations, such as the Red Cross, the Hospice Movement and the British Heart Foundation.

He made several Week's Good Cause Appeals on the radio, as well as appeals for churches, an old people's home and, on two occasions, for the Tree Council.

Norman's Radio 4 appeal in 2000 for farmers and their families raised £40,000. As a result of this he was appointed a Vice-President of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

A presentation to him by the Birmingham Press Club – the oldest such club in the world – of the Personality Award found him bewildered, delighted and almost, untypically, speechless.

In September 2008, Norman was awarded a star on Birmingham's 'Walk of Stars' as was The Archers cast. Norman said at the time he was "absolutely chuffed. Birmingham is a very special place and I have spent many happy years there. I couldn't believe my ears when I was told. I am thrilled, delighted and honoured, and very proud of it."

For many years he had a personal entry in the Guinness Book Of Records under the world's most durable programmes, holding the world record for having played Philip in The Archers without a break for more than 50 years.

In 1975 he published his own account of the history of The Archers, Forever Ambridge, which became an instant best-seller, and was updated in 1980 to mark 30 years of the programme.

His autobiography Reluctant Archer was published in 1982.

He continued to be an active and important member of the cast, and recorded an episode of the programme only this week.

Tributes to Norman Painting

Radio 4 Publicity

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