John Frank Norman
(1930-1980)
Playwright and Novelist and Goldings Boy

What do we know of Frank Norman the boy who ended his days in care at Goldings in Hertfordshire and went on to become a famous Playwright and novelist. Lets start at the beginning.

Lets dispel one myth John Norman was not born within the sound of bow bell so was not a cockney sparrow. He was born on the 9th June 1930 the illegitimate son of Frank Charles Booth and Beatrice Smith Née Norman a secretary who worked at the engineering works owned by Frank Smiths father. The place of birth was given as 151 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol. John was later abandoned by his Mother some years later and was placed with The Church of England Adoption society. After a few unsuccessful adoptions John was placed with a wealthy women who it is recorded had servants, who looked after Master John. It was thought it was about this time his name got changed around while living with Lady W as he names her. This adoption did not workout so Frank was placed in the care of Dr Barnardo's on the 24th March 1937 at Stepney HQ where he stayed for a short time. Frank ended up at Cardington Abbey Howard House 17 Cardington Road, Bedford on the 3rd April 1937 the home had opened in 1928 and is recorded as a home for children with learning disabilities. The teacher teaching Frank aged eight his alphabet (left) never thought this lad would amount to much. I wonder if its Miss Love?

To read an edited version of Frank Normans Personal Dr Barnardo file Click here.

At Howard House, Bedford Frank had started to settle down with the care from Miss Love. It was time to move to another home so on 21st August 1941 Frank ended up at Kingston-upon-Thames, which by all accounts was not a happy time so how could matters get even worse. Frank writes "On 8th July 1944 I set off for Goldings together with several other boys in a huge lorry with the letters D. B. H on the side of it; it had come especially from head office to take us on the journey. I was very pleased to be getting away from the dreadful Kingston Home, but might have known that I was leaping straight out of the frying-pan into the fire. For Goldings turned out to be the most fearsome establishment I have ever been in! the story of which is recounted in his childhood autobiography Banana Boy. This time at Goldings would stand him in good stead for time he would spend on holiday at HMP on an Island.

From his autobiography he had not had a happy time and he describes his daily schedule which could be of any one of the Dr Barnardos Homes: "Month followed month and year followed year uneventfully, just the same old institutional routine, day in day out. Get up, wash, make your bed, sweep the floor, breakfast, PT, morning prayers, classes, lunch, play, tea, mow the lawn, play, evening prayers (God bless all except the wall), bed, sleep. Except for Sundays the only way to tell which day of the week it was was by what we were having for lunch. The menu never changed from one year's end to the next, but we seemed to thrive on it, though perhaps it would be better to say we survived on it."

While at Goldings Frank tried a few of the trades on offer, Bootmaking, Carpentry  but he could not find a craft that he was happy with so ended-up in the kitchen doing the preparation, peeling the potatoes and washing the cooking pots. Then near the end of his time at Goldings Frank asked if he could go into the Gardening dept. On leaving Goldings at the age of sixteen on the 17th October 1946 Frank worked in a Tomato Nursery for a remuneration of Three pounds a week, this lasted some months until he was given his cards. Frank then got a job as a drivers mate with a big wage increase. Life was just great and he could afford a new suite of his own choice. Frank was then taken off deliveries and was placed with the Mechanic, which was not what he had wanted to do so after a while Frank got his cards. There was some time unemployed until he was persuaded to take a job as a Hand Press Operator to fill his time. Then out of the blue his landlady had told him to leave. The reason you will need to get his book Banana Boy. To read a little more of Franks' time at Goldings Click Here >>>>>>>>

Frank then took up with a travelling fairground that would be used later in life for his book Dodgem Greaser. He then did his national service in the army. Then he was back out again free. The time is spent sailing quite close to the wind and Frank was getting noticed by the police and was being arrested for petty crime, after four convictions he served a short prison sentence, what was called corrective training, this started at Wandsworth, then onto Chelmsford, then onto the island prison next to Parkhurst prison called Camp Hill to finish his prison term. With good behaviour 1797 Norman was out in two years with 5/- given to him by the prison Commissioners. Frank was not totally free as he still had twelve months on licence with the Central  After Care Department. In 1957 aged 27 Frank had started writing what was to become one of  his best known books Bang to Rights. Within a year of his release, he had published in Encounter magazine a 10,000 word extract from his prison memoir. Championed at first by the editor of the Magazine Stephen Spender, and subsequently by Raymond Chandler who wrote the foreword to Bang to Rights,  The book had taken two years in total to be written and be published.

After the success of Bang to Rights Norman in 1959 wrote a draft of what was to become the musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be. The draft copy found its way to Joan Littlewood who produced it for the Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford which opened on Tuesday 17th February 1959. Frank had teamed up with Lionel Bart who wrote the music and Lyrics which became a big hit. The play transferred to the Garrick Theatre in London's West End, starting on 11th February 1960. It ran for about two years. Frank Norman won the Evening Standard Drama Award for best musical in that year. The original Cast included Barbara Windsor, Toni Palmer, James Booth, Wallas Eaton, George Sewell, Miriam Carlin, Tom Chatto, James Dark, Glynn Edwards, Norman Gunn, Paddy Joyce, Yootha Joyce

In 1966 Dr. Barnardos Centenary year Frank decided to get some background information on his past years with Dr.  Barnardo's To Franks utter amazement they told him everything as in those days it was not Barnardo's policy to give out information to old boys and girls. From this information came his book Banana Boy in 1969.

In 1975 Frank wrote another memoir Why Fings Went West 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.

It was reported his 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 of Soho.

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

The Guild Messenger obituaries listed: Frank Norman (Goldings), who was well known to staff, former staff and Old Boys and Girls, sadly died on 23rd December 1980, aged 50. Frank was an international best-selling author and playwright. He wrote a score of books, the early ones being largely autobiographical, but he will probably be best remembered for his musical 'Fings Aint Wot They Used To Be' which was turned into a film.

Frank had died of Hodgkin's Disease. If Frank Norman had been alive today do you think he would be happy that 'Fings Aint Wot They Used To Be' with Barnardo's today who no longer run homes?

Frank had ended up in the care of Dr. Barnardo's in 1937 at the age of seven and stayed in their care until the age of sixteen in 1946 so he would of had about a year of Mr. Wheatley's care and attention at Goldings but he makes no mention of the new Headmaster who had arrived on the 1st April 1945.

About 1961 Frank Norman had portrait of himself painted by Nicolette Meeres. Today its in the National Portrait Gallery stored away. If we wanted to show a copy of the painting this on site it would cost £46.00 for three years and at a Max size of 300x 300. So if anybody has a photograph of Frank Norman that does not contravene copyright laws please let me know. The black and white shot of Frank with five others is also copyright. If I wanted to show both it would cost £92.30 incl. VAT for material and reproduction rights for three years. I don't fink so!

Photo above taken by Paul Tanqueray 1958 for the dust cover of Bang to Rights
Photo two above taken by Pat Ward for the back Jacket of Banana Boy


Frank Norman had suffered with poor spelling all his life and I was surprised how bad it was, his book Bang to Rights which contained both renditions of cockney and his own poor spelling. His book Banana Boy allows the reader inside the homes of Dr Barnardo's of that day when they had sadly lost the plot on the wishes of Dr. Barnardo the founder of the homes. The people in charge never saw the writer in Frank, just a backward child. Jeffrey Bernard when writing an obituary of Frank 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."  with his handicap he went on to write many books.

Below are just some of Frank Norman's books I could find while searching the internet.

Books:

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, Films and TV:

Scripts for the Two Ronnies ?? Unable to find any information.

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be (1959) Synopsis: A play with music, rather than a normal musical. From the book written by by Frank Norman, the music and lyrics are  by Lionel Bart, who did grow up in the East End of London.

The dialogue was in the Cockney dialect with much rhyming slang. The characters in the play were a selection of the low-life of London; a collection of gamblers, spivs, prostitutes, Teddy boys & girls and some not-too-honest police. Only the title song, "Fings ain't wot they used t'be", was memorable and was recorded by Max Bygraves. The lead actors were Maurice Kaufmann, Wallas Eaton, Miriam Karlin, Barbara Winsor, Toni Palmer & Bryan Pringle.

In the Nick (1960) Synopsis: Directed by Ken Hughes 105 min Black & White comedy. The "nick" in this standard prison farce is a modern, forward-looking jail without bars. At its core of staff are dedicated young psychologist Dr. Newcombe (Anthony Newley) and tough-minded but fair overseer Chief Officer Williams (Harry Andrews). Their jobs are made that much more difficult when four hardened criminals are inexplicably sent to the minimum security prison. The leader of this gang of four is Spider (James Booth) whose main job is to rally his cohorts into defeating a rival gang and lording it over other inmates. Their tactics and the efforts of the good doctor to reform them provide the comic fodder for the film.

A Kayf Up West (1964)

Insideout (1969) Synopsis: Prison play with all the usual ingredients: serial prisoner, first timer, bent screws etc. We follow Tommie White on his first term in prison. He is befriended by a long term prisoner who sets him up with his old gang when he leaves. The older prisoner, Tools, is set up by the warders who plant illicit cigarettes in his cell. There are a couple of young male prostitutes who mainly speak in the (was it parlary???) of that time and they are friendly with a gay warder. Tools bullies a disabled prisoner who subsequently hangs himself. Tommie's girl who promised to wait for him doesn't. White leaves prison to return to crime.

Costa Packet


If you would like to obtain one of Frank Normans books you can try your local library or do a search on Abebooks I have obtained many books and they have all arrived safely.

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