John Frank Norman
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.
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
Stepney HQ where he stayed for a short time. Frank ended up at
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
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 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
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
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
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
The Guild Messenger obituaries
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
Disease. If Frank Norman had been alive today do you think he would be
'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
had portrait of himself painted by Nicolette Meeres. Today its in
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
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.
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
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
In the Nick
Directed by Ken Hughes
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.
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.