Alex NORTON (1950-)

Alex Norton
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An Actor's Life For Me

Spotlight on the stars of stage and screen

Jeremy Beadle

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Alex Norton, actor, was surprised by Michael Aspel at a voiceover studio in central London.

Alex, who was born in Glasgow, discovered acting at the age of 14 through an after-school drama group, which led to a part in the BBC television series Dr Finlay’s Casebook.

In 1973 Alex became one of the founder members of the 7:84 theatre company, which centred on outreach projects throughout Scotland.

Alex appeared in numerous films, including Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero, Patriot Games and Braveheart, and is best known to television viewers for his role as DCI Matt Burke in the ITV detective drama series Taggart.

“Good Grief! I’m absolutely flabberghasted! This is the most surreal moment of my life!”

Screenshots of Alex Norton This Is Your Life

Alex Norton's autobiography

Alex recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, There's Been A Life!...

I never gave a thought to the notion of putting my life down on paper until the day I walked into the reception area of a recording studio in Soho to do (as I thought) a voice test for a series of Baxters soup commercials. Other than me, the only person in the foyer was a man sitting on the sofa reading a newspaper, holding it up in front of his face like a spy in an old war film. I barely gave him a second glance as I told the receptionist who I was and why I was there. She said the copywriters were running a bit late with the script and asked if I would mind taking a seat until the rewrite was ready. I settled myself on the sofa next to the solitary reader, who lowered his paper and gave me a friendly smile. I was slightly surprised to see it was Michael Aspel - but then there was nothing particularly unusual about that; I often bumped into famous faces in voice-over studios. What was unusual was that although we'd never met before, he seemed to know who I was. 'Hello, Alex,’ he said with a friendly smile. Before I got a chance to say 'Hello, Michael', the boundaries of reality disintegrated as a film crew appeared from nowhere, pointing their cameras at my astonished face. Mike Aspel seemed to be saying something about Taggart, and as he handed me a big red book, the penny dropped: I was about to be the subject of This Is Your Life.

I remember thinking that there must have been some kind of mistake. This Is Your Life was for Famous Celebrities, not journeymen actors like me. If Mike Aspel had peeled off his face to reveal he was really an alien in disguise, and beamed me up to a waiting UFO, I couldn't have been more incredulous. I managed to stammer, 'This is the most surreal thing that's ever happened in my life – and it’s all been pretty surreal up to now!’

Still reeling from the weirdness of what had just happened, I was whisked off to BBC Television Centre, bundled in through a side door and shut away in a dressing room to make sure I didn’t accidentally catch sight of any of the show’s guests. After about an hour of solitary confinement, the door was thrown open and a couple of security guards led me along a long corridor towards the studio. As my mind raced with thoughts of who the guests might be and what they would say, the creepy parallels with the walk from the condemned cell to execution shed didn’t escape me. Standing in the darkness at the back of the set listening to Mike Aspel’s introduction, the magnitude of what I was about to undergo hit home and a swarm of butterflies started performing aerobatics in my stomach. Seconds later the sliding doors parted and I walked forward to a huge round of applause and a sea of beaming faces that seemed to include just about everyone I had ever known in this life, and several previous ones. The array of guests who took part that evening included Billy Connolly, Peter Capaldi, Robbie Coltrane, Jeremy Beadle and Bill Paterson. The surprise of the evening was that Ronnie Christie, my old classmate who had given me my first guitar lessons and introduced me to the heady world of show business, had been flown in all the way from Australia. To hell with glittering trophies and meaningless plaques: for me This Is Your Life, a show that I had watched since I was a boy, was the highest accolade I could wish for - infinitely better than some statuette gathering dust on a shelf in the spare room.

The experience of having my life flash before my eyes without having to die at the end got me thinking back over the seemingly random chain of events that made me the person I am. Calling me up the following day to say what a fantastic evening it had been, my old and much-missed chum Jeremy Beadle suggested that I should think seriously about writing my life story. At first I laughed it off as just another of his daft notions, but as I thought about the wonderful tribute I had just been paid, and the famous friends and acquaintances who had turned up to share my half-hour in the limelight, it dawned on me that my life has been pretty extraordinary by any standards. From improvised school shows and fit-up tours around Highland halls to working for some of the major Hollywood studios, I've followed a dream that began more than fifty years ago. Over that time I've performed with some of the biggest names in the business, as well as names that may have been forgotten by the public, but not by me. Along the way I've gathered a fair share of tales and anecdotes, not all of them humorous and some of which may raise an eyebrow from those who know me only as the dour DCI from STV's long-running detective series, Taggart.

Before deciding to pen the tale of a plumber's son from the Gorbals who desperately wanted more from life than was penciled in for him (and who still lives in daily expectation of a wee guy in a greasy boiler suit and frayed bunnet, tapping him on the shoulder and saying 'Right son, ye've had yer fun an' games. Now back tae yer work'), I asked myself a variation of the question I always ask when deciding whether or not to accept a job offer: 'Would people pay good money to watch me in this?’ This time my question was: 'Would people pay good money to read about me in this?'

If you've done just that, you have my sincere thanks, and I hope the little voice in my head that said 'Yes, they would' wasn't Jeremy Beadle having a last laugh at my expense.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 1121
  • Subject No: 1095
  • Broadcast date: Thu 15 May 2003
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Thu 13 Feb 2003
  • Venue: BBC Television Centre
  • Series: 43
  • Edition: 16
  • Code name: Cop

on the guest list...

  • Lizzy McInnerny
  • John Sessions
  • Ken Morley
  • Betty - aunt
  • Dougie - brother
  • Sally Kinghorn - wife
  • Jock - son
  • Rory - son
  • Jamie - son
  • Blythe Duff
  • Colin McCredie
  • Brian Pettifer
  • Kevin Horgan
  • Jeremy Beadle
  • Bill Paterson
  • John Bett
  • Carey Wilson
  • Patrick Doyle
  • Brian Cant
  • Clare Grogan
  • Elaine C Smith
  • Peter Capaldi
  • Ronnie Christie
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Billy Connolly
  • Robbie Coltrane

external links...

production team...

  • Researchers: Deborah Cowan, Kate Greer
  • Writer: Ian Brown
  • Director: John Gorman
  • Associate Producer: Helen Gordon-Smith
  • Series Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • Producer: Sue Green
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 43 subjects: David Dickinson > Mo Mowlam > Gillian Taylforth > Mike Rutherford > John McArdle > Elmer Bernstein > Charles Collingwood > Jonathan Davies > Elizabeth Pescops > George Best > Lisa Maxwell > Roger Cook > Bob Monkhouse > Nicholas Winton > Anthony Andrews > Alex Norton > John Bardon > Simon Cowell > Alec Stewart > Vic Armstrong > Chris Bonington > John Middleton > Bob Harris > Gyles Brandreth > Aled Jones