The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

A lot of the documents have been sent to me or have come from other web sites. The name of the web site is given where known. If I have unintentionally included an image or document that is copyrighted or that I shouldn't have done then please email me and I'll remove it.

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Submitted by Nicky Smith

Norris Smith
(The black motorcyclist in Blimp)

In 1903 Norris Smith arrived in Britain from America with the In Dahomey company. Several years later he settled in Britain and worked steadily in this country for over four decades. In 1928 Norris understudied Paul Robeson in the London production of the musical Show Boat and recorded Old Man River. Some years later he became a character actor on the London Stage in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine (1942), on television in You Can't Take it With You (BBC tx 18th May 1947) and in the film Diamond City (1949). In 1943 Norris made a brief appearance in Powell and Pressburger's "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" generally regarded as one of the great British films of all time. Assigned a small speaking role in Armstrong, an American soldier who takes (Blimp) Roger Livesey across no man's land to the convent on a motor bike. In spite of his limited screen time, the casting of Norris is important, for few black actors had ever appeared as soldiers in a British film. However, in the many books published since the 1970s that have reassessed P and P's numerous cinematic achievements, none have mentioned Norris. Though detailed cast lists of Blimp have been published in recent books, none include Norris. [Because nobody knew who he was?] Since 1943 he has been the 'invisible man' of P and P's screen classic. Such is the fate of numerous black players in British films from that time. It could be argued that Norris' appearance in Blimp is so small that he doesn't warrant inclusion in the cast lists. But why do they mention bit players and extras with less screen time?. [Such as who? There aren't any with less screen time who are credited that I can think of] Norris Smith died on 31st October 1959 at the age of seventy six in Islington, North London. On his death certificate his occupation is listed as 'Variety Artist, retired'

From Black in the British Frame : Black People in British Film and Television 1896-1996 by Stephen Bourne

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