Ockley Dramatic Society
The world's most prolific and successful pantomime writer and a playwright who has entertained audiences world-wide with his comedies and thrillers for almost sixty years. Norman was born in Yorkshire in the mid Nineteen Thirties and died peacefully at home on 30th April 2016. He made his first stage appearance aged three in a play starring Todd Slaughter (famous for portrayal of Sweeney Todd), and spent many years in Amdram, acting in plays, pantomimes and musicals. Over around a fifteen year period this added up to some sixty-odd roles for three dramatic societies, two pantomime societies and three operatic ones, most of which, sadly, no longer exist. Norman worked for the Yorkshire Evening Post before a County Major Award enabled him to study drama in Birmingham.
He made his professional debut in pantomime at the Hippodrome Theatre in 1965, with comedian Ken Dodd and was asked to return the following year as a "feed" to Morecambe & Wise. Over the next fifteen years he appeared with many other show business luminaries including Charlie Chester, Roy Hudd, Harry Worth, Brian Rix, Roy Barraclough, Jack Douglas, Jimmy Jewell, Hylda Baker, Wilfrid Pickles, Irene Handl, Ronnie Barker, David Jason, Beraie Winters and several of the "Carry On" team, but continued to write plays and pantomimes in his spare time.
On television he was seen in "Open all Hours", "Last of the Summer Wine", "For the love of Ada", "All Creatures Great and Small", "Survivors", "Get Some In", "Grange Hill", "Crossroads" etc., plus a host of Variety programmes, and worked in Summer Season plays around the country. For several years he worked for the legendary Danny La Rue, touring Britain and Canada, then, in 1979, accepted an invitation to teach drama at the prestigious Iowa State University as a visiting professor.
During this period he directed one of his own pantomimes, creating a box office record that remains intact to this day. The Des Moines Register hailed it as "The first truly successful British pantomime ever performed in America" and a later production of the show became the first British pantomime ever to be shown on American television. His versions of "Cinderella" and "Aladdin" were the first pantomimes performed in New York since 1894.
On his return to England, he appeared on television, radio, film and stage, eventually finding himself in demand as a truly traditional pantomime "Dame"; a role he has now played for over twenty years. With an impressive list of scripts to his name and well over ten thousand professional and amateur productions of them to his credit, he shows little sign of slowing down, though he ended his professional acting days in 1999 at the Hall for Cornwall as an Ugly Sister in "Cinderella". Writing, however, still occupies much of Normanís time and he occasionally directs for amateur dramatic and operatic societies.
His first pantomime (Sing a song of Sixpence) was written in 1952 and was presented by amateur societies all over Britain and Canada on reputation alone prior to publication in 1978. Normanís first play (Pull the other one) was written for comedian Ken Platt and actress Peggy Mount in 1970, but unfortunately they never appeared in it. A tour, however, with veteran comic Ben Warris and Anna Wing. (Ma Beale from Eastenders) proved highly successful and toured a second time with Michael Robbins (On the Buses) to equal acclaim. The play was eventually published by Evans Plays, and re-published by French's in 1976. As he was still a performer at that time, writing was only a hobby but as the years went by he was asked for more and more pantomimes and plays and had to cut down on performing to keep pace.
His recent book on the evolution of British Pantomime has been highly praised both here and abroad, was nominated and short listed for two literary awards and continues to sell strongly all over the world. His most recent play "Where there's a will....." broke all box office records for the Tiverton Dramatic Society (who Premiered it Spring 2003) and was published by Kenyon-Dean in 2004.
Until his death, he and his family lived in Devon. Norman was married to actress Ailsa Robbins and they have two children. Their son is a zoologist and their daughter an opera singer.
Norman's sub-website last updated 25th June 2016.
I started creating this tribute back in 2003 when there was little information about Norman to be found on the web. Much, much later the official Norman Robbins web page has appeared and is more comprehensive than mine. As at June 2016 I am uncertain, particularly as I have neglected these pages for several years, whether I will continue to maintain them.
Dick Whittington (1999)
Sleeping Beauty (2003)