Obituary: Denis Norden

TV presenter and comedy writer Denis Norden has died aged 96
One day, three young comics went to find some lights for a show they were doing. They were entertaining the RAF in northern Germany and had been told they would find what they needed at a nearby camp which had recently been liberated. The camp was called Bergen-Belsen. None of them knew what evil had happened there. "We didn't know what to expect", recalled Denis Norden half a century later. "We had not heard a word about it".Norden and his two friends, Ron Rich and Eric Sykes, dumped the lights. They went straight back to their own camp and picked up whatever spare food they could find. "Appalled, aghast, repelled - it is difficult to find words to express how we felt as we looked upon the degradation of some of the inmates not yet repatriated", he said.Seventy thousand people had died in Bergen-Belsen, most of them by starvation. "As far as I could see, all these pitiable wrecks had one thing in common. None of them was standing".
Denis Norden with his old army friend, Eric Sykes. In 1945, they had were first-hand witnesses to the appalling conditions in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. Norden gave a moving interview about the experience to BBC radio many years later.
Norden was deeply moved by what he had just seen. Nor could he bear the sight of hungry German children hanging round outside the RAF base."After seeing the camp, you could in theory hold it against the Germans, but you couldn't hold it against these German kids", he told the BBC. They handed out their own rations to dozens of small, eager hands. It was a shattering experience for the young Norden, who then had the near impossible task of putting it all out of his mind, walking on stage and making men laugh.
Youthful ambition
Denis Mostyn Norden was born into a Jewish family in Hackney, East London, on 6 February 1922.He was academic and bookish, winning a scholarship to the City of London School. Kingsley Amis was a fellow pupil."I was very tall, very skinny, and always had my nose in a book", he remembered. He also had a burning desire for adventure.
Denis Norden with scriptwriting partner, Frank Muir. The two men wrote thousand of hours of comedy for the BBC. Catchphrases like "trouble at t'mill" and "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" are still in the language.
He wrote to the Daily Express at the age of 16, and asked if he could accompany the foreign correspondent to the civil war in Spain. To his amazement the journalist agreed, but his spoil-sport parents put their foot down.
So he turned his mind to another ambition."I'd seen a photo in Life magazine of two Hollywood screenwriters beside a swimming pool being served drinks by two blondes and I couldn't imagine a better life than that", he said. To find out what audiences wanted, he quit school and, at the age of 18, became Britain's youngest cinema manager. Obituaries
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