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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Graham Norton: So naughty but nice
Graham Norton
Norton: Hoping to recreate success in America
By BBC News Online's Ian Youngs

For a presenter who is known and loved for being loud and rude, Graham Norton's climb to the top of TV's list of hottest properties has been relatively innocuous.

Born Graham Walker in County Cork, Ireland, he changed his name to Norton - his great-grandmother's maiden name - when he discovered that the acting union Equity already had a Graham Walker on their books.

After working as a barman and waiter in London until his late 20s, he began to make his name in the entertainment world with his one man show, Charlie's Angels Go To Hell, which ran at the Edinburgh Festival from 1992-97.

Graham Norton
Norton has been criticised by some gay men
Described as a tale of "one Cork boy's sexual awakening on a San Francisco hippie commune", it earned him a nomination for a Perrier award in 1997 and helped him win best newcomer at the British comedy awards in the same year.

He was given the role of hyperactive priest Father Noel Furlong in the hit Irish comedy Father Ted, and went on to host shows including Pride Divide and The Coming Out Party for Channel 4.

He was a regular guest host on Channel 5's Not The Jack Docherty Show.

He also co-hosted the late-night risqué game show Carnal Knowledge on ITV.

Norton's rise continued when Channel 5's Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment, which he hosted, ran for three series.

But it is his latest project, So Graham Norton - which has been on air since 1998 - that has made him a household name.

Channel 4's choice to give him his own vehicle in the coveted late-night Friday slot has more than paid off - he has won Bafta awards for best entertainment performance for two years in a row.

Constraints

Now 38, he was reportedly valued at up to £6m by BBC TV, who offered him a deal that would have seen him move firmly into the mainstream.

But he rejected their advances, preferring to remain with Channel 4, where he has more freedom to do what he wants without the constraints a prime-time show would bring.

It does not take long to work out that his sexuality has played a large part in his appeal and success.

He describes himself on the Channel 4 website as a "shiny Irish poof".

His exceedingly camp style gives him the licence to be exceedingly rude without being offensive, and his quick wit, put-downs and one-liners have made him a cult icon.

Norton with the Duchess of York on Comic Relief
Norton with the Duchess of York on Comic Relief
The combination of his fizzy, unrelenting, upbeat personality with top-notch guests who do things they would never do on any other chat show has contributed to So Graham Norton's success.

Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam took part in the first dog "wedding" on the show, giving away the "bride", a bearded collie called Lalya.

And in a special Comic Relief edition of the show, the Duchess of York presented Norton with a lock of his idol Dolly Parton's hair on a velvet cushion.

Other past guests have included Grace Jones, Joan Rivers, Catherine Deneuve, Leslie Nielsen and Joan Collins.

Image

But he has been criticised for being too camp and taking the gay stereotype to an extreme.

Some gay men have said he is reinforcing the idea that a gay TV star has to be over-the-top and in the mould of like Kenneth Williams or Frankie Howerd.

Despite turning down the BBC's offer to host a new TV show, he is involved in other projects with the corporation.

A six-part New York-based radio chat show, Graham Norton's Big Apple Crumble, will be aired on BBC Radio 4 from spring 2002.

And BBC America - the BBC's cable outlet for British shows - is about to launch So Graham Norton across the Atlantic, where Norton will hope that his style will go down as well as it has in Britain.

See also:

14 May 01 | TV and Radio
Bafta triumph for Channel 4
16 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Red nose Norton and the Duchess
15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Norton gets in bed with Madonna
11 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Mowlam in TV 'canine wedding'
30 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Vaughan signs 'unique' BBC deal
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