Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Norma Heyman

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Norma Heyman for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.  

Over the past 25 years, Liverpool-born Norma Heyman has established herself as the UK's foremost female independent film producer. She was the first woman in the country to have completed her own solo production, and has won many awards for producing some of the UK's most successful films. 

She is a Founder of the Women in Film and Television organisation, and has been very active in encouraging new generations of women into the industry. Producers tend to be less well known than film directors but, as veteran film critic George Perry said when presenting an award to Norma in 2006, "Producers are the people who ensure a film gets the green light, raise the funds, pull it together. Without them, film is nothing"  

Born in Knotty Ash to Norman and Gladys Pownall, Norma's earliest memories are of the community spirit and camaraderie in wartime Liverpool. After primary school in Broadgreen, she attended Liverpool Institute High School for Girls (otherwise known as Blackburne House) when LJMU Fellow Gillian Reynolds was Head Girl. 

She developed a love of the theatre in her teens when a neighbour who was manager of the Royal Court Theatre gave her free tickets. She has wonderful memories of seeing such stars as Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Rex Harrison, and Charlton Heston. Encouraged by her father to 'live your dreams', she had ambitions to be an actor, took elocution lessons, and obtained a job as Assistant Stage Manager in Great Yarmouth where she had a first experience of acting.  

She then moved to London where she worked for American political activist and television producer Hannah Weinstein, who was to be a very important influence on her life. 

After a couple of years acting on TV and in films, Norma married Liepzig-born John Heyman, an actors' agent and manager. Thereafter, Norma was happy to abandon her acting career to raise two children: David and Lil - who are both enjoying successful careers in the film industry. 

Whilst raising the family, Norma worked part-time reading books and scripts to assess their suitability for the screen.  

Recognising the potential of The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene, but faced by lack of interest within the industry, she decided to produce the film herself. Norma sent the screenplay, written by her friend Christopher Hampton, to Richard Gere after she had met him by chance in a restaurant. Shortly afterwards, Gere's career took off with the Hollywood movie, An Officer and a Gentleman

Now besieged with offers, Gere was asked what his next film would be, and he replied to general surprise that it would be The Honorary Consul. With Gere's box-office appeal, finance was raised and thus Norma became the first woman in Britain to produce a solo independent film - starring Richard Gere, Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins.  

In a male-dominated industry, this was a remarkable achievement, and speaks volumes about Norma's keen judgement, her tenacity and her determination not to take "No" for an answer. The opposition she experienced only served to increase her resolve to fight the system. When I asked her to explain how she had made such progress against the odds, Norma replied. "I'm from Liverpool, it's in the blood..." 

A further insight into her forceful nature is provided by Great Train Robber Buster Edwards, a consultant on the Oscar-nominated Buster, who said, "I'd rather rob another train than get one more rollicking from Norma".   

After The Honorary Consul, which received 2 BAFTA nominations, Norma produced Burning Secret, the aforementioned Buster, and Dangerous Liaisons in 1989 which received 7 Academy Award nominations, 3 Oscars, and 10 BAFTAs.  

Other productions include the BAFTA nominated Clothes in the Wardrobe for the BBC, The Secret Agent, and in 2006, Mrs Henderson Presents, starring Bob Hoskins and Judie Dench, which received 2 Oscar nominations, 3 Golden Globe nominations and 4 BAFTA nominations, as well as the London Film Critics' Circle Award. 

And there are a number of films are in the pipeline, including one with her son...  

Apart from producing films, Norma has been very active in promoting the interests of the film industry and its members: In 1990, she was a founder member of Women in Film and Television, established to protect and enhance the status, interests and diversity of women working at all levels in film, television and the digital media industries. 

She is a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a member of the Advisory Committee for the British Independent Film Awards and a mentor with the Guiding Lights scheme which offers support and guidance to the next generation of UK film talent.  

Those who have had guidance from Norma, a truly inspirational role model, have been fortunate indeed.  

Norma is also a director of several companies including: The Soho Theatre Company, and Heyman-Hoskins Films - a joint production company formed in 1996 - and stemming from her long-term friendship with Bob Hoskins  

Her outstanding contribution to the film industry has been acknowledged with a number of awards which include: Women in Film Business Award in 1992, British Independent Film Awards - Special Jury Prize in 2004, A Special Award from the London Critics' Circle in 2005 and a Women in Film and Television Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.  

Norma Heyman left Liverpool as a teenager and has progressed to great achievements in a glamorous but tough industry. Throughout this time, Liverpool has always been close to her heart: she is proud of her origins in Knotty Ash, attributes her unbreakable spirit to her Liverpool heritage, remains close to her extended family in Liverpool, and is a supporter of Liverpool institutions: she's for example a patron of FACT, and a life-long supporter of Liverpool FC - she tells me that she and Rita Tushingham, complete with scarves, can often be seen wandering through Mayfair singing "You'll never walk alone".  

We are delighted to acknowledge the achievements of this girl from Knotty Ash who is now one of the most admired and well-connected players in the film world, a truly inspirational and award-winning trail-blazer, the first female producer of independent films in the country, and a great advocate of training and support for young talent entering the industry.  

Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Norma Heyman, this most distinguished daughter of our city, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.