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TV REVIEW : 'Norbert Smith' a Witty British Parody

November 16, 1990|RAY LOYND

In "Sir Norbert Smith: A Life," a British send-up of the reverential TV biography, English comedian Harry Enfield plays an 80-year-old Olivier-like actor whose life and career are chronicled in an insufferably stuffy television retrospective.

The parody, airing on "Great Performances" tonight (9:30-10:30 on Channel 28, 9-10 p.m. on Channels 15 and 24) is delicious, managing to be droll and pungent at the same time. Here's a show to tape and keep in your library and play back at parties. British humor doesn't always cross our shores intact, but "Sir Norbert Smith," with a swipe at the superior manner of British interview shows, is hilarious.

The British are making fun of themselves here, but it's easy to imagine American celebrity TV shows, too. Barbara Walters' post-Oscar star interviews come instantly to mind. The high-toned interviewer prodding Sir Norbert Smith is smugly played by British TV host Melvyn Bragg, who, in fact, once interviewed Lord Olivier on "Great Performances' " "Laurence Olivier: A Life" in 1985.

Enfield, who's 29 and something of a cult figure in London, is a discovery--for this viewer not unlike catching Sid Caesar on television for the first time in "Your Show of Shows."

In "clips" affectionately staged by director Geoff Posner, Enfield's takeoffs on beloved British movie actors and their famous roles are ripe. Among other gems, the comedian (who co-wrote the material with Geoffrey Perkins) plays a gay, chain-smoking Hamlet "with additional dialogue by Noel Coward," and, in a commercial for a detergent called Sudso, recreates in a savory satire the doomed romance in "Brief Encounter." His Andrew Lloyd Webber impersonation is choice, too.

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