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Camden New Journal - by DAN CARRIER
Published: 18 January 2007
Torquil Norman pictured at the Roundhouse when it opened after its refurbishment last year
Torquil Norman pictured at the Roundhouse when it opened after its refurbishment last year
Tributes to outgoing Torquil

Leading arts figures hail man who saved Roundhouse as he steps down

TRIBUTES have poured in from leading figures in the arts world after it was revealed that Torquil Norman, the man who saved the Roundhouse, is stepping down as the Roundhouse Trust chairman.
Mr Norman, the multi-millionaire toy magnate, spent ten years turning the derelict engine shed in Chalk Farm into a state-of-the-art concert venue and established an educational wing for the performing arts.
He used his personal fortune to buy the then dilapidated building for £6 million and has since worked tirelessly to raise the £27 million needed to refurbish it.
His youth project offers free arts training to 10,000 young people each year.
Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who lives in Kentish Town, told the New Journal that Mr Norman’s work had helped change the lives of many youngsters.
She said: “Anyone who has met Torquil Norman should consider themselves as blessed. He is a man of the most extraordinary, humanity, inspiration and generosity. Generations of young people who may not have had the chances they deserve will have cause to be grateful to him.”
The Cambridge educated toy designer, who did National Service as an RAF pilot, worked as an investment banker in the USA for 11 years before returning to Britain. He made his personal fortune from Bluebird Toys, which made the best-selling Pocket Polly dolls, and then became involved in charitable projects.
But it was after reading an article in the New Journal about the Roundhouse that gave him the idea of taking on the Roundhouse and using it for disadvantaged young people.
He had read that the Royal Institute of British Architects had planned to turn it in to a museum, but the plans had fallen through and the 1848 engine shed was becoming dilapidated.
“I thought, what a disastrous use of the place where the Doors had played, and I’d taken my five children to Sunday evening concerts. Within a week, I’d bought it,” he said.
Dr Jonathan Miller, the playwright, opera director and philosopher who lives near Mr Norman in Camden Town said his 10 years at the Roundhouse had changed the face of Camden.
He said: “It was a startling imaginative enterprise, done with incredible generosity. The old Roundhouse has its ups and downs and it was terrible to see the state it got in to.
“But then Torquil came in and took charge, made it available to young people. If there were more resources like this, we would see less problems with what people call Hoodie Culture. He has made a massive contribution to life in north west London.”
His views were echoed by fellow playwright and neighbour Alan Bennett. Mr Bennett said: “When I first came to live in the borough the Roundhouse was a leading cultural centre, and Torquil Norman has been responsible for a magnificent refurbishment of the building and has returned it to its proper place in the world of arts. He is a real philanthropist.”
Kentish Town-based Channel Four newscaster Jon Snow recalled how the Roundhouse was before MR Norman brought it in the mid-1990s.
He said: “It was such a hulk that had been argued about for 30 years. All the time I have lived in Camden it was a white elephant. Torquil came along with this mad cap scheme. No one thought it would work, but he has done it. It is one of the great public services of our time. He has made the building into a mecca for music and dance. Its not just for the elite, there is so much on offer for young people to express themselves.
“If there was ever a case for the honours system, he deserves the highest there is.”
A new chair has yet to be appointed, but trustee Tony Elliott, who established Time Out magazine and has worked with Mr Norman on the board of the Roundhouse since 1998, said the former chairman would still be part of the fabric of the building, and how Torquil’s dedication meant many of the problems that arts venues face were overcome.
He said: “Because Torquil had bought the venue we did not have to worry about financing the purchase, and because the Norman Trust lent money to Roundhouse, we were not overly dependent on money from the Arts council or the Heritage Lottery Fund.
This was a great help in realising his dream. And although he is stepping down as chairman, no one expects him to disappear. What he is saying is here is an important organisation with a long term project, and that there should be some one new as the chairman. He has done what he intended to do, and he is happy to hand it over.”
Chief Executive Marcus Davey, who joined the Roundhouse in 1999, said Mr Norman had expressed a wish to move onto other projects which he was keeping under wraps. He said: “He is in his mid-70s and he wants to do other things. It will be a challenge to fill his shoes.”
A nominations committee has been set up for the voluntary job and a team of head hunters recruited to find a possible replacement.
Oscar nominated screenwriter Deborah Moggach, who lives in South End Green and was one of the centres donor, said of Mr Norman: “He is not condescending, he does not tell them what is good for them, he just knows what young people are into and he has this immense generosity. And through his understanding of peoples needs he gives them the tools to realise their potential.”



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