Radio with Robin Ince – remembering Steve Norman with Radio 4’s The Untold

One man’s battle to get his washing done has proved to be an inspirational tale. Let the story of Steve 'Stormin' Norman and his dirty socks be a lesson to us all...

Last week’s The Untold on BBC Radio 4 was broadcast on the 60th birthday of Steve ‘Stormin’ Norman. It was one of those shows that can take what may be disguised as mundane and reveal that it is inspirational. The story began with the right to wash your socks after 8pm.

Steve lives in a block off the M5 in Bristol which houses single people, not always in the best of health, some fighting alcoholism, one a hoarder who’d had six tons of flotsam and jetsam removed from his previous house.

Steve described himself as “obstructive and belligerent, and why shouldn’t I be?”

With flats too small for washing machines, there was a communal laundry room, but without notification or consent, the council now locked it up between 8pm and 8am.

Steve was not having it. He was preparing for court.

“If I see injustice, I will stand up to it.”

Since 2004, Steve has given his life purpose by fighting the status quo and bureaucracy gone wrong, bureaucracy that ignores both pragmatism and compassion. He has tackled homelessness, pollution and housing conditions as well as being a support for individuals struggling to balance the necessities of life.

If I see injustice, I will stand up to it

He helps with childcare, gives lifts to people trying to make ends meet with multiple jobs, helps fill out forms – he is a gruff, bluff, belligerent support to people.

Growing up in the Seventies, the primetime mass media had more stories like this, helping create a richer picture of our society, making it harder to dismiss the marginalised via caricature.

Shortly before the court battle, something Steve is looking forward to, the launderette is open 24 hours again. He has his victory, though feels a little robbed from not having his chance to fight face to face.

And now we have to move from the present tense to the past.

He fought for people who had given up on the system or who had fallen through the cracks.

This show is a celebration of Steve. Sadly, it is also a eulogy. During the making of the documentary, Steve died. His many ailments, including diabetes and bronchial pneumonia, ended his life. For a man who didn’t neglect others, his death was considered to have been caused by self-neglect. All over the city of Bristol, scrawled graffiti appeared in paint and marker pen, “Rest in peace, Steve Norman, we’ll keep fighting”.

Described as relentless, he has infected others with his relentlessness and his passion for a fight. He fought for people who had given up on the system or who had fallen through the cracks.

Steve used his energy and confidence to inspire those who were unsure, those who lacked the confidence to take on councils and injustices. One young woman who had rarely attended school and never learnt to read was given The Diary of Anne Frank by Steve so she could read it on her phone. Each week, he would ask if she’d read more. He gave her the confidence to know there were things she could do that she thought would never be in her reach. Now she attends the council meetings, watches, listens and heckles now Steve can’t.

In the final words of his family: “We’re not going to be burying Steve, we’ll be planting seeds for the next generation.”