Norman Wisdom was born in Marylebone, London, in 1915, into a family that was soon to fall apart. His father drank, was sometimes violent and, after one of their many rows, Norman's mother left home. Norman was just 9 years old when he, and his older brother, were placed in care, their father eventually disowning them. The brothers later found themselves homeless and Norman used to sleep rough behind a statue near Victoria Station. He kept body and soul together by scrounging cups of Bovril and meat pies from a man who ran a late-night stall. When he was 14, Norman, took three weeks to walk from London to South Wales, where he got a job with the Merchant Navy as a cabin boy on a coal ship, travelling between Wales and Argentina.
Norman Wisdom is a well known film icon in Albania, where he is known as 'Mr Pitkin'. He was the only western actor whose films were allowed in the country during the Communist dictatorship of Erven Hoxha. Hoxha regarded 'Pitkin' as representing 'the workers' struggling against capitalism embodied in characters played by Jerry Desmonde and Edward Chapman (the pompous Mr Grimsdale!)
From the 1970s onwards, Norman Wisdom has made infrequent appearances in TV shows, most notably as a dying cancer patient in Going Gently (1978), but it is as the 'Gump' that he will be most fondly remembered.
A later success for Wisdom came in the low-budget comedy What's Good for the Goose (1969), but his film career was, by now, over.
The final film in this long-running series of comedies was Press For Time (1966). Again in colour and with some attractive seaside locations, Norman Wisdom plays four different characters - a suffragette, her son, a sewer-man and the Prime Minister!
In an attempt to revive his successes, Wisdom's next film The Early Bird (1965) was made in colour. Norman Pitkin helps to run a small dairy, with its horse-drawn milk floats, threatened by the advances of a larger, modern organisation - with a disasterous consequence. The usual regulars, Jerry Desmonde and Edward Chapman are joined by other film stalwarts of the time - Bryan Pringle, John Le Mesurier, Peter Jeffries and Frank Thornton. The film is well known for Wisdom's catchphrase, "Mr Grimsdale!".
A year later came Man of the Moment (1955), followed by Up in the World (1956), Just My Luck (1957), The Square Peg (1958), Follow a Star (1959), The Bulldog Breed (1960), On the Beat (1962) and A Stitch in Time (1963). All of these films were made in black & white and, as they were all variations on the same theme, with similar characters, the public later began to tire of them and audiences declined.
One Good Turn (1954) quickly followed Trouble in Store, and featured Thora Hird. This time, Norman is an orphanage employee who works hard to earn money to buy one of the children a toy car.
Rank aimed to make one film a year until 1960. Each followed the pattern set in Trouble in Store with the incompetent Norman trying, but invariably failing, to impress his 'straight-man' boss - usually Jerry Desmonde or Edward Chapman.
The first of these was Trouble in Store (1953) with Wisdom playing an inept stockroom assistant in a large department store, where he eventually becomes a hero by foiling a robbery attempt by a gang of thieves. The film featured Margaret Rutherford as an elderly shoplifter, along with Wisdom's regular 'straight man' Jerry Desmonde, and Lana Morris to provide the 'love interest'! The film also showed off Wisdom's musical abilities and includes his biggest hit, "Don't Laugh at Me", which became his signature tune. The film proved a huge box office success, and won Wisdom a BAFTA as 'Most Promising Newcomer'.
Wisdom left the army in 1946 and, at Rex Harrison's suggestion, became a professional entertainer. He developed his character, the 'Gump', an incompetent clown with a tweed cap with a turned-up peak, tightly fitting jacket, and trousers an inch too short. This character became very popular with audiences all over the country, including London's West End. Rank Films seized the opportunity to sign a contract with him to make a series of low-budget comedy films.
Norman Wisdom later joined the army, where he discovered his talents as an entertainer. He learnt to dance, play several instruments and develop the comedy mannerisms for which he would later be famous.
The Albanians grew to love Wisdom's slapstick comedy, and after the fall of the Communist regime, he became increasingly involved in charity work, raising money to build orphanages there, and visiting the country from time to time.
In 1991, Norman Wisdom won a 'Lifetime Achievement' award for comedy; in 1995 he received the OBE and the Queen knighted him in 2000 for his services to entertainment.
Norman Wisdom was married to Freda Simpson until they divorced in 1969. He had a son, Nicholas, and a daughter, Jacqueline. Freda was Norman's second wife, his first marriage in 1939 lasted just three months!
Norman Wisdom lived on the Isle of Man where he was a big supporter of the charity, Mencap.
Norman is 'arrested' by an Albanian policeman!
Norman & Freda Wisdom
Norman Wisdom as Bernard Flood
in Going Gently (1981)
Norman, with Jacqueline & Nicholas
Norman Wisdom with Jason Robards in
The Night They Raided Minsky's
(above & right) Norman Wisdom in
Press For Time (1966)
Norman Wisdom in One Good Turn
Norman Wisdom with Johnny Briggs in
The Bulldog Breed
Norman Wisdom in Up In The World
The Early Bird
(above & below) Norman Wisdom in
Wisdom with Edward Chapman in
A Stitch in Time
Trouble In Store
in Trouble In Store
Wisdom with Jerry Desmonde in
Follow A Star
(left & above) Norman Wisdom in
With Norman at Autographica in June 2006
Norman Wisdom in Just My Luck
Norman Wisdom in On The Beat
Norman Wisdom in The Square Peg
Norman Wisdom & Margaret Rutherford
Autobiography My Turn
I have enjoyed Norman Wisdom's comedy films since I was very small and I have seen all of them. So it was a wonderful moment when I got to meet him at Autographica in June 2006. He signed some items for me including photographs and a copy of his book My Turn. He was delightful - just how I imagined he would be.
I am very proud of this photo taken at the dinner, with us both wearing our tuxedos!
Sir Norman Wisdom after receiving his knighthood
Norman signing my copy of his
"Norman is my favourite clown"
Norman personalised this photograph for me
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Sir Norman Wisdom (1915-2010)
Sir Norman Wisdom died on 4th October 2010.