Norman Wisdom

Norman Wisdom

Date of birth: 04-02-1915

Wisdom created one of the most enduring characters in screen comedy, the dishevelled, put-upon underdog in ill-fitting suit and tuned-up cap, struggling against the world ­ and his own clumsiness.

He was in the mould of the archetypal clown, parading his pratfalls and slapstick in more than a dozen films of the Fifties and Sixties - playing a character usually called Norman (and often Norman Pitkin). In three of the most celebrated - The Early Bird, The Square Peg and A Stitch In Time, he worked for a Mr Grimsdale, leading to the urgent cry that was to become his catchphrase.

There was struggle, too, in his own early life. His mother left home when he was nine, leaving him in the charge of his alcoholic father.

His father gave him away to a family in Deal, Kent. The young Norman eventually tracked down his father, only to have the door slammed in his face when he showed up. He never saw him again.

Leaving school at 13, he became an errand boy with a grocery store, He also worked as a a coal miner, waiter and cabin-boy, where the crew would make him box for money.

As a teenager, he slept rough on the streets until someone suggested he join the army, seeing service in India and finally finding somewhere he felt he belonged. He later said his time with the 10th Royal Hussars was the happiest of his life and it was in the military - like so many stars of his generation - that he discovered his love of performing.

He left the army in 1946 and made his stage debut at the late age of 31. But his rise was meteoric and he was a West End star within two years.

His success made him a natural for TV and then the films that made him such an icon. The underlying message of the goodness of the common man made his films, famously, the only Western entertainment allowed in Communist Albania, where he remains an unlikely folk hero.

Wisdom's career waned with the demise of black and white film.. His first colour picture, coming relatively late in 1965's The Early Bird, robbed his antics of their simple charm.

A few TV series in the Seventies spelt the decline of his career, and in 1980 moved to semi-retirement in the Isle of Man.

A knighthood in 2000 (he, of course, feigned a trip as he met the Queen) and well-placed cameos late in life in the likes of Coronation Street, Last Of The Summer Wine and the big-screen versions of Five Children And It have helped revive his profile. But he will always be known as the clumsy, well-meaning man with the signature tune Don't Laugh At Me 'Cos I'm A Fool.

 

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