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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Corrie On Laughing

Comedians who have appeared in Coronation Street

As Vic Reeves signs up for Coronation Street, we look at some of the other famous comedians who have previously trod the cobbles...

1. Arthur Lowe

Before being immortalised as Dad's Army's Captain Mainwaring, Lowe was a long-serving cast member of Corrie, joining the show on its very first episode in 1960 and remaining until 1965, racking up 199 appearances. His character, a draper and lay preacher called Leonard Swindley, was so popular he spawned two spin-off series: the 1965 sitcom Pardon the Expression and its comedy-drama sequel Turn Out The Lights in 1967. A year later he got his call-up papers to join the fictional Home Guard of Warmington-on-Sea.

2. Peter Kay

Kay has actually appeared twice on the cobbles. The first time was in 1997, when he played a shopfitter. But her returned in 2004, playing Shelley's date, Eric Gartside, over a couple of episodes. A drayman at Newton & Ridley, he scared Shelley off for being such a mummy's boy.

3. Paddy McGuinness

Kay's old mukka turned Take Me Out host played Bear Grylls-style wilderness survival expert Dougie Ryan across six episodes. A boastful know-it-all, Dougie proved himself a bore when some characters took a week's break in Wales in 2015.

4. Norman Wisdom

In 2004, Wisdom, pictured, had a cameo role as Ernie Crabbe, a jogging pensioner who turned up at Jack and Vera Duckworth's house, gasping for breath, and interested in buying a bike the couple were selling. Ernie said he needed to get into shape for an inter-pub bowls challenge…

4. Bernard Manning

The controversial comic appeared as himself in a cameo role on Coronation Street in December 1971 – even though he had yet to achieve much fame outside his own Embassy Club at the time. In fact, Corrie was only his second TV appearance. According to the Coronation Street Wiki, his niece, Francesca Manning, also appeared in the programme as Sandra Milligan in 2002 and as an unnamed bouncer in March 2010.

6. Sean Hughes

Five years after leaving Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Hughes joined the Corrie cast in 2007 as smooth-talking salesman Pat Stanaway, who struck up a flirtatious relationship with Street Cars operator Eileen Grimshaw – despite being a married man. His story arc lasted 12 episodes – ending with Eileen punching him in the face .

7. Justin Moorhouse

The stand-up has appeared on Corrie twice. In 2011, he played Duggie, who delivered a car to Sally Webster , and in 2014 he was Dean Upton, landlord of The Flying Horse, a rival of the Rovers' Return, in two episodes, in which the two pubs vied in a cricket match.

Coronation Street

8. June Whitfield

The doyenne of British comedy appeared in three episodes in May 2010 as May Penn, who visited Wetherfield to tell Deirdre Barlow about the death of her mother, Blanche. The characters were friends in Portugal, and May also attended Blanche's funeral

9. Roy Hudd

Whitfield's regular collaborator, Roy Hudd has regularly appeared as good-natured undertaker Archie Shuttleworth since 2002, making 117 appearances. He was Blanche's companion, before falling for Audrey Roberts. He last appeared at the funeral of Blanche in 2010, reuniting Hudd with Whifield.

10. Max Wall

The pigeon-legged comic played a character called Harry Payne in the Street for four episodes in 1978 and 1979. He also appeared in Crossroads and Emmerdale.

And some of the rest…

As well as famous names with substantial Corrie pars such as Craig Charles and Les Dennis, various circuit comedians have also appeared on the show.

Gareth Berliner played Macca on-and-off from 2014 to 2016, making 22 appearances in all. Initially described as a 'loveable rogue', he became an increasingly unsavoury character, after his half-brother Clayton Hibbs murdered Kylie Platt.

In 2016, Alun Cochrane is played a character called Dom, described as a 'fairly ordinary, friendly, northern bloke' who got caught in the crossfire of a feud at a school reunion.

John Shuttleworth creator Graham Fellows has taken two roles in the soap: first as a young man who chatted up Gail Potter whilst she was waiting for a date in January 1979. Then he returned as Les Charlton who had a platonic friendship with Gail in the summer of 1992.

Toby Hadoke and Archie Kelly have both played three roles: Kelly was a football referee in 2005, an enquiry officer manning the front desk at Weatherfield Police Station in 2010 and kebab shops' owner Terry Howarth in 2016.

And Hadoke played the vicar who married Curly and Emma Taylor in December 2000; a solicitor in 2004 and a doctor in 2009.

John Warburton played coach driver Barry Sidwell for an episode in February 2009; and long before he was a comedian, Adam Riches played an unnamed waiter in both October 1998 and June 1999.

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Published: 22 May 2017

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