Monday, 4 February 2013
Norman Wisdom born 4 February 1915
Sir Norman Joseph Wisdom, OBE (4 February 1915 – 4 October 2010) was an English actor, comedian and singer-songwriter best known for a series of comedy films produced between 1953 and 1966 featuring his hapless onscreen character Norman Pitkin. These films initially made more money than the James Bond film series. Wisdom gained a celebrity status in lands as far apart as South America, Iran and many Eastern Bloc countries, particularly in Albania, where his films were the only ones by Western actors permitted by Enver Hoxha to be shown.
Norman Wisdom was born in in the London district of Marylebone. His parents were Frederick and Maud Wisdom (née Targett), who married in Marylebone in 1912. His father was a chauffeur and his mother a dressmaker who often worked for West End theatres. Wisdom’s mother left when he was nine, and after his parents divorced, he and his brother were left in the charge of their father, who disowned them. Both boys continued to attend St Luke's School in Fernhead Road and during this period, he and his elder brother would have to go to school barefoot - as the area was one of extreme poverty, this was not unusual. After a period in a children's home in Deal, Kent, Wisdom ran away from home when he was 11, but returned to become an errand boy with a grocery store on leaving school at 13. Later he was a coal-miner, a waiter, a pageboy and a cabin-boy n the Merchant Navy. He later claimed all the work at such a young age led to his left leg being half an inch (2.25 cm) shorter than his right.
On the outbreak of World War Two, Wisdom joined the 10th Hussars regiment of the British Army, and saw service in India. Like many away from home, he discovered his talent for entertainment. Wisdom discovered his while performing a comedy boxing routine in an army gym and began to develop his talents as a musician and stage entertainer.
Becoming a bandsman to pursue his interests, he joined the Royal Corps of Signals in 1943 at the Moray House Hotel (now the Carlton Hotel) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Leaving the army in 1946, Wisdom made his debut as a professional entertainer at the advanced age of 31 - but his rise to the top was phenomenally fast. Initially the straight man to the magician David Nixon, he had adopted the suit that would remain his trademark - tweed cap askew with peak turned up, a Suit at least two sizes too tight , crumpled collar and mangled tie. The character known as "the Gump" was the perfect antidote to the bleak austerity of post-war Britain, and was to dominate Wisdom's film career.
A West End star within two years, he made his TV debut the same year and was soon commanding enormous audiences. Sir Charlie Chaplin called Wisdom his "favourite clown."
Wisdom made a series of low-budget star-vehicle comedies for the Rank Organisation, beginning with Trouble in Store in 1953. Their cheerful, unpretentious appeal makes them the direct descendants of the films made a generation earlier by George Formby. Never highly thought of by the critics, they were very popular with domestic audiences and Wisdom's films out sold Sean Connery's James Bond features from 1955 through till 1966, and in some unlikely overseas markets helped Rank stay afloat financially when their more expensive film projects were unsuccessful.
Despite a move to filming in colour, by the mid-1960s Wisdom's commercial film appeal was in eclipse. The obvious incongruity of a fifty-year old man playing the Prime Minister's grandson in Press for Time (1966) counted against him - though Wisdom's age was inaccurately reported for many years.
In 1966, Wisdom went to America to star on Broadway in the James Van Heusen-Sammy Cahn musical comedy Walking Happy. His highly-acclaimed performance was Tony Award nominated. He also completed his first American film as a vaudeville comic in The Night They Raided Minsky's. After a typical performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the opportunities which might have been in the United States were cut short when he had to return to London when his second wife left him. His subsequent career was largely confined to television and he toured the world with his successful cabaret act.
He became prominent again in the 1990s, helped by the young comedian Lee Evans, whose act was heavily influenced by Wisdom's work. The highpoint of this new popularity was the knighthood he received in 1999 from Queen Elizabeth II. Also in the 1990s he appeared in the recurring role of Billy Ingleton in the long-running BBC comedy Last of the Summer Wine. The role was originally a one-off appearance, but proved so popular that he returned as the character on a number of occasions.
Wisdom announced his retirement from the entertainment industry on his ninetieth birthday, 4 February 2005. He announced that he intended to spend more time with his family, playing golf and driving around the Isle of Man, where he lived.
In mid-2006, after he suffered an irregular heart rhythm, Wisdom was flown by emergency helicopter to hospital in Liverpool, and after a few days was fitted with a heart pacemaker.
In 2007, he made a singular return to acting in the independent movie Expresso, shot in January and which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on the 27 May. In the film which raised funds for Macmillan Cancer Support, Wisdom plays a vicar plagued by a fly in a cafe. The film's producer Nigel Martin Davey gave him only a visual role so he would not have to remember any lines, but on the day Wisdom was alert and had his performance changed to add more laughs.
In August 2007, newspapers of the Daily Mail group and the Isle of Man Newspapers reported that Sir Norman was in the Abbotswood nursing home in Ballasalla, where he had become resident from 12 July 2007. On release of Espresso to DVD in the same month, BBC News confirmed that Wisdom lived in a care home, due to his suffering from vascular dementia. It was also reported that his children had secured full power of attorney over Sir Norman's affairs, and having sold off his Epsom, Surrey flat were now in the process of selling his Isle of Man home to raise money to fund his longer term care.
In an exclusive interview on 27 August with the News of the World, journalists were given access to Wisdom's room at the home, where he claimed to be happy and content in a routine which his family and carers considered kept him safe in spite of the memory losses associated with his condition.
On 16 January 2008, at 21.50 GMT, BBC2 aired "Wonderland: The Secret Life Of Norman Wisdom Aged 92 and 3/4," a documentary highlighting the dilemma of coping with an aging parent. In a spoken trailer on BBC Radio 5 live for the show, and in later publicity interviews undertaken by his family, it was stated that Sir Norman's memory loss is now so severe that he no longer recognizes himself in his own films.
In the six months prior to his death, Wisdom suffered a series of strokes, causing a decline in his physical and mental health. He was also diagnosed with dementia. He died on 4 October 2010 at Abbotswood nursing home on the Isle of Man at the age of 95.(Info Wikipedia)