A statement from the home said: "Sir Norman has today passed away at Abbotswood Nursing Home on the Isle of Man. He had maintained a degree of independence up until a few days ago. However, his condition rapidly declined. He was in no pain or distress and peacefully passed away at 6:40pm. We would appreciate that, at this sad time, the family be given space and privacy to grieve for their much loved father and grandfather. Details of funeral arrangements will be forthcoming as soon as everything has been finalised."
Wisdom, who retired from acting in 2004, made his name in a series of 1950s slapstick roles. He was in the mould of the archetypal clown, parading his pratfalls and slapstick in nineteen films of the 50s and 60s for the Rank Organisation ? playing a character usually called 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.
Charlie Chaplin is once alleged to have described Norman as his own favourite physical comedian. Like Chaplin, Norman's early life had been full of hardship. His mother left home when he was nine, leaving him and his brother, Fred, in the care of their alcoholic father. Norman's father gave the brothers away to a family in Deal, Kent soon afterwards. The young Norman eventually tracked down his father, only to have the door slammed in his face.
Leaving school at thirteen, Norman became an errand boy with a grocery store. He also worked as a coal miner, a waiter and a 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 that he felt he belonged.
He would later say that his time with the Tenth 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 natural love of performing. He became a bandsman, graduated to concert parties, and honed his comic skills. He left the army in 1946 and made his stage debut at the late age of thirty one. But his rise thereafter was fairly meteoric and he was a West End star within two years.
Later, in the 1960s, he seemed destined for a lengthy film career in American film, making an acclaimed appearance as a vaudeville burlesque comic in The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968). This followed a triumphant Broadway debut in Jimmy van Heusen and Sammy Cahn's Walking Happy, his performance for which was Tony-nominated. However, after a typical showstopping performance on The Ed Sullivan Show had won him a legion of new fans Stateside, the opportunities which may have been in the United States were cut short when he had to return to London after his second wife, Freda, left him.
Bringing up the couple's two teenage children himself, Norman's subsequent career was largely confined to television though he later toured the world with his successful cabaret act. He won critical acclaim in 1981 for his dramatic role as a dying cancer patient in the BBC play Going Gently. He also appeared in a number of TV sitcoms, including his own A Little Bit Of Wisdom and a nine-year stint on Last of the Summer Wine.
The underlying message of the goodness of the common man made his movies, famously, the only Western entertainment allowed to be shown in Communist Albania, where he remains an unlikely, and genuine, folk hero ? mobbed in the streets by adoring fans on his occasional visits to the country. A knighthood in 2000 (he, of course, feigned a trip as he met the Queen) and later well-placed cameos in the likes of Coronation Street and the big-screen versions of Five Children and It helped to revive his profile.
But he will always be best remembered as the clumsy, well-meaning man of his signature tune 'Don't Laugh At Me (Cause I'm A Fool).' He had a lengthy association with the North East, often visiting the region to see friends and entertain fans at St James' Park where he was always introduced to the crowd as a lifelong Newcastle fan. (Although, apparently, he occasionally did the same at both Arsenal and Everton! He was actually a member of the board of directors at Brighton & Hove Albion.) He famously appeared as a half-time guest at the England vs Albania 2001 World Cup qualifier at Newcastle and managed not to trip up when scoring a penalty at the Leazes End.
At the age of 90, he was still working, appearing in a video for a charity single by the Manx all-girl punk band, Twisted Angels. "We had some great laughs on the set and it was wonderful for me to be in front of the cameras again," he said.
On 28 December 2008, Sky News prematurely announced that Norman had died, running a pre-recorded obituary, both as part of its rolling broadcast coverage and on its website. Shortly afterwards, when it became apparent that other news sites were not carrying the story, Sky dropped the story, stating that it had been published in error in response to e-mail queries.
Sadly, his last few years saw Norman becoming increasing frail and suffering from vascular dementia. In early 2008, BBC2 aired Wonderland: The Secret Life Of Norman Wisdom Aged Ninety Two And Three-Quarters, a moving, if somewhat surreal, documentary highlighting the dilemma of coping with an ageing, yet independent-minded parent. In a spoken trailer on 5Live for the programme and in subsequent publicity interviews undertaken by his family, it was revealed that Wisdom's memory loss had become so severe that he could no longer recognise himself in his own films.
Once asked to sum up his appeal, Norman replied: "My comedy is for children from three to ninety three. You do need a slightly childish sense of humour and if you haven't got that, it's very sad."
He is survived by his two children, Nick and Jacqui.
This tribute appeared originally on Keith "Telly" Topping's Blog: From the North....
Note: the following content is not moderated or vetted by the site owners at the time of submission. Comments are the responsibility of the poster. Disclaimer
1 Posted 05/10/2010 at 18:46:38
2 Posted 05/10/2010 at 19:50:12
3 Posted 05/10/2010 at 19:52:16
How do I know this? ?because I went for the part of his son along with 200 or so other kids. Along with a girl and another young lad, I luckily got the gig.
It was filmed in a great big old hotel overlooking the sea, called The Grand Hotel. Happy days... and Everton were not far off winning the league.
4 Posted 05/10/2010 at 21:11:23
Second only to the great Evertonian (and ex-Granby St man) Leonard Rossiter as a comic actor
HTF no-marks like Brand & Co can be called comedians compared to these two is beyond belief
5 Posted 05/10/2010 at 22:27:21
6 Posted 05/10/2010 at 23:14:19
Class act. A good, long life for a great man.
Rest in Peace, Norman.
7 Posted 06/10/2010 at 00:00:53
It's a shame he's gone.
8 Posted 06/10/2010 at 00:41:27
9 Posted 06/10/2010 at 05:30:10
10 Posted 06/10/2010 at 08:39:15
I hope they show lots of his films as a tribute so I can show them to my kids.
11 Posted 06/10/2010 at 13:00:00
12 Posted 06/10/2010 at 14:44:35
13 Posted 06/10/2010 at 16:15:53
The likes of Tarbuck, Boardman totally unfunny and redshite as well, it doesnt get any worse than that for a scouser.
14 Posted 06/10/2010 at 18:58:14
15 Posted 07/10/2010 at 19:28:50
16 Posted 08/10/2010 at 00:58:58
17 Posted 08/10/2010 at 10:00:33
He has obviously inspired much of our play since 1987.
18 Posted 08/10/2010 at 19:22:51
19 Posted 08/10/2010 at 19:36:35
By the way I was payed the Monaco rate of £35 for my efforts. Not that I ever saw the money, GRR.
It was good fun and I still remember how hot the lights were. PLEASE GIVE ME WATER.
Bit of history for you, the guy who designed the hotel (I thought it was called the Grand but it may have been the Palace) actually hung himself because the whole building was erected back to front. The main doors were facing away from the sea.
Exploring the coridoors I found the building to be very very spooky even more so than the "Overlook".
But you would aged twelve.
20 Posted 08/10/2010 at 19:51:01
Do you still live in Southport? Did you audition at the Scarisbrick hotel on that glorious Saturday?
Add Your Comments
In order to post a comment to Fan Articles, you need to be logged in as a registered user of the site.
Or Sign up as a ToffeeWeb Member — it's free, takes just a few minutes and will allow you to post your comments on articles and MailBag submissions across the site.