Goodbye to comic actor Norman Wisdom

ONE of the country’s best-loved comic actors, who was born and grew up in Marylebone, has died aged 95.

Sir Norman Wisdom, who was best known for his slapstick film roles in the 1950s and 60s, passed away on Monday after suffering a series of strokes over the past six months.

The comic star, who was knighted in 2000, was described by Charlie Chaplin as his favourite clown and became an unlikely Albanian cult hero, Pitkini.

Indeed when he visited the country to watch the England football team play in 2001 he proved more popular than David Beckham.

With a career spanning more than half a century, Sir Norman appeared in numerous films and television programmes, but will be best remembered for his role as downtrodden everyman Norman Pitkin, ‘The Gump’.

He was always depicted as the little man struggling against a dominating boss and comically failing before succeeding just in the nick of time.

Wisdom’s own life was an uphill struggle. Born in Marylebone on February, 4, 1915, he grew up in poverty, describing his childhood as “straight out of a Charles Dickens’ novel”.

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His mother left home when he was 11 and his “brutal” father put him and his brother into care.

He ran away at 14 to work as a waiter but was quickly sacked for dropping a tray down a lift shaft – not dissimilar to the antics that would prove so popular in his film capers.

After working as a cabin boy sailing to Argentina, he returned to London where he began living rough on the streets before joining the army and learning to play numerous instruments.

Shortly before the Second World War broke out he married his first wife Doreen, a fish and chip shop assistant.

His big break came in 1945 when, billed as ‘The Successful Failure’, he produced an act that combined his experiences as life’s victim and a gormless, loveable idiot.

Within 18 months he was top of the bill in the West End and signed with the Rank organisation for whom he made 19 films during the 1950s and 60s.

With the appeal of slapstick comedy dwindling he headed to Broadway before divorcing his second wife Freda Simpson and gaining full custody of their children Nicholas, born 1953, and Jacqueline, born 1954.

He appeared sporadically in TV shows – most recently starring as Billy Ingleton in Last of the Summer Wine – until his retirement from entertainment on his 90th birthday in 2005.

It was on a trip to Albania in 1995 that he discovered his cult status owing to the fact that his films were the only western cinema deemed suitable for viewing during the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha.

On receiving his knighthood in 2000, Sir Norman, always looking for the next laugh, did his trademark trip. The Queen was said to be amused.