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Golden Light. And The Life and Death of Sir Norman Wisdom.

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posted by alias pepandtim on Thursday 21st of January 2021 01:11:22 AM

The Postcard A postcard that was published by Rex and printed in France. The card was posted in Coventry on Thursday the 4th. February 1915 to: Miss Z. Rainbow, 75, King Edward Road, Hillfields, Coventry. The message on the divided back was as follows: "Dear Zillah, Wishing you many happy returns of the day. From Beat". Sir Norman Wisdom, OBE So what else happened on the day that Beat posted the card? Well, the 4th. February 1915 marked the birth of Norman Wisdom. Sir Norman Joseph Wisdom, OBE became an English actor, comedian and singer-songwriter, best known for a series of comedy films produced between 1953 and 1966 featuring his hapless on-screen character that was often called Norman Pitkin. Charlie Chaplin once referred to Wisdom as his "Favourite Clown". Wisdom gained celebrity status in lands as far apart as South America, Iran and many Eastern Bloc countries, particularly in Albania where his films were virtually the only ones by Western actors permitted by dictator Enver Hoxha to be shown. Wisdom later forged a career on Broadway in New York City and as a television actor, winning critical acclaim for his dramatic role as a dying cancer patient in the television play Going Gently in 1981. After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, a hospice was named in his honour. In 1995, he was given the Freedom of the City of London and of Tirana. The same year, he was appointed OBE, and was knighted five years later. Sir Norman Wisdom - The Early Years Norman was born in St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. His parents were Frederick, a chauffeur, and Maud Wisdom (née Targett), a dressmaker who often worked for West End theatres, and who had made a dress for Queen Mary. The family lived at 91 Fernhead Road, Maida Vale, London W9, where they slept in one room. He and his brother were brought up in extreme poverty, and were frequently hit by their father. After a period in a children's home in Deal, Kent, Wisdom ran away when he was 11, but returned to become an errand boy in a grocer's shop on leaving school at 13. Having been kicked out of his home by his father he became homeless, and in 1929 he walked (by his own account) to Cardiff, Wales, where he became a cabin boy in the Merchant Navy. He later also worked as a waiter. Norman Wisdom's Military Service Norman first enlisted into the King's Own Royal Regiment, but his mother had him discharged as he was under age. He later re-enlisted as a drummer boy in the 10th. Royal Hussars of the British Army. In 1930, he was posted to Lucknow, in British India, as a bandsman. There he rode horses, became the flyweight boxing champion of the British Army in India, and learned to play the trumpet and clarinet. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Wisdom was sent to work in a communications centre in a command bunker in London, where he connected telephone calls from war leaders to the prime minister. He met Winston Churchill on several occasions when asked for updates on incoming calls. Wisdom then joined the Royal Corps of Signals, and performed a similar military function at the unit headquarters in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Whilst performing a shadow boxing routine in an army gym, Wisdom discovered that he had a talent for engaging an audience, and began to develop his skills as a musician and stage entertainer. In 1940 at the age of 25, at a NAAFI entertainment night, during a dance routine, Wisdom stepped down from his position in the orchestra pit, and started shadow boxing. Hearing his colleagues and officers giggling, he broke into a duck waddle, followed by a series of facial expressions. He later described the reaction as: "They were in hysterics. All the officers were falling about laughing." Wisdom later said that this was where he first created his persona of "The Successful Failure". Over the next few years, until he was demobilised in 1945, his routine included his characteristic singing and the trip-up-and-stumble routine. After Wisdom appeared at a charity concert at Cheltenham Town Hall, the actor Rex Harrison came backstage and urged him to become a professional entertainer. Norman Wisdom as a Comic Entertainer After being demobilised, Wisdom worked as a private hire car driver. Having improved his diction in the army, he also took a job as a night telephone operator. Wisdom made his debut as a professional entertainer at the age of 31; his rise to the top was phenomenally fast. Initially the straight man to the magician David Nixon, he had already adopted the costume that would remain his trademark: tweed flat cap askew, with peak turned up; a suit at least two sizes too tight; a crumpled collar and a mangled tie. The character that went with this costume — known as the Gump — was to dominate Wisdom's film career. A West End theatre star within two years, he honed his performance skills mainly between theatres in London and Brighton: "I spent virtually all of those years on the road. You could keep incredibly busy just performing in pantomimes and revues. There was a whole generation of performers who learned everything on the stage". Wisdom made his TV debut in 1948, and was soon commanding enormous audiences. Norman Wisdom's Film Career Norman's first film role was a small part in A Date with a Dream released in 1948. He made a series of low-budget star-vehicle comedies for the Rank Organisation, beginning with Trouble in Store in 1953. This film earned him a BAFTA Award in 1954 for Most Promising Newcomer to Film. It was the second most popular film at the British box-office in 1954, and exhibitors voted him the tenth biggest star at the British box office the same year. His films' cheerful, unpretentious appeal made them the direct descendants of those 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 were among Britain's biggest box-office successes of their day. Norman's films were also successful in some unlikely overseas markets, helping Rank stay afloat financially when their more expensive film projects were unsuccessful. His films usually involved the Gump character, usually called Norman, in a manual occupation in which he is barely competent and in a junior position to a straight man, often played by Edward Chapman (as Mr. Grimsdale) or Jerry Desmonde. They benefited from Wisdom's capacity for physical slapstick comedy and his skill at creating a sense of the character's helplessness. The series often contained a romantic subplot; the Gump's inevitable awkwardness with women is a characteristic shared with the earlier Formby vehicles. His innocent incompetence still made him endearing to the heroine. Wisdom's second film as star, One Good Turn (1955), was the seventh most popular movie of 1955 in Great Britain. He made a cameo appearance in As Long as They're Happy (1955), then returned in Man of the Moment (1955). He was the 6th. most popular star of 1955. Wisdom was a window cleaner in Up in the World (1956) and worked in a jewellery store in Just My Luck (1957). The box office receipts of these last few films had declined from previous Wisdom films, but The Square Peg (1959), an army comedy, reversed the trend and was one of the year's biggest hits. The film was the 7th. most popular movie at the British box office in 1959. Less successful was Follow a Star (1959). There Was a Crooked Man (1960) was an attempt to change Wisdom's image. The Bulldog Breed (1960) was more conventional. The film also starred a young Michael Caine who later recalled he did not enjoy working with Wisdom because: "He wasn't very nice to support-part actors". Wisdom was in The Girl on the Boat (1961) from a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, a second film away from the Rank formula. On the Beat (1962) as a car cleaner, and A Stitch in Time (1963), in which he was cast as an apprentice butcher, returned him to the regular format. The Early Bird (1965), his first colour film, had Wisdom as a milkman. After a cameo in The Sandwich Man (1966), Wisdom starred in Press for Time (1966), the last film in this sequence of starring vehicles. Norman Wisdom's Later Career In 1966, Wisdom spent a short period in the United States to star in a Broadway production of the Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn musical comedy Walking Happy. His performance was nominated for a Tony Award. This led to Wisdom's being cast as a vaudeville comic in his first Hollywood movie, The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968). Back in England he tried to change his image slightly in What's Good for the Goose (1969), which featured a topless scene, but it was financially unsuccessful. Wisdom was one of several actors initially considered for the role of Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. However, he turned the role down, and it eventually went to Michael Crawford. The creator of the series Raymond Allen later stated: "Norman Wisdom was offered the role but turned it down because he didn't find it funny". On the 31st. December 1976, Wisdom performed his theme song "Don't Laugh at Me ('Cause I'm a Fool)" on BBC1's A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen Elizabeth II's impending Silver Jubilee. Wisdom had performed in front of the Queen at many Royal Command Performances, the first being in 1952. After a typical performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, further US opportunities were denied him when he had to return to London after his second wife left him. Norman's subsequent career was largely confined to television, although he also toured the world with a successful cabaret act. After touring South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia with some success, his appearances in Britain became more infrequent. Norman spent much of the 1980's in seclusion on the Isle of Man. Wisdom's career revived in the 1990's, helped by the young comedian Lee Evans, whose act was often compared to Wisdom's work. His films for Rank were playing to new audiences via television screenings, with young fans in the United Kingdom and abroad. The high point of this new popularity was the knighthood he was awarded for services to entertainment, in the 2000 New Year's honours list. During the ceremony, once he had received his knighthood, he walked away and again performed his trademark trip, at which the Queen smiled and laughed. From 1995 until 2004 Norman 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. In 1996, he received a Special Achievement Award from the London Film Critics. Wisdom was a guest on This Is Your Life in 2000 for actor and director Todd Carty. He appeared as a half-time guest at the England vs Albania 2002 World Cup qualifier at St James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, and scored a penalty at the Leazes End. In 2002 Wisdom filmed a cameo role as a butler in a low-budget horror film. In 2004, he made an appearance on Coronation Street, playing fitness fanatic pensioner Ernie Crabbe. Norman Wisdom's Popularity in Albania Wisdom was a well-known performer in Albania, where he was one of the very few Western actors whose films were allowed in the country under Enver Hoxha. According to Hoxha's dialectical materialist viewpoint, proletarian Norman's ultimately victorious struggles against capitalism, personified by Mr Grimsdale and the effete aristocratic characters played by Jerry Desmonde, were a Communist parable of the class war. He was known as Mr Pitkin after the character from his films. In 1995, he visited the post-Stalinist country where, to his surprise, he was greeted by many appreciative fans, including the then-President, Sali Berisha. During this trip, Wisdom was filmed by Newsnight as he visited a children's project funded by ChildHope UK. On a visit in 2001, which coincided with the England football team playing Albania in the city of Tirana, his appearance at the training ground overshadowed that of David Beckham. Norman appeared on the pitch before the start of the Albania v England match wearing a half-Albanian and half-English football shirt. He was well received by the crowd, especially when he performed one of his trademark trips on his way out to the centre circle. In 1995 Wisdom was made an honorary citizen of Tirana. In his book and TV series One Hit Wonderland, Tony Hawks united with Wisdom and, along with Tim Rice, released a single, "Big in Albania", in an attempt to enter the Albanian pop charts. It reached number 18 on the Top Albania Radio chart. Norman Wisdom's Retirement In October 2004, Wisdom announced that he would retire from the entertainment industry on his 90th. birthday (4th. 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 was living. However in 2007, Wisdom returned to acting in a short film directed by Kevin Powis, Expresso. The film, which Wisdom later announced was to be officially his last film role, is set during one day in a coffee shop. Shot in January, it premièred at the Cannes Film Festival on the 27th. May 2007. It was later adopted by the UK charity Macmillan, and released on DVD in aid of the charity. In the film, Wisdom plays a vicar plagued by a fly in a café. Producer Nigel Martin Davey gave him only a visual role so that he would not have to remember any lines, but on the day, Wisdom was alert and had his performance changed to add more laughs. Norman Wisdom's Personal Life Wisdom was married twice. His first wife was Doreen Brett, whom he married in 1941. By 1944 they had separated when Doreen gave birth to a son, Michael (born 1944), fathered by Albert Gerald Hardwick, a telephone engineer. The marriage was dissolved in 1946. He married his second wife, Freda Isobel Simpson in 1947; they had two children: Nicholas (born 1953, who later played first-class cricket for Sussex) and Jacqueline (born 1954). The couple divorced in 1969, with Wisdom granted full custody of the children. Freda Wisdom died in Brighton in 1992. Popular in the Isle of Man, Norman lived for 27 years in a house in Andreas named Ballalough (Manx for "lake farm", also a humorous corruption of the English "belly laugh"). Norman supported various charities and charitable works, including orphanages in Albania. In 2005 Wisdom starred in a video for the Manx girl group Twisted Angels, for their single "LA", in support of the local charity Project 21. In 1968 Norman was involved in a famous legal case (Wisdom v Chamberlain) in which he was pursued by the Inland Revenue for tax on profits made from the sale of silver bullion he had bought when concerned about the further devaluation of sterling. Norman contended that it was an investment, but the court held that it had been a trading venture, and was duly chargeable to income tax. Norman Wisdom's Interests Wisdom was a lifelong supporter and a former board member of football team Brighton & Hove Albion. He also followed Everton and Newcastle United. He enjoyed golf, and was a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats. He was also an honorary member of the Winkle Club, a charity in Hastings, East Sussex. In 1963, he bought a new motor yacht. The 94 feet (29 m) long hull and superstructure were built in Spain for £80,000, before being towed to Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, for fitting out. After three years of extensive works and sea trials, she was named M/Y Conquest and valued at £1.25 million by insurers. It was available for charter at £6,000, a month but Wisdom later sold it, saying that he was "no sailor". A lover of cars, his collection included a 1956 Bentley S1 Continental R Type fastback, which he first bought in 1961, and then again in the late 1980's. In 1969, after the divorce from Freda Simpson, he bought a Shelby Cobra 427 CSX3206 in New York, which he kept until 1986, when it was sold to another car enthusiast in Brighton. Until his age and declining mental health meant he failed a Department of Transport fitness-to-drive test, he owned and drove a 1987 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit and a Jaguar S-Type, which were both sold in September 2005. Allegations of Inappropriate Behaviour Actress Fenella Fielding, who worked with Wisdom on his 1959 film Follow a Star, said: "He was not a very pleasant man. Always making a pass – hand up your skirt first thing in the morning. Not exactly a lovely way to start a day's filming." Lynda Bellingham, who worked with Wisdom on A Little Bit of Wisdom, recalled a comedy sketch where: "For ten minutes I stood there while he basically touched me up and you couldn't say anything because he was the master of comedy." Singer Tina Charles, who had a number one with "I Love To Love" in 1976, alleged that Wisdom molested her in his dressing room when she was 16. Norman Wisdom's Health Decline and Death In mid-2006, after Norman suffered an irregular heart rhythm, he was flown by helicopter to hospital in Liverpool and was fitted with a heart pacemaker. On the release of Expresso to DVD, BBC News confirmed that Wisdom lived in a care home because of his suffering from vascular dementia. It was also reported that he had granted his children power of attorney over his affairs and, having sold off his flat in Epsom, Surrey, they were now in the process of selling his Isle of Man home to raise money to fund his longer-term care. On the 16th. January 2008, BBC2 aired Wonderland: The Secret Life Of Norman Wisdom Aged 92 and ¾. The documentary highlighted the dilemma of coping with an ageing parent. His family said that Wisdom's memory loss had become so severe that he no longer recognised himself in his 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 died on the 4th. October 2010 at Abbotswood Nursing Home on the Isle of Man at the age of 95. Norman's funeral took place on the 22nd. October 2010 in Douglas, Isle of Man, and all of the island were invited. His trademark cloth cap was placed on the coffin in the church. The funeral was attended by a large number of showbusiness personalities and, at Wisdom's request, Moira Anderson sang "Who Can I Turn To", which was specially arranged for the occasion by Gordon Cree. Wisdom's body was buried at Kirk Bride Churchyard, Bride, Isle of Man. Tributes and Other References Norman Wisdom was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions: In December 1957 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Playhouse Theatre, Manchester, and in February 1987, when Andrews surprised him at St. Margaret's Tavern Twickenham, on his 72nd. birthday. In 2007, a Norman Wisdom-themed bar opened at the Sefton Hotel, Douglas, called Sir Norman's. It has stills from his many films on the walls, and TV screens playing some clips from his old films. The bronze statue of Wisdom, which used to be on a bench outside Douglas Town Hall, has been moved to the steps leading into the hotel bar on Harris Promenade. Wisdom featured on the BBC Radio 4 series Desert Island Discs in August 2000. Of the eight songs he chose, four were performed by Wisdom himself (including his favourite, 'Don't Laugh at Me 'Cos I'm a Fool'), while a fifth was a duet with Joyce Grenfell. The 2011 film My Week with Marilyn features impersonator Glenn Michael Ford playing Norman Wisdom in a background scene. A Wetherspoon pub in Deal, Kent, where Wisdom ran away from the children's home, was named The Sir Norman Wisdom in his honour when it opened in March 2013. In 2015 Wisdom of a Fool, a new one-man play based on the life of Norman Wisdom opened at The Capitol Theatre, Horsham, in Wisdom's centenary year. A UK tour began at Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in 2016 and continued into 2018. Final Thoughts From Sir Norman Wisdom "I was born in very sorry circumstances. Both of my parents were very sorry." "I was born in London, and went to school in Scotland - I used to be dead tired when I got home at night." "I like consistency. If you've had a childhood like mine, you want some things you can rely on to stay the same." "All my boyhood, all I ever wanted was to be loved." "My father used to be away for months at a time, and he'd never leave any money for food, so my brother and I had to go out and nick it." "I've been extremely lucky having been in the army when I was a boy of fourteen." "I owe everything to the army." "I believe in physical comedy, because that reaches out most to people." "I've done seven shows at the Palladium - long running shows I'm talking about." "What I like doing most is making children laugh." "Most of my comedies were low on budgets - certainly by American standards." "There are people who like just ordinary comedy fun, and making mistakes - which I do easily - and then there are people who like the falling over." "My comedy is for children from three to 93. You do need a slightly childish sense of humour, and if you haven't got that, it's very sad." "When you're as famous as I am, stories take on a life of their own." "My only phobia is untidiness. My hair has to be neatly kept; my shoes are always clean. Everything has to be in a straight line, in its place." "I don't know nothing about Communism. But I know the Albanians loved me. Same reason as anyone else loves me. Because I made them laugh." "I can never tell a joke, I've always found it easier to just fall over." "But no, I've just been very lucky. But I've worked hard, and the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get." "I've an idea for doing a Situation Comedy myself, but its always difficult to get people to listen to you because they like to put their own ideas forward." "Years ago, there was a variety theatre in every British town, and people paid to go down and see it. Comedy was the main part of the theatre, and comedians earned a living by being funny. Now you have comedy in television instead. Comedians now have to be funny within a play." "It was smashing working with Jerry Desmonde, he was a very nice chap." "It was absolutely thrilling to meet Laurel and Hardy, they were so nice." "I was in the band as a boy, and was taught music and learned to compose." "I play drums, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, french horn, and piano." "I do play drums when I'm on tour." "I've been making people laugh for 40 years, so I know how important it is!" "Don't get me wrong: I'm overjoyed with my career to date. But perhaps I could have done more. Mostly, I just did whatever the directors told me to do." "You see I'm semi-retired now and don't work all the time, only most of it!" "I have a folder where I keep all the articles the critics have written about me. It makes me feel good." "I've always had a sense of humour, and I still do, so I just want to go on performing as long as I can. It's as simple as that." "I used to first go on to entertain an audience. But now I go, and this is really true - I go on to have fun with a crowd of my chums." "At my age, the radiation will probably do me good." "I'm still constantly thinking of ideas. I don't feel 90. I think I'm about 12." "As you get older, three things happen. The first is your memory goes, and I can't remember the other two." "Such is life and life is such, and after all it isn't much. First a cradle. Then a hearse. It might have been better, but it could have been worse."





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