Sir Norman Wisdom (1915-2010) b. London, England.
Wisdom’s mother left home when he was nine, and he and his brother were left in the charge of a father. 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, before joining the army and seeing service in India. Leaving in 1946, he made his debut as an entertainer at the advanced age of 31 – but his rise to the top was phenomenally fast after that. A West End star within two years, he made his TV debut the same year and was soon commanding enormous audiences. By this time, he had adopted the suit that would remain his trademark – tweed cap askew with peak turned up, too-tight jacket, barely-better trousers, crumpled collar and tie awry.
Encouraged by the viewing figures, Rank signed him up and set him loose in a department store in Trouble in Store (1953). They hedged their bets by throwing in Wisdom’s regular stooge, the supercilious Jerry Desmonde, the incomparable Margaret Rutherford as a shoplifter, and a pretty leading lady in Lana Morris. Rank clearly had a goldmine on its hands. Thereafter Wisdom was able to turn out comedies at the rate of one a year. Most are fairly painful now, but some show commendable originality, notably Man of the Moment (1955) and, later, On the Beat (1962) and A Stitch in Time (1963). Wisdom clung to black and white film as long as he dared, and the eventual switch to colour in 1965 only proved how right he’d been. It robbed his comedy of some of its simplicity and, battling against poor scripts, Wisdom was out of films by the end of the decade.
He still accepted occasional film roles and made appearances on tv including the BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, medical drama Casualty and earned a Bafta award for a rare straight performance in the 1978 play Going Gently. In 2000 he was awarded a knighthood. In 2007 he moved into a nursing home in the Isle of Man, and his declining health became the focus of press attention and tv documentaries.