It's funny how our tastes change as we grow up. When I was a child I thought Norman Wisdom was wonderful, now I can't stick him. Britain went through the same phase. In the fifties Wisdom burst onto the screen and quickly became the top box office draw. We just couldn't get enough of him. By the end of the sixties no one wanted to know.
Still, Norman Wisdom also grew up. In his early films he was content to be a clown. Just hearing the sound of laughter was enough. But, like so many others, he came to feel that making people laugh was an inferior sort of acting and he had to make them cry as well. Pathos: it's been the death of many a great comic.
His film debut was in 1948 but he was lost in the crowd in A Date With a Dream. He was an early television star but it was the success of Trouble in Store that really made his name. In it he played Norman Pitkin the enthusiastic imbecile in the too-tight suit and his screen persona was set for all time. His brand of slapstick took the country by storm and the film was the year's biggest hit.
From then on it was largely downhill, though so slowly it took a long time for anyone to notice. He was a huge star but, despite the annual Wisdom being one of Rank's few guaranteed hits, the films declined in quality.
Towards the end of his star career he tried to change the image, most notably in The Girl On the Boat based on a P.G. Woodhouse tale, but some images are too strong to lose. He gave an excellent performance in The Night They Raided Minsky's but then followed it up with What's Good For the Goose - a strong contender for the title of Worst Swinging Sixties Film.
After that debacle he went back to TV. In the seventies he tried several formats but never really got the balance right. The most successful of these series was A Little Bit of Wisdom which ran from 1974 to 1976. His most successful single television appearance was in the straight play Going Gently where he played a man dying of cancer. In this piece he didn't need to beg for sympathy and was superb.
Even after his film star career was over his image remained. What schoolboy hasn't pulled his cap to one side, his jacket to the other and uttered the immortal phrase "Ooo, Mr Grimsdale!"? Lee Evans has based his entire act on it. Wisdom continued to crop up occasionally in guest roles on telly, notably in Last of the Summer Wine.
He was knighted in the Millennium Honours List and died after a series of strokes.
|1948||A Date With a Dream|
|1953||Trouble in Store|
|1954||One Good Turn|
|1955||As Long as They're Happy|
|1955||Man of the Moment|
|1956||Up in the World|
|1957||Just My Luck|
|1958||The Square Peg|
|1959||Follow a Star|
|1960||The Bulldog Breed|
|1960||There Was a Crooked Man|
|1961||The Girl on the Boat|
|1962||On the Beat|
|1963||A Stitch in Time|
|1965||The Early Bird|
|1966||The Sandwich Man|
|1966||Press for Time|
|1968||The Night They Raided Minsky's (U.S.)|
|1969||What's Good for the Goose|
Norman Wisdom at Amazon UK
Norman Wisdom at Amazon US