Friday, 14 September 2007

Sagesse Normande

Here’s the little fellow at the Empress Hall, London, in 1951 (the music stand was set too high for him).
It looks as if he was a fair athlete, but he was never very funny, his comedy act consisting mainly of using a silly voice, putting his cap on crooked, doing up his jacket on the wrong button and falling over. But perhaps we missed something: Charlie Chaplin called Wisdom his "favourite clown”, and his films outsold Sean Connery's James Bond features from 1955 till 1966; they were said to be the direct descendants of the films made a generation earlier by George Formby, who was not in the least funny.

He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1966 and was a success in America, though only moderately and briefly (unlike Benny Hill— also admired by Chaplin—who was inexplicably popular over there).

Wisdom is a well-known and loved cult film icon in Albania and was the only Western actor whose films were allowed in the country during the Communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. The archetypal Wisdom plot where the common working man gets the better of his bosses was considered ideologically sound by Hoxha. In 1995, he visited the post-Stalinist country, where to his surprise he was greeted by many appreciative fans including the then-president of Albania, Sali Berisha.

Sir Norman is 92, bless him.

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