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About Norman Wisdom

Sir Norman Wisdom OBE, film actor, singer, writer, comedian and all round entertainer was born into humble beginnings on the 4th of February 1915 in Marylebone, London, the second son of Frederick and Maud Wisdom who worked as a chauffeur and a dressmaker respectively. The family were extremely poor during the First World War and his parents divorced when he was nine years old, custody being awarded to his father. He ran away from a children's home when he was 11 and finally left school aged 13 to acquire jobs as an errand boy with a grocery store, a coal miner, waiter, pageboy and a cabin boy in the Merchant Navy. When the Second World War began, he joined the army and served in India. While abroad, he like many of his contemporaries, discovered a talent for entertaining his colleagues. He first studied music and became a bandsman in the Royal Signal Corps and when the war was over, he made his professional debut as an entertainer as a straight man to magician David Nixon, adopting the clothing that would carry him through his entire professional life, a suit far too small for him, crumpled and worn, a tweed cap set at an angle with peak turned up and tie not properly done up. The Rank Organisation signed him up for a series of films, beginning with Trouble In Store in 1953, a low budget comedy film where Wisdom had lots of chances to perform slapstick and visual comedy. This was the vehicle by which Norman Wisdom became a star in the mid 1950s, although the Rank films never achieved critical success, they were nevertheless ideal escapism in the austere years in Britain, giving the public a character who was always far worse off than they were. He married his second wife, the dancer Freda Simpson, in October 1947, and had two children, Nicholas (born 1953) and Jacqueline (born 1954). It was during this period in the mid 1950s that he tried his voice at singing and had two chart entries, Don't Laugh At Me (Cos I'm A Fool) in 1954 and Wisdom Of A Fool in 1957, both straight ballads without a hint of his comedy routine. His films were shot in Black and White and he always resisted the coming of colour, feeling that his comedy routines were so simple, they appealed more in monochrome. By the mid 1960s he was proved correct as his later films were shot in colour and lacked the simplistic and nostalgic feeling of his earlier efforts. From the late 1960s onwards, he moved back to theatre work appearing on Broadway in the musical comedy Walking Happy, but he also showed a serious side winning a BAFTA for his role as a patient dying of cancer in the television play Going Gently. His popularity throughout the 1980s and 1990s was kept alive by frequent television appearances and included cameo roles in the comedy Last Of The Summer Wine and the TV soap Coronation Street. In 2000 he received a Knighthood for his services to entertainment, but in recent years, he has retired from show business and lives in the Isle Of Man with his family, although his health is rapidly declining. The music he made in the 1950s is also kept in the public eye with various re-issues of his songs and hits, Hallmark releasing a 16 track compilation Nobody's Fool in 2002, EMI Gold releasing a 22 track compilation in 2003 entitled The Very Best Of and Naxos a CD in 2007 called Don't Laugh At Me, all three discs featuring his only two chart entries among other straight songs he had sung at his height. ~ Sharon Mawer

Paddington, London, England
4 Feb 1915

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