Norman Wisdom was born in 1915; his father was a chauffeur and his mother a dressmaker. When Norman was 12, his mother walked out, unable to take her husband's drunken violence any more. Norman and his brother Fred, neglected and beaten, became barefoot 'street urchins', forced to beg and steal food. Their father would disappear without warning and once they received a postcard from Ceylon. (Norman later tracked his mother down, and they remained on loving terms.) 'Urchin' is a key word here - Norman retained his urchin persona for his act and his film character Norman Pitkin, the little chap with the big cap and cheeky grin putting one over on toffee-nosed authority. He always got the girl (a bandbox lovely who in real life wouldn't have been seen dead with the walking disaster in the too-tight 'gump' suit), who was charmed by his kind heart and his spaniel eyes and a romantic song. One ballad which he wrote himself, 'Don't Laugh At Me ('cos I'm a fool)', his paradoxical theme song, was penned when his wife Freda left him.
But this account, although full of anecdotes, is short on Norman's inner and family life. He has two grown-up children and a grandson whom he 'loves to pieces', and he speaks generously of most people, except about Tommy Cooper's feet. Marilyn Monroe picked him up and kissed him; Churchill, Laurel and Hardy, and other luminaries too numerous to mention make guest appearances, and, in scenes where life imitates his celluloid version of it, he crashes down at Princess Margaret's feet while performing in an ice show, and breaks a priceless vase at Windsor Castle. 'You little tinker,' says the Queen Mum, catching him out in a prank. Norman Pitkin would have loved it.
While many former stars have been put out to grass on the pro-celebrity golf course, Norman Wisdom is a cult-figure playing to packed houses. A rich man, he goes touring still, living for six weeks at a time in the luxury coach that carries him and his entourage from coast to coast (a lifesize cardboard replica travels in the front seat). Chaplin named him as his successor; there is a 10-year-old lookalike, in gump suit and cap, who follows him round the country. He may one day step into Norman's size six shoes, but it will be a hard act to follow.Reuse content