Veteran comic – and Albania's favourite – Sir Norman Wisdom dies, aged 95

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Charlie Chaplin called him his "favourite clown," and generations of British filmgoers would have wholeheartedly agreed.

The death of the veteran comedian, actor and singer Sir Norman Wisdom yesterday evening brought tributes from every corner of the entertainment business he so successfully made his own during a career which spanned seven decades.

His family said he died "peacefully" at the Abbotswood Nursing Home on the Isle of Man. Sir Norman had suffered a series of strokes over the past six months, but the 95-year-old had apparently maintained a degree of independence until just a few days ago when his health went into rapid decline.

Phil Day, who served as his publicist since 1969, spoke for many when he said Sir Norman was a "lovely man".

"He never turned down any request," said Mr Day. "He never threw a tantrum. He was 100 per cent professional all of the time. Of all the artists I've ever worked with, he's been the closest. It's a sad day."

He was born Norman Wisden on 4 February 1915, and the son of a chauffeur and a dressmaker had a tough childhood growing up in Marylebone, London. His parents divorced when he was nine, and together with his elder brother he was brought up by his father – who, either because of his job or his drinking, was frequently absent. After leaving school at 13, he took a job earning 50p a week as an errand boy for Lipton Tea.

During the Second World War he worked in a London communications bunker, connecting calls to the Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

He began his own performing career in 1946 as a magician's assistant, and soon found his way on to the West End stage. Before long was appearing on TV, and went on to find instant success in the cinema too, winning a Bafta as Most Promising Newcomer after starring in 1953's Trouble in Store.

The diminutive figure – he was just 5ft 4in – became famed for his many performances as Norman Pitkin, otherwise known as "the Gump", the archetypal "little man" seemingly up against the world. Dressed shoddily in a cloth cap, skewed tie and a too-small suit, his character was forever lamenting his awkwardness with women but in the end somehow always won over the object of his attraction. His low-budget but highly popular films helped keep the Rank Organisation film company afloat, notching up box-office successes that even beat the early James Bond films. Squealing "Mr Grimsdale!" to his despairing boss time and again, he also coined a catchphrase that would enter comedy history.

But Sir Norman was capable of more sensitive performances too. In 1981 he garnered the critical acclaim that had so often passed by his earlier work, playing a retired salesman and terminally ill cancer victim in the BBC television play Going Gently.

He starred in 32 television sitcoms and 19 films in total, as well as securing his own music hits, such as Don't Laugh At Me (Cause I'm A Fool) in 1954, and The Wisdom Of A Fool in 1957. He also popped up in Last of the Summer Wine and Coronation Street.

Sir Norman married showgirl Freda Simpson in 1947 and they had two children, Nick and Jacqui. The couple divorced in 1969. His 75th birthday in 1990 was marked by retirement from television; he would not appear again, he said, because most of it was "too smutty". Ten years later he proved his sense of humour was far from extinguished, however, when he purposefully tripped in front of the Queen as he left his knighthood ceremony.

Bizarrely, Sir Norman was also immensely popular in Albania, as during the days of its Communist regime his films were the only Western movies allowed to be shown.

Click here to see his 'life in pictures'

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all