Norman's words of wisdom for his fans in Albania

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The Independent Online
THE turmoil in Albania is keeping Norman Wisdom away from his most devoted fans. "I'm very upset," the 82-year-old comic said last week. "I was supposed to be going on a visit in February, but then all the trouble started. I hope to goodness it can all be sorted out."

On his only previous visit to the Balkan nation two years ago he was mobbed by Albanian admirers shouting "Pitkini!" and "Oh, Mr Grimsdale!" Wisdom's were the only Western movies Albanians were able to see for more than 40 years, because his put-upon but cheery character, Norman Pitkin, always trying but failing to impress the boss, Mr Grimsdale, was thought to be "proletarian" by the late Enver Hoxha.

The comic was put up in the Communist dictator's palace and met his elected successor, Sali Berisha, now being denounced by his people as undemocratic and in league with crooked pyramid operators. "He seemed like a nice fellow," said Wisdom. "I did some of my walks for him."

The star of such comedies as A Stitch in Time may be a fading memory at home, but his popularity in Albania has been sustained by his charity work.

In 1995 he visited hospitals and orphanages, and the Pitkini hospice was opened in his name. "I've never seen anywhere so poor, but they seem so amazingly happy," he said. Not at the moment, though:

"I don't think there's anything I can do to help. I'll only go back when they're happy again."Did he have a message for the Albanian people? "I can't think of anything political. Say this:

'Such is life, and life is such,

And after all it isn't much,

First a cradle, then a hearse,

It might have been better,

But it could have been worse.'

My mother taught me that."

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