Norman Wisdom: His Story (2010) Movie Script

Let's have the first man.
He was an enormously talented man.
I mean, a rather sort of brilliant
man, but he was very, very anarchic.
And he could just cause chaos
by walking into the room.
I normally... I'll sit on this one.
I think Norman was as big a star
as we can make in Britain.
Audiences just couldn't believe
this extraordinary character.
He used to work like a horse.
He really always worked very hard.
Oh, no, don't start me off on that.
When we were at home,
just in any situation,
his timing would be spot-on.
He can make a laugh from anything,
really. He doesn't need a script.
The cleverness...of movement
and ability to trip over
and not hurt himself,
that's what's so clever, really.
He was completely innocent,
in a way.
Children liked him.
Everybody liked him. There wasn't
anybody who didn't like Norman.
He will always be remembered.
I mean,
who could forget Norman Wisdom?
# I'm not good-looking
# I'm not too smart... #
On screen, we saw the master fool,
a cheeky comic character
with great musical talent
and a physical prowess
which made Norman Wisdom Britain's
biggest and most bankable film star
of the '50s and '60s.
His was a natural talent.
Norman's upbringing lacked
the luxury of formal training.
Indeed, it lacked any luxury at all.
When asked about his childhood,
he would always deliver
an old music-hall gag.
I was born
in very sorry circumstances.
Both of my parents were very sorry.
Really, yeah.
Behind the jokes
lay a dreadful reality.
Life was tough for young Norman
and his elder brother Fred.
Raised in this house
in London's Maida Vale,
in 1915,
this area was poverty-stricken.
More devastating still,
at the age of nine,
Norman's family was torn apart.
His father, a chauffeur,
was violent and neglectful.
His mother felt forced
to leave home.
Norman's early life was quite hard
because his father was quite cruel.
His background was horrendous,
a dreadful family life,
beaten, punched and kicked
and knocked about by his father.
He used to wallop me
and my brother and...
But it did me good in a way because
I remember on one occasion he picked
me up - this is really true -
and he threw me up
and I hit the ceiling.
Really true. And I came down
and landed just by the sink which
we had then in the drawing room
and, taught me how to fall,
you know.
Between the ages of 9 and 11,
Norman and his brother lived
more or less as street urchins.
Attending school barefoot, they
regularly stole food to survive.
To be discarded by your parents
at an early age...
I mean, he stayed
with his grandmother for a period.
But, you know,
you really are fending for yourself. know, it's...
something that you wouldn't
even dream about, really.
He had it rough. He really did.
I think that's what gave Dad
the determination...
to, you know, make something
of his life
and not continue sort of living
like that.
At the age of 13,
Norman left school.
He walked from London to Cardiff
to look for work.
He told me he went with a friend.
I said, "How did you eat? Where
did you sleep? It took you two weeks.
"What did you do?
What were the practicalities?"
He said he took a sandwich and
they just slept rough in a hedgerow.
Before he knew it,
he was a cabin boy on this ship,
the Maindy Court,
bound for Argentina.
It was a hard life, but it was
very helpful for the life to come.
I learnt boxing, for instance.
Who taught you that? The blokes used
to be on the deck, all doing the
sparring for exercise and so forth.
I used to stand and watch 'em
and one day, they said,
"Hey, do you want to join in, son?"
He spent three months at sea.
Feeling proud of his achievements,
Norman headed back to London
to trace his estranged father.
Norman, when he was about 14,
decided to find out
where his dad was.
He went back to his grandmother
and she gave him this address.
He goes round and stands outside
the house. He plucks up the courage
and knocks on the door.
A woman opens the door
and he said...
"Can I see Mr Wisdom?" She said,
"Who are you?" I said, "Norman."
It was his next wife.
She said, "Come in. He'll be back
from work in half an hour."
I went in and sat in the lounge,
then when he came in, I heard some
chat between his wife and himself.
He just came in and this is,
on my word of honour, true.
He just opened the door,
looked at me and said, "Out!"
And I went out and I walked
down the steps. There were
about three or four steps down.
I stood in the road,
he slammed the door,
and I said, "I'll never see you
again." And I never did. True.
It was a short, sharp exchange
and that was it.
What can you say?
I mean, it was "out" and that was it.
How do you get over that?
How would you get over that?
And then, you know, years later,
to go on and make the world laugh.
Norman had no choice
but to live on the streets.
His regular sleeping spot, still
popular with the homeless today,
was next to the Marechal Foch
statue. He was 14 years old.
Salvation came in the form
of the army.
I was honestly sleeping rough
just off Grosvenor Square.
In doorways and all that sort
of thing and hungry.
At about half past two
in the morning,
I'd go to a coffee stall keeper.
I used to just look over the shelf
like that, sadly,
and he'd push me a hot pie
and a cup of Bovril. Really true.
After six or seven nights of that,
he said to me,
"Why don't you join the army?"
I said, "I can't get in the army
at my size." He said,
"You've got to do something.
"Just go and try it. Kid 'em."
And kid 'em, he did.
14-year-old Norman, just four foot
ten and a half inches and five stone
nine, enrolled as a bands-boy.
Joining the army was the best thing
he ever did.
He had friends, he had travel
and he had a bed to sleep in.
His life changed completely.
He'd had no home.
He'd had no home life as such.
Then he goes in the army
and that became his life.
The sergeant-major or whoever
became his dad because
he didn't really have a dad.
And the other soldiers became his
brothers, so he did love the army
because he'd had nothing else.
For him, it was absolutely marvellous
because he had three meals a day
and was looked after.
It must have been finding mum again,
I think.
Well, I tell you what,
on my word of honour... Yes.
I owe everything of my good fortune
to the army.
It gave him so much. It gave him
discipline and cleanliness, the
music, the chance to go on stage.
He learnt to horse-ride and do
all that sort of stuff, so I can
understand why he loved it so much.
There was 14 boys and we all had
different instruments.
We got fed up playing the same one,
so we had a go on the others, so
gradually, I learnt to play the lot.
Clarinet, saxophone, French horn,
trumpet, drums, piano...
That'll do.
Five years of Norman's tour of duty
was spent in India.
He became the flyweight champion
of the British troops in 1936.
He had also discovered a talent
for comedy.
What made him realise
that he could make people laugh
was they were putting on a show
and doing some sort of entertainment
and he started doing a tap dance
in his army boots.
And they started to laugh at him
because it just looked so ridiculous.
In his head, he was thinking,
"Oh, they're laughing at me."
And that's where it all started.
After seven and a half years,
he demobbed to launch himself
as a variety artist.
His first significant booking was at
the Coliseum, Portsmouth, in 1945.
At the age of 30,
he was still unknown,
though he had invented the stage
persona which would immortalise him,
that of the little man
in the over-tight suit
which he called The Gump.
Early 1947, I had been booked
at a summer season
at Scarborough.
I was sharing a dressing room
with a conjurer.
We used to do a different show
every week.
I'd got the material for the four
shows because I was only doing
about 10 or 15 minutes each show.
This conjurer was having difficulty
with his last show.
He said, "Norman, if I ask someone
to come up from the audience to help
me do the tricks, it could be you."
I said, "All right."
He said, "Dress scruffy."
So I went out and bought a suit
for 30 shillings
and a cap for one shilling
and when he invited someone up
from the audience, I came up
and it worked so well,
we were booked as a double act.
But he didn't want to be a double
act. Neither did I. But that's how
it all started with The Gump suit.
This great Gump character that
he created, this ill-fitting suit
and the cheeky cap to one side,
was this icon.
I put Norman's Gump character in
the same league as Chaplin's Tramp.
It fits that comedy icon,
the little boy lost that we all love.
Norman was appearing all over
the country as a supporting act.
By chance, one of the biggest stars
of the day caught his performance.
# There'll be bluebirds over
# The white cliffs of Dover... #
I first saw Norman's act
when I first came down to live
in Sussex just after the war.
And my husband and I were going
to the theatre, a very small theatre
in Brighton,
to see an act
that was top of the bill
and we saw this little chap come on
who wasn't very highly billed.
I hadn't heard of him before.
And he was so funny.
He had me in stitches.
And it takes a lot, really, to make
me laugh the way that I laughed.
I thoroughly enjoyed him
and I thought, "I've never seen
or heard of him before,
"but he really is going
to go somewhere."
# We'll meet again
# Don't know where
# Don't know when... #
And they did meet again.
In 1947, Vera Lynn was
at the height of her career.
She was booked to top the bill
at the Victoria Palace
and at the bottom of the bill
was Norman Wisdom.
I was due to go on at a certain time
and he was getting very nervous,
because I was going on in the first
half, closing the first half,
which is a very important spot.
And he was getting very nervous.
I didn't mind what time I went on,
so I said,
"Would you like to swap places?"
So he said, "Yes, could I, please?
You know, I'd like to get it over."
He received three ovations.
Vera's generous act was
the turning point of his career.
I really didn't think any more
about it.
But then the first time I met him
after the occasion, he reminded me,
and every time we met,
he reminded me.
He used to say how much he owed me.
He didn't owe me anything.
Whatever he achieved,
he owed to his own talent.
Norman was about to become one
of the top entertainers of the era.
In the audience at the Victoria
Palace was the agent Billy Marsh,
the man who would launch
Norman's career in films.
Billy was one of the most respected
agents in the business.
He was with the Delfont Organisation.
And Billy made a point
of trying to make
all these up-and-coming people
into major stars -
Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth
and, of course, Norman.
Billy also went across to America
with him
and really looked after his career
and they became great friends.
It was Billy Marsh who secured
Norman's seven-year contract
with the Rank Organisation.
Norman's debut as a film star
was in the 1953 release
of Trouble In Store
where Norman played a hapless
shop assistant called Norman Pitkin.
What on earth are you doing here?
Mr Freeman sent me.
I'm the new window dresser. You?
How utterly grotesque!
He became the biggest box-office draw
and his films made more money than
James Bond films in the early '60s.
This whole Norman franchise
came up around it,
so Trouble In Store probably began
the whole legend of Norman Wisdom.
I remember him telling me
about the night he became a star.
I imagine Rank made his first film... know, under sufferance and
with a low budget and all of that.
At the time, the Rank Organisation
took a chance on Norman Wisdom.
He was a recognised stage comedian,
but films are a different beast.
Apparently, at the premiere
for Trouble In Store, he stood there
with all these bigwigs, Earl St John,
the head of Rank, coming in.
..being frightfully snobbish and just
thinking he was some piece of dirt.
I was too scared to look at the
screen. I was watching the audience,
hoping that they'd laugh
and lucky for me, they did.
After the film was finished, they
were a different crowd of people
coming out, the Earl St Johns.
They were coming out and saying,
"Norman, oh, Norman!"
It's a very English story. The idea
that he then became a film star...
Sally! Sally, look,
you forgot your handbag! Sally,
you won't be able to pay your fare!
You've got to stop! Stop!
Trouble In Store
broke box-office records.
Norman received
the British Film Academy Award
for Most Promising Newcomer.
He would go on
to star in 17 further films.
When the British film industry
was going into decline, Norman kept
the British film industry afloat.
He made a fortune for the Rank
Organisation. He kept Pinewood
Studios going for nigh-on 15 years.
Sometimes it was only him and
the Carry Ons in there making movies,
so it was a very important part
of the industry, as well as making
millions of people laugh.
The film plots were based
on recurring themes.
The character, Norman Pitkin,
the good guy,
pulling through against the odds
and always getting the girl.
I think my favourite Norman Wisdom
film is probably The Square Peg.
I love army comedies and I love
the great cast. Honor Blackman is
a wonderful leading lady.
# A square peg in a round hole
# You're in the army now... #
Try and get out!
Here we are, miss.
Why don't you look
where you're going? Lunatic!
I seem to remember
that I was an officer in the army
and at the beginning of the film,
I'm based in England.
And that's where Wizzy sees me
and falls in love with me.
He was the little Private.
Wasn't he Private Pitkin?
God knows how the army put up
with him! I don't know.
Mr Grimsdale, she saluted me.
I think I'll have another one.
'There was one particular scene
where he's just learnt to salute
'and he sees me coming along and he
thinks how wonderful, he can salute,
'so he keeps running ahead and hiding
round corners and everything
'to get the opportunity
of saluting again.'
I don't remember
what my reaction was -
a raised eyebrow, I should think.
Haven't I seen you somewhere before?
Yes, miss. Last time we met,
I was in civvy street.
Norman's character was often
pitted against an authority figure,
memorably played by Edward Chapman.
A scenario which gave Norman
his most famous line.
Mr Grimsdale!
We're not here to give all the dogs
of the neighbourhood free meat!
It was mostly bone, Mr Grimsdale.
Good morning...Mr Grimsdale.
Over the years, many fine actors
also took on the role
of the straight man.
The late David Lodge appeared in
many hits such as The Bulldog Breed
and On The Beat.
That's what you have to copy.
When there's a comic
and the straight man,
the better the straight man, the
funnier the comic, and he knew that.
Years before me, he had
Jerry Desmonde, who was not only
a fine-looking man who was tall,
but he had power.
You've got to have that certain
power for him to bounce off.
By now, Norman had developed
a skill for causing a riot on set.
We laughed.
I used to look forward
to going to work.
Now, Pitkin...
One scene in the film On The Beat
created a particular challenge.
'This man he was going to play,
the crook, was very fay.'
I had to teach Norman how to walk
with his hand on his hip
and do all the...
And when we did it, because I had
to do this, it was hysterical.
As you put your foot forward,
you let your weight rest on to it,
so that your hip swings out.
Oh, yeah.
You then change feet, that is to say,
you turn on the other one,
transferring the weight
in exactly the same manner.
This you continue to do
'He walked behind me
and of course, he tripped over
'and the producer took us both
outside the studio.'
And he said, "You two have got to get
yourselves together. It's costing me
so many thousands a minute."
I said to Norman, "Look,
you're a star, you can do this.
It's my living, you know?"
He said, "Come on then."
I said, "Can you do it? Can you get
through the scene?" "Yes."
No, hand shoulder high!
We came in.
They said, "Right, action!"
And we did it, and as we did it,
we fell on one side
screaming of laughter.
And Asher was on the floor
with a handkerchief in his mouth,
but we got the scene.
Oh, sir, he's fabulous!
Can I get my uniform now, sir?
By all means.
Thank you, sir.
We come to the fact that Norman was
a little man with a giant ego,
which is what I always think,
but he was big in as much as he did
what he bloody wanted to do.
And nobody would ever tell Norman.
'He would do the most daring things.'
I heard the result of the two
o'clock on the radio. It's exciting!
We're absolutely hysterical.
'Norman used to disappear.'
We'd be out shooting
on location somewhere
and the director would say, "We'll
get Norman now, we'll do scene 42."
And they'd say, "Where is Norman?"
Nobody could find him.
They had megaphones almost in those
days. They used to scream, "Norman!"
He'd gone. He'd disappeared.
I mean, absolutely...
There is no other person
I've ever worked with
who would have got away with that.
'This is the BBC Home Service.'
Throughout the 1950s and '60s,
Norman was one of the nation's
best loved film stars,
seldom off the national news.
He was also in great demand
as a variety performer.
Wherever he went in public,
he would appear in character,
the remarkable dexterity
which had long become his trademark.
I thought he was a bit of a nutter,
frankly, when I first met him.
I think we all did, really.
Certainly, if there's one pair of
eyes watching him, he's performing.
He just entertains instinctively.
He... That's who he is. If you're
there, he's got to make you laugh.
One would call him a comic, really,
a comic mover,
an ability to look
as though he was going
to kill himself by falling over
and he lands up like a cat does,
you know, unhurt.
The last time I had breakfast
with him was about eight o'clock
in the morning.
I went down and Norman
was just going into the restaurant.
There was one step, so he did
his little fall, got up. And he'd
already been for a four-mile walk.
Norman always maintained
his fitness.
And on camera, he endeavoured
to perform his own stunts,
however demanding...
..or bizarre.
How do you stop it?
Are you there, Mr Hunter?
On one occasion,
much to Norman's disappointment,
a stuntman was booked
to perform an ambitious scene.
On the first take,
the stuntman broke his arm.
The film star cheerfully stepped in.
The result, in the 1963 film
A Stitch In Time,
is pure Norman Wisdom.
Pitkin will be disappointed
he missed all the excitement.
I remember holding myself, watching
this scene. It was unbelievable.
So... God, so corny,
but the way he pulled it off,
it was brilliant.
Absolutely brilliant.
And it takes a lot for me to laugh
out loud. It really, really does.
But honestly, I used to just scream
laughing at him, you know?
I love him. I love the man.
Good afternoon.
What's he doing out of bed?
He walked and jogged and rode his
bike. This helped him with his act
because he learnt how to tumble
and fall without hurting himself.
One of the lines he used to use
in his concert was he just used to
think of the money and he was OK.
The big revelation I had about him
was this thing of thinking
he was a bit of a twit.
He wasn't.
And it was when you realised this,
when you started to work with him
and talk to him,
you realised that although he was
a sort of loner in a way,
he was a very bright man...
and was quite able.
Probably from his background,
he had to be.
He had to be a bright man to cope.
What a delightful little fella!
Behind Norman's huge success
lay a complex private life.
Married briefly
and divorced in his 20s,
aged 32, Norman proposed
to his second wife Freda
on Bournemouth Pier.
As a young army man, Norman
had resumed contact with his mother.
Though the family were
rarely gathered together,
here they all are -
his mother Maud,
his brother Fred whom he had lost
contact with for 16 years,
at Norman's wedding to Freda
in 1947.
Norman knew the value
of forgiveness.
Despite his troubled upbringing,
he embraced Maud into his life.
His mother and brother died
in the same year - 1971.
Freda and Norman had two children -
Nick and Jaqui.
Growing up with Norman Wisdom
as your dad was as much fun
as you might imagine.
He wasn't really a disciplinarian.
My mother was the disciplinarian,
but she was never going to win
because we'd have tea
and he'd put the dog on the table.
"The dog's coming to have tea
with us." And she'd just
sort of shake her head, you know.
I can remember when I was little,
my mum was taking me up
to the flat in London,
and I love After Eight mints.
And Dad knew exactly what I would do
because as soon as we got
into the flat,
I'd make a little beeline
for the sweet tray in the lounge.
And there is sitting
an After Eight box.
And I just open it up and on the top
is a little note that Dad's written.
It just says,
"I'm watching you, Jaqui."
The whole box went flying up
in the air and I just ran out
of the room screaming my head off
because I was convinced
he was hiding behind a curtain,
so he did love to tease.
To his children,
he was both father and film star.
They grew up watching him
on the set,
even managing to get in on the act
in Follow A Star.
I think it was 1959.
I just played the piano.
I pretended to have a piano lesson.
Oh! Ow! Hey! Oh! Ow!
Well, that's all,
thank you, Nicholas...
It was very exciting going
to Pinewood Studio. Everybody wanted
to be on the Norman Wisdom set.
Very good.
Mum said, "Jaqui, why don't you go
along and sit on the stool
in front of the piano?"
So I said, "OK." And then
they started, you know, "Action!"
And Hattie Jacques came in.
Judy! Judy, read this!
'But they'd actually muted the piano,
so when you played,
no sound came out.'
I just went, "Mum,
this piano doesn't work!" "Cut!"
It's outrageous!
I kept looking at Hattie Jacques.
They had to cut again and they said,
"Jaqui, try and face forward."
The next time, I was staring right
into the camera lens. "What's that?"
So they wouldn't be hiring me again!
He was a lot of fun, but most
of the time, he was pretty normal.
The minus side,
we didn't see a lot of him.
A life on the road also put
great strain on Norman's marriage.
In 1969, he was busy forging
a successful career
in the United States.
He did films in America.
He did Androcles And The Lion
for Noel Coward.
He also did Walking Happy
on Broadway.
And it was on Broadway, whilst he was
working there, that he heard that his
wife had gone off with another fella.
My wife at home had found
somebody tall and good-looking.
I think if Norman had stayed
in America, he would have been a big
international star in the States too.
But I think Peter Sellers eventually
got that slot as the English
funny man and the rest is history.
We had normal family problems
and I had to come back from America
to look after my two lovely children
and I'm glad I did.
The man who had been abandoned
as a child was granted custody
of his own children.
Their mother remarried,
keeping in contact.
Norman never married again.
My mother left home
and I was absolutely devastated.
And, um...
But he found a wonderful lady
called Madge
and we used to call her Magic
because that's exactly what she was.
And Dad made sure, because he was
obviously still away working hard,
that Madge was there
to look after us
and she really was
a very, very special lady.
He was a loving father at that time
and, um...
But I think probably I should have
seen a little bit more of my mother.
You know, she was a good woman
and, um...
You know,
it was an acrimonious split.
The BBC presents
The Norman Wisdom Show.
By the 1970s,
Norman was a screen and stage star.
But the pressure was now on
to make it in television.
# If I don't see a ribbon
round the old oak tree... #
He did some good shows in the '70s,
just called Norman,
Nobody Is Norman Wisdom,
A Little Bit Of Wisdom for ATV,
and they were successful,
but not legendarily successful,
so they're not repeated now.
You don't see them on TV.
I made sure that he was on
every radio show we could get him on
or television appearances.
He didn't want to do them because
he was Norman Wisdom and he felt,
"Do I need to do this?"
But I think with the public,
you have to keep that profile high.
# ..the old oak tree-ee-ee... #
That is all.
Norman toured worldwide.
And from the 1980s onward, he
featured in cameo roles in some of
our best-loved series like Bergerac.
I'll see if you can pick him out,
all right? We'll send a car round.
Yeah, all right.
Nothing wrong, is there?
No, it's just that I haven't done
anything like that before.
This is a one-off, this is.
And Last Of The Summer Wine.
I'm an honest man. It has to be
admitted. She needs a touch of work.
The one big TV role he was offered,
Frank Spencer in Some Mothers
Do 'Ave 'Em, he had to turn down.
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
was written for Norman,
but there were scenes in it where
they wanted him to put his foot down
the toilet and things like that,
which he thought was
lavatorial humour.
I'm Mr Spencer.
The wife's a bit tired,
so I thought I'd try you.
And consequently, he thought,
"This isn't for me," because he was
squeaky-clean at the time.
And so consequently, he pulled out
of it and Michael Crawford got it.
Come back, Frank!
Please stop me!
That could have been
the big sort of TV break.
Off the back of the films from the
'60s into the '70s and early '80s,
he could have been doing this sort
of comedy for the TV generation
and he regretted that for ever.
# Honey, don't cry... #
Get off!
But there were no regrets
attached to Norman's role in
a television play released in 1981.
It cast Norman in a whole new light,
receiving critical
and audience acclaim.
The BBC Playhouse, Going Gently,
directed by Stephen Frears,
featured Norman and Fulton Mackay
as terminal cancer patients.
Do you drink?
Doctor's orders.
And what do the wizards of the knife
have in store for you?
They're going to give me
an exploratory operation.
How do you know?
Tomorrow, they're going to make it
a triumvirate.
We talked to a lot of people
about being in it.
Then his name was on a list. I said,
"That's a rather interesting idea."
I think this is
a rather wicked thought.
I think I thought
that if you were dying
and wanted a rather graceful death,
you might well wake up and find that
Norman was in the bed next to you.
He was so disruptive and anarchic
that any thoughts
of a quiet, dignified, heroic death
would immediately be destroyed.
What's the matter with you?
I can't understand you at all.
He wasn't such a bad fella. Do you
need help? Probably not. I just said
he wasn't such a bad fella.
Are you all right?
'I had to get up my courage
to cast him.'
I suppose I'd assumed that he'd be
very good and he was very good,
but I could see
that I was using bits of him
that people didn't normally ask for.
During lunch, Stephen Frears said,
"Norman, I want specifically
for you to avoid doing any comedy."
And I said,
"Well, it's a straight play.
He said, "Yes, I know, but I want
you to avoid doing any comedy."
I could see what he was getting at,
but I couldn't help pulling his leg
a bit.
I said, "If I'm in a nightshirt..."
He said, "You will be."
I said, "There's certain comedy
within the bounds of the play.
"If, as I walk away from the bed
having got out...
"and I catch my nightshirt
on the spring of the bed,
"as I walk away, eventually,
it will tighten up
and pull me back like that
"and I'll put my foot in the
chamber pot underneath the bed..."
And he'd gone pale.
He would just send me up hopelessly.
I asked him.
Not too good. It never is.
What am I going to do?
Moan like the rest of us.
How long have you got?
They didn't say.
But my guess is six weeks,
maybe seven.
For me, six.
I've got to have longer.
I've got to have more time.
'He just was very, very powerful
and potent and expressive.'
And that's always a pleasure.
Certainly I didn't realise before
that you could strip away
all the faces
and the agility and all that
and just leave
that little man underneath.
He'd acquired a sort of wisdom
by then.
I imagine... I imagine that life
had been quite rough to him
in the previous 10 or 15 years.
Going Gently won a BAFTA
and established Norman
as a serious actor.
Even so, he continued to stay
in comic character publicly
and his ability to cause chaos
in interviews was by now legendary.
I normally... I'll sit on this one.
It is difficult to know
what he's going to do,
especially if you don't know him,
because he can do anything,
he can wind people up.
He's got a terrible sense of humour.
It's good to see you.
Come and sit down there.
No, I meant over there.
'He could just cause chaos
by walking into the room.'
You could see people getting nervous
and looking for the exits.
He was very, very unsettling.
Thank you very much.
No, please, don't...
Oh, blimey!
Oh, good Lord, there's my back gone!
Taking my life in my hands,
because I admired Norman so much,
I asked if he'd take part in an
hour's special and he was brilliant.
Interviewing Norman was hell.
I mean,
he was a brilliant raconteur.
And he knew exactly
how he was going to time every gag.
You couldn't just ask him
a question because he was going
to tell you his way.
Norman, still kissing the girls
at 82?
Still working at 82?
Still making people laugh at 82?
More than 82 girls!
I was speaking of your years. Oh!
It's impossible to think of you...
My ears are all right.
It was extremely funny
and the audience enjoyed the fact
that he ran rings round me.
He popped up all over the place.
He was totally dangerous,
unpredictable and always very funny.
As the cameras stop rolling
on The Esther Show,
Norman's antics continue.
And the audience clapped.
As the applause died,
Norman leant forward,
looked me straight in the eyes...
..and licked the end of my nose.
A sensation I will never forget.
It hasn't happened much since.
Norman would often push
the boundaries of protocol.
Throughout his career, he was a firm
favourite of the Royal Family,
at nine command performances and
coming face-to-face with royalty
on many memorable occasions.
I had him working
at St James's Palace once,
but I had to lead the line-up
for all the artists
to meet the Duchess of Kent.
Vera Lynn was on the show as well.
I said to Norman,
"If you stand next to Vera..."
He said, "No, I'm not doing that."
So he hid behind a big pillar
until I'd introduced the Duchess
of Kent to all the artists,
then he jumped out on her and went,
I thought, "You can't do that to
royalty," but that's the way he is.
He forgets that they are royalty.
They're friends to him,
so he just joins in the fun.
He had me chasing round
St James's Palace on one occasion.
We were there at a tea party
for the Queen Mother.
She used to run these tea parties
for ex-servicemen
and he was there on one occasion.
Of course, he was always playing
the fool and he was chasing me round,
trying to tweak my nose.
But that was him. You know,
he couldn't help but play the fool.
When he went to get his honour,
everyone was in this big room,
waiting for the Queen to appear.
Prince Philip said to him,
"Hello, Norman, how are you doing?"
He said, "Thank you, sir, fine."
Then all of a sudden, there was...
MIMICS SOUND OF TRUMPE You know, the trumpet going off.
And Norman said, "What's that?"
Prince Philip said,
"Oh, that'll be the Queen."
And Norman said,
"Bloody hell, she can't half play
that trumpet, can she?"
For the first time in 25 years, the
Queen is visiting the Isle of Man.
Waiting to meet her was the island's
allegedly most famous resident
and royal favourite,
Sir Norman Wisdom.
Jennie Bond reports
on today's gripping encounter.
'This was the Queen's first visit
to the Isle of Man for 25 years
'and she took the precaution of
wearing a sprig of its national herb,
mugwort, on her lapel.
'It's meant to ward off evil spirits.
'It did not ward off the persistent
attentions of Sir Norman Wisdom.
'Now 88, he's an old favourite
among the royals who has performed
for them at Windsor Castle.
'Taking the Queen firmly by the hand
at a cheese stall, he invited her to
pose with him for the photographers.
'Next he suggested
she should try some of the cheese.'
No, not now.
'"Not now," said the Queen,
showing him that she was being given
some to take away.
'But Sir Norman wanted a longer chat.
'Ignoring royal protocol, he crept up
and touched her on the arm,
'then took her hand
and hung on and on.'
I don't think
the Queen will forget him.
It was quite a surprise to me
when I heard he'd given her
a piece of cheese to eat.
Terrible, really. I mean, who else
would do that but Norman Wisdom?
And who else but Norman Wisdom
could achieve the status
of a country's hero?
His visual comedy
has always appealed
to audiences in eastern Europe,
nowhere more so than in Albania.
A lot of the dictatorship over there,
especially in Albania,
thought that Norman represented
the downtrodden communist
by the capitalist,
which is untrue completely.
The people were kind of subjected
to a pretty awful regime,
the only joy of which came when
they saw maybe on a Sunday night
the Norman Wisdom film.
They were shown every week
and it's kept going.
For 30, 40, 50 years,
they've just had Norman Wisdom
and so he's so in their hearts,
it's extraordinary.
And in 2002, Tony Hawks saw
a chance to win a bizarre challenge.
I took on a wacky bet that I had
to have a hit record somewhere
in the world within two years
because I'd had a hit record in 1988
with a song called Stutter Rap
by Morris Minor & The Majors.
Somebody called me a one-hit wonder.
I said, "I haven't finished my life.
I'll probably have another hit."
So I set off going round the world
trying to have this hit and failed
until I struck upon this idea
of pure genius
which was to involve myself
with Norman Wisdom in Albania.
Remarkably, Tony persuaded
Oscar-winning lyricist Sir Tim Rice
to write the song.
So, Sir Tim phoned Sir Norman. I was
excluded from that conversation.
I rang him up and put forward
this strange proposition
that he should record a song for us
which would be a Top 20 hit
in Albania.
And Norman agreed.
"I'll do it. Anything you say.
"Yeah, all right. Where? Albania?
They like me there. I'll do it."
We therefore wrote a song,
Tony and I, called Big In Albania.
Norman went along with this.
He loved the idea. He came down
to London and recorded it.
The next plan was
Operation Tour Albania.
The morning we left
at Heathrow Airport,
Norman began the journey
by running up the "down" escalator
at 87 years old
and going through the security cordon
without going through the bit in the
middle. He walked up the side of it.
This was only six months
after September the 11th
and security was very high.
Norman walked straight through it
and into Sock Shop.
He was always doing his act.
But in a way, it wasn't his act.
It was Norman being Norman.
He just had this desire,
this necessity to entertain.
I'm amazed that in some places
we went to, he wasn't shot!
# From Scutari to Koritsa
# From Gjirokastra to Berat
# From Valona to Tirana
# I'm really where it's at... #
In Albania, everybody loves Norman.
It was like a scene for Take That,
but with an 87-year-old man.
He got lost on at least
two occasions, but always turned up.
We just looked for a big crowd
and there he was!
The little shepherds and all these
fellows with donkeys up the hill
would say, "Pitkiny, we love you!"
He was getting kissed by men, kids,
boys, girls, all sorts of people.
They just loved him out there.
# I've made my name in many places
# A thousand falls,
a thousand faces
# But nowhere's more devoted
than Albania... #
Miming superbly with Tim's daughter
on backing vocals,
his son on trumpet,
Sir Tim was happy to perform
on a plastic toy saxophone.
We were all thrilled to be in the
presence of somebody that my kids
thought was as funny as I did.
# As I wandered down
this fine Albanian street... #
I had this dream that
if we were going to be a supergroup,
which Norman Wisdom And The Pitkins
clearly were,
that we had to perform a stadium gig,
so I arranged for us to perform
at half-time at the national
football stadium in Tirana.
# I love Albania back... #
Norman Wisdom And The Pitkins
did not disappoint their fans.
# I love Albania back... #
The outcome of the bet was
a rather happy conclusion
in that the Albanian people
in their 20s and 30s voted for us
and we reached the dizzy heights
of No.18 in the Albanian charts,
so we all celebrated on the way back
and Norman, of course,
had had his first hit in Albania.
Surely, that's everyone's ambition,
isn't it?
# I love Albania back
Oh, I do! #
For the last 30 years of Norman's
life, he lived on the Isle of Man.
It was a place close to his heart.
He lived in a beautiful house.
He designed it himself.
He had these fabulous cars
which he used to try and design.
He had a huge, a massive ocean-going
yacht which he designed himself.
He just became
like Lord of the Manor out there.
I came here in 1978 to do a summer
season at the Gaiety Theatre
just down the road here in Douglas.
I'd never been here before.
I couldn't believe
how beautiful the place was.
And the time was coming where
I didn't want to work all the time.
Just semi-retirement, if you like.
And so I got a place here
and I've never been happier.
# I'd like to put on record that I...
# Need you, need you, need you... #
Throughout his life,
Norman supported good causes,
always putting his talents
to good use,
talents which were many and varied.
# I love you
# It simply means, my darling,
that... #
I love you.
Well, he had a very lovely voice.
Soft. And he knew how to get
the best out of a song.
And of course, this was
an added talent for his work.
And it was different too
because it brought the comedy down
and I think people enjoyed that
as much as they did his antics.
People don't realise what a great
musician he is. He was incredible.
Seven or eight instruments.
His passions in life - he loved golf.
He was a great golfer, even though
at his age, a lot of people
were sitting in armchairs,
feet up, watching the telly,
but he was out there.
He loved motorbikes, cars.
We couldn't go anywhere
without stopping at a car showroom.
But even his friends would admit
he had one or two unsettling
character traits.
He always used to eat and show
his food, which was a bit...
He would be forking the food
into his mouth and he said to me,
"Robbo, do you like seafood?"
I said, "Yes, OK." He goes, "Naaah."
Like that.
Quite often, he'd listen to his own
tapes or films. He liked his films.
He used to sit in the car and we'd go
for a drive and he would sing to me.
All the stuff he'd written.
But that's the way he was.
'Norman Wisdom has become
the great British clown, very much
in the mould of Charlie Chaplin
'with his little man in
the ill-fitting suit and cloth cap.
'He has the honour of being the
national comedy hero of Albania and
not many people can make that boast.'
In his lifetime, Norman received
many honours, including an OBE
and the Variety Club Award.
'An outstanding contribution to
showbusiness, Sir Norman Wisdom...
'Oh, here he goes!'
I have to say
how very grateful I am.
As you did say, I've been 50 years
in showbusiness now.
And you were wrong.
It's nearly 55.
And I'm very grateful to get this.
Really, I am.
I'm a very lucky little devil being
in showbusiness in the first place.
I've been a lucky little devil
all the time because
it's given me happiness.
I've thoroughly enjoyed myself
and on top of that, you get paid.
Norman continued his career
into his 90s.
Aged 89, he played
a fitness-obsessed pensioner
in Coronation Street.
At 92, he took on
his last acting role in a film
for charity called Expresso.
By now, Norman's health was
in decline with Alzheimer's.
He would still want to keep
his finger in the pie a little bit
and something like that was perfect
because there were no lines.
At that point,
his memory was not that good.
Of course, that's what Dad excelled
in with the facial expressions
and that perfect timing that he has.
In his final years,
he remained on the Isle of Man.
His family,
including two proud grandsons,
took turns to look after him.
Slower, Greggy.
Very nice. Very nice.
Hello there.
It was just so nice
to be with somebody
that was always light and breezy
and joking
and Norman just didn't know
how to be sad or unhappy.
Oh, Norman!
In 2007, the decision was reached
to place him in a care home.
But he was happy there.
His family were really his life.
And the way that he kept in contact
and everybody would go and see him.
I mean, he was very, very much
a family man.
All the family were present
when he received the award
he held most dear -
a knighthood from the Queen
in the year 2000.
Sir Norman Wisdom,
for services to entertainment.
Sir Norman Wisdom's career spanned
more than half a century
in theatre, film and television.
Wherever he went, Norman could be
depended upon for one thing -
to create laughter.
Just a minute, Mr...?
Thank you, Mr Pitkin. What for?
You obviously don't realise,
but you've just done
something wonderful.
Me? Mm-hm.
I think he's continued the great
tradition of the silent comics,
the ones who provided
so much genius for us on the screen,
the sort of...
the Chaplin little man.
It seemed to me that his idea was
life has been hell
and let's make the most
of every minute we have now.
You're... You're joking?
He just wanted to prove
that he could be something in life
and he was something in life.
It's a very British story
of class and snobbery
and tremendous hardship.
What we admire is something
that we feel we can't do.
And not many people could do
what Norman Wisdom did.
Dickens could have written about him.
He's like a figure out of Dickens.
But he was brilliant.
I think his legacy will live on,
actually. I think his films will
always be there for people to see.
There is one thing that no-one
will ever be able to destroy
and that is the love I have
for my father.
I would say he's got more opportunity
than most to be remembered.
I don't think we'll forget Norman,
# Some day maybe
# My star will smile
# On me
# Don't laugh at me
# Cos I'm a fool... #