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Little comic genius Norman Wisdom dies at 95

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File photo dated 15/9/55  of Norman Wisdom at with nurses at Charing Cross Hospital, who died today at the age of 95.

File photo dated 15/9/55 of Norman Wisdom at with nurses at Charing Cross Hospital, who died today at the age of 95.

PA

Frank Carson and Norman Wisdom

Frank Carson and Norman Wisdom

Norman Wisdom

Norman Wisdom

ritish comedian Sir Norman Wisdom jokes on his arrival for the British Book Awards in London in this Monday, Feb. 24, 2003

ritish comedian Sir Norman Wisdom jokes on his arrival for the British Book Awards in London in this Monday, Feb. 24, 2003

MAX NASH

British actor and comedian Norman Wisdom laughs with the photographer, in Red Square, Moscow, USSR, in this July 18, 1965

British actor and comedian Norman Wisdom laughs with the photographer, in Red Square, Moscow, USSR, in this July 18, 1965

13/03/55 Norman Wisdom at London Airport having returned from holiday in Nice

13/03/55 Norman Wisdom at London Airport having returned from holiday in Nice

PA

File photo dated 21/03/00 of Sir Norman Wisdom

File photo dated 21/03/00 of Sir Norman Wisdom

PA

File photo dated 12/09/1995 of Norman Wisdom OBE, at Pinewood Studios, who died yesterday at the age of 95.

File photo dated 12/09/1995 of Norman Wisdom OBE, at Pinewood Studios, who died yesterday at the age of 95.

Tim Ockenden

File photo dated 15/9/55  of Norman Wisdom at with nurses at Charing Cross Hospital

File photo dated 15/9/55 of Norman Wisdom at with nurses at Charing Cross Hospital

PA

Norman Wisdom

Norman Wisdom

Christopher Furlong

1953:  Norman Wisdom

1953: Norman Wisdom

Baron

1953:  British comedian Norman Wisdom kneeling on a stage floor as part of his comic routine.

1953: British comedian Norman Wisdom kneeling on a stage floor as part of his comic routine.

Baron

File photo dated 27/05/92 of Sir Norman Wisdom

File photo dated 27/05/92 of Sir Norman Wisdom

PA

05/09/01 Sir Norman Wisdom, during half time penalty shoot out in aid of Shelter at St James' Park.

05/09/01 Sir Norman Wisdom, during half time penalty shoot out in aid of Shelter at St James' Park.

Gareth Copley

27/07/02  Sir Norman Wisdom, (right) who died today at the age of 95, with  Normandy veteran and former gunner Bill Collins, 81, from Cork.

27/07/02 Sir Norman Wisdom, (right) who died today at the age of 95, with Normandy veteran and former gunner Bill Collins, 81, from Cork.

Fiona Hanson

24/11/02 Sir Norman Wisdom

24/11/02 Sir Norman Wisdom

Myung Jung Kim

Sir Norman Wisdom and Bobby Moore

Sir Norman Wisdom and Bobby Moore

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File photo dated 15/9/55 of Norman Wisdom at with nurses at Charing Cross Hospital, who died today at the age of 95.

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. But Sir Norman's influence on the war effort stretched far beyond this secretive world when he co-wrote the lyrics for Vera Lynn's classic song "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover", together with Walter Kent and Nat Burton.



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.

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