Tuesday, 5 October 2010

From Norman Wisdom to Wilson Keppel and Betty

Sir Norman Wisdom’s death at the age of 95, yesterday evening, reminded me of the four names I had collected in an autograph book, lost more than 50 years ago. It had a red cover and its pages were various pastel shades.
There was Wisdom himself in pride of place. My mother and my seven or eight year old self had waited at the stage door of the London Palladium to collect the slapstick king’s autograph. His straight man Jerry Desmonde also went in the book on the same occasion.
I wish I could recall what prompted this expedition – when it came to knockabout I’m sure my taste was for the Three Stooges – and still is.
I had a schoolboy crush on child film star Mandy Miller. Once again conducted by my mother to an autograph signing, she’s there too.
The final name was that of Gordon Pirie. I had been having lunch in a greasy spoon with my father when we spotted the long distance runner dining. Perhaps I’d even seen him race – my father was an athletics fan and had taken me to meetings at White City.
I’ve surfed the internet to find a suitable video clip to accompany this post starting with Wisdom and then exploring British music hall via Max Wall before settling on sand dance variety act Wilson Keppel and Betty because it makes me smile. Sorry Norman, R.I.P.


  1. OK GC, says Jaffa. I loved the sand dance etc, but felt something was missing from your piece, other than your own anecdotal story, re the great Norman Wisdom. Much of the praise about him, since he died, has concentrated on how hugely influential he has been on comedy and comedians. It was not for nothing that he was Chaplin's favourite comedian. Like the late great Jacques Tati, Norman's brand of humour was another of those links between silent film comedy and 'talkies'. When you said "Betty", I thought you meant Michael Crawford. Yes it is the same bathos and pathos on display in the Michael Crawford character.

    The obituaries etc have high-lighted what a seiously tough childhood Norman had, living literally on the streets of London. Whenever I watch a Norman Wisdom 'comedy' film I am conscious in myself that I am identifying with an inner torment that I am subconsciously picking up as a 'vibe' from the Wisdom comic character. I perceive a vast well of sadness emanating from both the man and the character. A sort of 'tongue hanging out', ie if only he could bridge the great British class divide of the time and crawl up to the rich man's table. but only to be slapped right down again.

    As you say GC, RIP Norman, the last in a long line of comedians who stood up for and portrayed and championed to us 'The Little Man'. As the British public enters a deep and prolonged recession. the time is passing for the brash over confident, all knowing anything goes 'consumer'comedians of today, as initiated by the 1960s late USA comedian Lenny Bruce.

    I am going to set the clock ticking now for the next great comedian to emerge who will encapsulate for us that "we are all in it together". "Hard Times" is/are here again! Jaffa.

  2. Thank you, Jaffa, for your essay on dear Norman. GC


What do you think? GC