By Richard Dacre
One of my key childhood memories is laughing uproariously at the inspired cinematic antics of Norman Wisdom. His wonderful blend of comic characterisation and skilled slapstick kept me, and much of my generation enthralled and the coffers of his production company, the Rank Organisation, well stocked.
By the late 1960s, when I was a student, the cinematic renaissance being felt throughout Europe plus a renewed theoretical interest in the medium inspired by structuralism and semiotics had a curious effect - I became aware of how little was known about my native cinema. British cinema was indeed, as the celebrated 1969 essay by Alan Lovell indicated, an unknown cinema.
I remembered my childhood admiration for Wisdom and in due course researched his career, and the comic traditions into which his work can be placed. I knew little about Wisdom’s work outside the cinema and to find out more I interviewed the great man and subsequently we became firm friends
Norman Wisdom, like most British cinematic slapstick clowns, received little critical praise after he stormed the citadel with TROUBLE IN STORE in 1953. In 1991 when I finally published my book - the first on the great man - he was still largely dismissed in critical circles. The gulf between the negative critical orthodoxy and the public affection for the man was pronounced. But at least my book was now sitting amongst scores of serious and well-researched volumes on British cinema which was now becoming “known”.
Recognition of Wisdom’s importance in British cinematic history is now secure and official honours - most noticeably with his Knighthood in 2000 – have been belatedly forthcoming. These days, with most of his films readily available on DVD, people can more easily make their own assessment of his achievements. They can also study the work in detail and apply more stringent theories to this body of work. My emphasis was on placing Wisdom’s work into traditions of British comedy and the strategies used to take a comic persona developed in short sketches into feature-length stories. Fatmir Terziu’s fascinating study has taken a radically different approach with his analysis of the Parametric Narration in Wisdom’s oeuvre. Wisdom was always immensely proud of his following in Albania - he will be gratified that this pioneering thesis shows that he is still remembered with affection by a new generation.
Author TROUBLE IN STORE: Norman Wisdom – a career in comedy.