In the early Nineteen Sixties the Lord’s Taverners* played an Old England side at Lord’s. Keith Miller among others played for the Taverners. One such other was Pete Murray, a rather smooth and brillianteened disk jockey.
Imagine Pete’s dismay when. at the fall of a wicket at the other end, he looked up to see a misfit with a vague little boy lost look on his face trip down the pavilion steps onto the field of play trying but, confused by choice, failing to carry half a dozen bats to the middle. A Lord of Chaos was on his way to the wicket.
Was this the 47 year old Norman Wisdom or was it his alter ego and Man of the Moment, the hapless Norman Pitkin, whose life and times, captured on film, were making more at the box office than Sean Connery’s block busting Doctor No?
Murray soon made way for Roy Castle and, after blocking a delivery, the tap dancing trumpeter found a perplexed and perplexing Norman advancing down the wicket in search of a run. Isn’t that what you do in cricket?
As anyone who has ever seen Wisdom on film, at the theatre or in his garden on the Isle of Man (where he entertained passing coach loads stopping to view the star’s house) would know, it was about to end with a pratfall. In fact in partnership with Castle it would end with two pratfalls.
Norman was famously ‘big’ in Albania (did his confusion in the face of choice and abundance play particularly well there?). He was said to be Chaplin’s favourite clown and, according to Wikipedia , in 1991 a French speaker in an agriculture committee of the EC called for the communities to show “la sagesse des Normands”, which was translated by a wag as a plea for Norman Wisdom to sort out Europe’s problems.
Born and bred down the road from the cricket ground in Marylebone, Norman’s early life was very hard indeed. His father once threw him across the room and Norman remembered his head touching the ceiling in the process.
As a fourteen year old he walked all the way to Cardiff to run away to sea. He slept rough in the streets of London. He was saved when he joined the army as a bands-boy.
Wisdom made people laugh at his plight and then made them laugh again at their own temporary morbidity, but just as importantly, he once played at Lord’s.
Norman Wisdom 1915 – 2010.
* The Lord’s Taverners are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year and trying to raise £500,000. Taverners, who typically come from the arts and creative industries, believe sport and recreation are essential for young people. Their charity’s mission is to give a “sporting chance” to those in need by focusing on youth cricket in disadvantaged areas and sports and recreational equipment for young people with disabilities and special needs, including specially-adapted minibuses.