The British comedian who was Charlie Chaplin’s favourite clown and the only serious rival to that comic genius has passed away in a nursing home on the Isle of Man, where he’d lived for many years after suffering a series of strokes. He was 95. The comedian was enormously popular in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s – outstripping even Sean Connery’s James Bond as the UK’s top box office star. His career peaked with films like A Stitch In Time in 1963. Like Chaplin, Wisdom always played the same character: an irrepressible little man, who pratfalls his way through misadventures as he runs up against authority. Only the settings changed — from a department store to an army barracks to a hospital. Like Chaplin, Wisdom had an appalling childhood. His parents pretty much abandoned him when he was young and he spent time in a children’s home. It was Rex Harrison who advised Wisdom to become a comedian after he spotted him clowning about in the Merchant Navy during the war. “If you don’t become a professional comedian when you’re back in Civvy Street, you’re mad,” Harrison reportedly told him.
Wisdom’s physical comedy and his trademark tripping over himself made him enormously popular all over the world. He became a national hero in Communist Albania, where his movies were the only Western movies allowed to be shown on TV. Stalinist ruler Enver Hoxha deemed that Wisdom’s films were a Communist parable on class war. I can’t really think of any comedian today who does Wisdom’s kind of physical comedy – apart from perhaps Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean.