Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Norman Wisdom

Britain's beloved entertainer Sir Norman Wisdom, who died Oct. 4 at 95, turned tripping into an art form. Thankfully, Queen Elizabeth II laughed when he practiced it upon collecting his knighthood in 2000.

Wisdom began a comedy tour of the U.K. after World War II and eased into movies with the character the Gump — a downtrodden buffoon in ill-fitting clothes. Managing to get the girl by the final frame, he proved popular enough for a while to eclipse Sean Connery's James Bond as Britain's biggest box-office draw. He even elicited the praise of Charlie Chaplin, who called Wisdom "my favorite clown."

Wisdom would follow Chaplin Stateside, and he was nominated for a Tony Award in 1967 for Walking Happy. The following year, he received rave reviews for his performance in William Friedkin's film The Night They Raided Minsky's, about which this publication wrote, "Wisdom recalls Keaton in his split-second spills and deadpan pantomime."

In his later years, Wisdom reinvented himself as a straight actor on British television. But he remained loved abroad for his early work, most notably in Albania. At the height of the Cold War, the country's Stalinist rulers decreed that his films were politically acceptable.

"My comedy is for children from 3 to 93,"Wisdom once said. "You do need a slightly childish sense of humor, and if you haven't got that, it's very sad."

Glen Levy

This text originally appeared in the Oct. 18, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.