See Norman Wisdom’s fascinating collection at The Capitol, Horsham

Jack Lane with Nicholas and Jacqueline Wisdom
Jack Lane with Nicholas and Jacqueline Wisdom

There was something more than simply hoarding behind Norman Wisdom’s vast collection of memorabilia.

Wisdom’s son Nick believes the celebrated funnyman was genuinely collecting things that were extremely special to him – and that’s why Nick believes his dad would be so chuffed with the exhibition he has now brought together.

Norman Wisdom – A Lifetime In Showbusiness will be at the Capitol in Horsham from March 20-April 23, where it will coincide with Jack Lane’s one-man show Wisdom Of A Fool (March 31 and April 1).

“The exhibition goes back before Jack’s show,” Nick says. “But we had been wanting to get the two to coincide in the same place. The exhibition started in 2013 in Haywards Heath, my home town and then moved to Leicester. It is a touring exhibition.

“When my father passed away (in 2010), all his boxes of stuff came to where we live in Sussex, and I started looking through it. I knew he had quite a lot of memorabilia. He had an office, but when we were looking through it, there was just so much. It was a bit like a massive jigsaw puzzle. There were photographs – and hand-written scripts going back to before his showbusiness days. I realised this could be quite big.”

Completing the jigsaw puzzle was relatively straightforward: “I remembered a lot of it, and there is a big book by Richard Dacre which is like an A-Z of Norman Wisdom, with all his appearances, plus I have got albums of press cuttings going back to 1948. Everything was chronicled.”

Nick said: “He was very photogenic. I can’t think of any comedian who had so many photographs taken. We had two laundry boxes full of photos. His face would contort, and he was also very agile and acrobatic. We have got some very different photographs for the exhibition that people won’t have seen before, like in a cage with an orangutan!

“I think he always had a very good rapport with the public. I think people related to his brand of comedy. It was quite easy to watch, but it certainly astonished me just how many box office records he broke in his time. In the early 1950s, it was quite incredible. Trouble in Store, his first film in 1953, was at 67 London cinemas, and I think it broke records in 51 of them. And it just carried on like that!

“To be filming at Pinewood Studios during the day followed by two West End stage performances at night meant a gruelling 18-hour day with only Sunday to recover. With seven films and six West End shows stretching throughout the 1950s, the pattern was set.

“He was definitely a good dad, though. He was a very loving father and great fun to be with. We didn’t see an enormous amount of him when I was young because he was working so hard. He would only really be home on Sundays. When he left for work and returned from work, we would be in bed!”

For Nick, the satisfaction is now to be celebrating a man genuinely loved by an entire nation. Plus he suspects he is doing exactly what his dad hoped he would do.

“When you collect so much memorabilia, you must be thinking this might go somewhere. I think it went beyond hoarding. I remember him lending some memorabilia to his agent and in his letter he says ‘Please take care of this stuff. It means an awful lot to me.’ He never said to me ‘I would like you to put this all together into an exhibition’, but I do think he would be dead chuffed.”

Nick is hoping that the show will make it to the Isle of Man where Norman lived for 30 years: “He did a summer season there in the 1980s and just fell in love with the island. It would be great to take the exhibition there.”

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