About this Recording
8.120858 - WISDOM, Norman: Don't Laugh at Me (1951-1956)
English 

Norman Wisdom – Don't Laugh at Me
Original 1951–1955 Recordings

 

Norman Wisdom, the comedian who became the J. Arthur Rank organization's top box office attraction in the early 1950s, and the singer who sold thousands and thousands of records over several decades, didn't even become a show business professional until he was 31. Yet within six years he was able to buy himself a brand new Rolls Royce, and in 2002 he was dubbed Sir Norman Wisdom by Her Majesty the Queen.

Norman Wisdom was born in London on 4 February 1915. By the time he was nine, his parents had split up, and after spending some years in care, he went to sea at the age of fourteen for a short spell as a cabin boy. A year later he joined the army as a band boy with the Royal Hussars; with his regiment, he spent some time in India, and learned to play six instruments – piano, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, drums and xylophone. He also honed the boxing skills he'd learned earlier, and eventually became flyweight champion for his regiment.

Improbably, those pugilistic skills were to have a direct effect on his future career in entertainment. For relaxation from his army chores, Norman would practise shadow-boxing in the gym, and his innate sense of humour prompted him to add pratfalls, grimaces and all kinds of clowning around. One of his officers happened to catch one of these 'performances', and enlisted Private Wisdom's services in the regimental concert party – and he also played saxophone with the dance band.

Norman left the army in 1939, but with the outbreak of war in September he was soon back in uniform, this time in the Royal Corps of Signals. Many of his wartime messages, however, were musical and comedy ones, as he spent much of his time entertaining the troops and refining the clowning talents that were to carry him to starry heights in the years ahead. It was reported that his billing for these concerts was as 'Dizzy Wizzy'!

On demobilization in 1946, Norman auditioned for the famed Windmill Theatre, and was turned down, but his persistence finally earned him a spot on the bill at Collins' Music Hall in Islington. His act combined his musical skills with his natural flair for physical comedy, and for the next two years he managed to keep working, first in pantomime in Brighton and then in a revue, Let's Make Hay, at the Metropolitan Theatre in London. His shtick included wearing a very crumpled suit, and a cap worn sideways with the peak turned up, and he named this character The Gump.

His first film, made in 1948, was A Date with a Dream, where he played a member of a wartime concert party. His big break came later in 1948 when David Nixon, a fellow variety performer with a conjuring act, asked Norman to be his assistant for a few tricks. For this work, Norman wore his Gump suit, and the act – and the suit – worked so well that he and Nixon were hired for a 1949 summer show, Buttons and Bows, in Blackpool.

There followed his West End debut in a revue, Sauce Piquante, at the Cambridge Theatre in 1950, and another pantomime, Cinderella, in Birmingham that Christmas. It was his next show that triggered Norman's first recording; in March 1951 he went into London Melody, one of several Ice Shows being produced in the early Fifties by Claude Langdon at London's Empress Hall, Earls Court. For the show, Norman wrote himself a song, Beware, which became his first recording for Decca, backed with the title song, London Melody, which, along with the rest of the score, had been written by Robert Farnon and Patricia Nash. He later re-recorded Beware, backed with The Heart of a Clown, for Columbia, who had signed him early in 1952.

Norman had become much in demand for appearances on radio and television, which further enhanced his national popularity, but it was while he was starring in 1951 in Paris To Piccadilly, a revue at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London's Coventry Street, that the powers that be at the J. Arthur Rank organization decided to give him a leading role in his first major film feature, Trouble in Store. This was to be the first of a series of Norman Wisdom box office hits for Rank, and won a British Film Institute Award.

Norman recorded two songs from Trouble in Store. The first, recorded in 1952, and which became forever associated with him, was Don't Laugh At Me, which he wrote with June Tremayne. It was backed with Once In Love With Amy, a song from the Broadway hit Where's Charley, which Norman had seen on a recent visit to New York. Some years later, Norman played the lead when the show came to London. Don't Laugh At Me had a slow sales start, but as Norman's popularity grew, the record sales built, and hit its peak in April 1954 when the disc got as high as third on the sales charts.

The second Trouble in Store song was Norman's first recording for Philips, in February 1954. The Dutch company had just acquired the U.S. Columbia record catalogue, and had hired EMI A & R man Norman Newell to build a British pop component. Norman Wisdom was one of the first artists lured to the new UK label, and the Trouble in Store song I'd Like To Put On Record was the first of many recordings for the label. Yet it was the second side, My Little Dog (Where's He Gone) that got the most attention.

Norman had written the song to give himself a chance to take full advantage of the 'pathetic little chap' image that he had developed, and it became a regular request favourite on BBC radio programmes. (As publicist for Philips Records at the time, the present writer helped to milk this image by borrowing the scruffiest available mongrel from Battersea Dogs' Home, and giving the Daily Mirror an exclusive photo shoot of Norman with His Little Dog).

In 1952, before leaving EMI for Philips, Norman had been teamed with comedienne Joyce Grenfell for a duet on Narcissus, an ingenious combination of nineteenth century American composer Ethelbert Nevin's familiar tune and Grenfell and Wisdom's gentle dialogue and occasional la-la-la moments of song. This too developed an enduring popularity with British radio listeners. It was backed with a novelty tune, I Don't 'Arf Love You, which again had Norman duetting with the irrepressible comedienne.

Norman's 1954 Rank film One Good Turn spawned two more song recordings, Please Opportunity (backed with the standard You Were Meant For Me) and Take A Step In The Right Direction, which had another Wisdom composition, I'll Always Love You, on the reverse. Other tracks to come out of Norman's comparatively brief association with Philips were Young At Heart, Just To Be With You, They Didn't Believe Me and So Nice To Dream.

By 1955, Norman Wisdom had been invited to appear in two Royal Variety Shows, had entertained the Royal Family at their Christmas Party at Windsor Castle, and had starred twice in shows at the London Palladium. The second of these, Painting the Town, co-starred Ireland's singing sensation, Ruby Murray, and Columbia heralded his return to their label with several recordings, including two duets with Ruby Murray, Boy Meets Girl and Two Rivers, and Impossible, a little-known song that deserved a wider hearing the first time around, and finally gets its chance here.

While Norman Wisdom's recording career tailed off in the Sixties, he continued to make stage appearances as well as a series of modest but very successful films. In 1966 he went to the U.S. where he starred on Broadway in Walking Happy, a Sammy Cahn–Jule Styne musical based on Hobson's Choice, appeared with Noel Coward in a TV musical adaptation of Shaw's Androcles and the Lion, and made one film, The Night They Raided Minsky's (retitled The Night They Invented Striptease for UK release).

He continued his acting career well into his eighties, including appearances on Coronation Street and in the BBC TV series Last of the Summer Wine.

Pip Wedge
Former Assistant Editor, NME, TV Exec (UK and Canada); current Canadian Rep, Robert Farnon Society (www.rfsoc.org.uk)

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Some Notes on the Music Directors on these Recordings

When Philips got into the record business in January 1954, one of the two staff arranger / conductors hired by Norman Newell was Wally Stott (the other was Geoff Love, known to many only as a jazz trombonist, but an accomplished arranger who gained later fame with his recordings as Manuel and his Music of the Mountains). Wally, who had played saxophone and done many arrangements for Geraldo for several years before leaving to go freelance, arranged and conducted all the Philips tracks in this CD set.

Bob Farnon first made his mark with British audiences as Captain Robert Farnon, leader of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces which came to London in the summer of 1944. Bob stayed on in London after the war, conducting the Geraldo Orchestra for a time and later becoming famous for his many light music compositions, like "Portrait of a Flirt", "Jumping Bean" and "Journey Into Melody". Bob arranged and conducted Norman 's London Melody and Beware for Decca. (The thriving Robert Farnon Society (www.rfsoc.org.uk) is an excellent source of information on the Farnon body of work).

When Norman Newell left Columbia to start the Philips Popular Music division, experienced orchestra leaders Norrie Paramor and Ray Martin took over the Columbia A & R reins, and between them handled many of the conducting chores for the label, including sharing the accompaniments to the Norman Wisdom recordings made between 1955 and 1964.

Pip Wedge

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I'd Like To Put On Record (That I Love You, Love You, Love You)
From the film Trouble In Store (David Arkell–Mischa Spoliansky)
Philips PB 223, mx AA 26095 1H. Recorded early 1954

London Melody (Robert Farnon–Patricia Nash)
Decca F 9738, mx DR 16219-1. Recorded 22 June 1951

Once In Love With Amy
From Where's Charley (Frank Loesser)
Columbia DB-3133, mx CA 22266-1A. Recorded 16 July 1952

Beware (Norman Wisdom)
Decca F 9738, mx DR16218-1. Recorded 22 June 1951

Don't Laugh at Me
From the film Trouble In Store (Norman Wisdom–June Tremayne)
Columbia DB 3133, mx CA 22267-1A. Recorded 16 July 1952

Narcissus (The Laughing Song) (Ethelbert Nevin, arr. Norrie Paramor & Joyce Grenfell)
Columbia DB 3161, mx CA 22294-2B. Recorded 27 August 1952

The Heart Of A Clown (Steve Nelson–Jack Rollins–Francis Kane)
Columbia DB 3084, mx CA 22174-1A. Recorded April 1952

My Little Dog (Where's He Gone) (Norman Wisdom–June Tremayne)
Philips PB 223. Recorded early 1954

Young At Heart (Carolyn Leigh–Johnny Richards)
Philips PB 259. Recorded March 1954

Just To Be With You (Spencer–Nelson)
Philips PB 259. Recorded March 1954

They Didn't Believe Me (Michael E. Rourke–Jerome Kern)
Philips PB 299. Recorded mid-1954

You Were Meant For Me (Arthur Freed–Nacio Herb Brown)
Philips PB 372. Recorded late 1954

So Nice To Dream (Park–Wilkinson)
Philips PB 299. Recorded late 1954

Please Opportunity (Norman Wisdom)
From the film One Good Turn
Philips PB 372. Recorded late 1954

Take A Step In The Right Direction (Norman Newell)
From the film One Good Turn
Philips PB 381. Recorded late 1954

I'll Always Love You (Norman Wisdom–de Rance)
Philips PB 381. Recorded late 1954

Boy Meets Girl (Roberts–Hennesy)
Columbia DB 3715, mx CA 23430-9A. Recorded 6 December 1955

Impossible (Julien)
Columbia DB 3700, mx CA 23406-8A. Recorded 14 November 1955

Two Rivers (Martin–Roberts–Norrie Paramor)
Columbia DB 3715, mx CA 23429-9A. Recorded 6 December 1955

I Don't 'Arf Love You (K. Mortimer)
Columbia DB 3161, mx CA 22293-2B. Recorded 27 August 1952

 


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