How ironic and sad that a man called Wisdom should end up with creeping dementia. Did you see the TV programme ‘The Secret Life of Norman Wisdom aged 92 and three-quarters’? It was really quite poignant. Norman Wisdom is the TV and film star from the 50’s/60’s who portrayed the irrepressible but hapless Pitkin employed by the rather tyrannical Mr Grimsdale! Weirdly he subsequently became a major star in Albania because his early films were the only ones from the capitalist and corrupt West deemed suitable for screening in the former Communist state and most backward country in Europe. Anyway he has lived for many years in the Isle of Man and been cared for by his former PA over much of that time as his son and daughter led their own lives in mainland England.
I became aware that old Norman was a resident of the Isle of Man many years ago whilst working at Cellnet. For some obscure reason we became involved in the sponsorship of the National Rally Championship, one of the rounds of which – the Manx rally – was staged on the island. My colleagues Jim and Colin and I travelled there several times to recce the route, meet the organisers, prepare all the marketing, attend the rally etc. It seemed like every time we flew to the place we were accompanied on the plane by Norman and those other famous residents musician Rick Wakeman and Ian Lavender from Dad’s Army. Norman always sat in the first seat and there wasn’t one flight where he didn’t get up and do his Mr Grimsdale routine for the passengers. This included one fearsome flight when we flew through a heavy storm and Norman treated the audience to a performance of all his songs (there was only one) and funny walks (ditto) just to calm our nerves. Rick and Ian would whoop and holler after each grisly performance though they must have witnessed it dozens of times. Maybe it’s a stick-together celebrity thing. To be honest I never found him in the least bit funny – indeed he just looked like some sad old tw*t constantly needing to perform for his adoring fans. But he was harmless I guess.
Well Norman’s clearly getting old as the title indicates and he has become quite frail and his dementia has started to set in. His carer – who was also getting on a bit had reached the point where she was unable to dedicate all her time to him and she needed a break. The programme revolved around the issue of how the family would deal with his care needs which he required full-time. Well the son – probably in his late 40’s – was married to a very sweet lady and they had one son of about 12. The son ran a busy sports shop. The daughter also in her 40’s was in the throws of a divorce and didn’t appear to work.
How do you think they resolved the care issue? Well daughter decided that she couldn’t hack it on the grounds that a) she and Norman often rubbed each other up the wrong way b) she needed to be around to deal with the divorce proceedings c) the only male in her life she really loved was her mangy pooch and she couldn’t leave him or force him to endure an hour’s plane ride d) she was a mean-spirited self-centred bitch (though she didn’t admit that of course – I just popped it in there). The son decided he couldn’t leave the shop. So….it was agreed that Norman’s son’s wife would go over to the IoM to live with Norman as his full-time carer for the necessary few months. There’s more. Heartless daughter decided that she’d move in to live with her brother to do the cooking and laundry etc for him and the lad in the wife’s absence. Weird eh?It didn’t take long for the tensions to surface.
The daughter-in-law proved to be a loving and dedicated carer but it turned out to be more draining than she imagined. A series of falls and concern over Norman’s increasing physical frailty meant that he would actually require 24-hour professional care. After much angst they made the decision to put Norman in a residential home. Many crocodile tears from the daughter over the oh so difficult decision. As it turned out Norman was as happy as Pitkin at the end of all his films – he had what he always wanted – a permanent, captive audience (just like on the flights all those years ago) of his fellow residents to perform to. Oh how they must love his incessant renditions of ‘Don’t laugh at me ‘cos i’m a fool’ and his Mr Grimsdale! shrieks. I’d have given him the pillow treatment on his first night I’m afraid. It was bad enough when he was in his prime:
I don’t know who I felt sorriest for; Norman almost marble-less now but seemingly happy, his fellow-residents, the dedicated daughter-in-law, the citizens of the Isle of man who’ve ‘enjoyed’ his tomfoolery all these years, his put-upon PA/carer or the sad and confused grandson. It wasn’t the son and daughter though. She, at least, would have got the pillow too.