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Big in Albania

Ask me how much I knew about Albania before coming here and my list would be a short one: Enver Hoxha, bunkers and Sir Norman Wisdom. I have no idea when or how I acquired this extensive body of knowledge, but the association of Norman Wisdom with Albania was by far the most interesting part of it.

I remember watching Norman Wisdom's old films on British television. My parents were fans of his wholesome, slapstick comedy, but apparently missed the ideological significance of Pitkin's relationship with Mr Grimsdale. Pitkin, the downtrodden and oppressed representative of the workers, triumphed every time over his capitalist oppressor, Mr Grimsdale - and he got the girl. It took a theorist of Hoxha's insight and profundity to discern this deeper political message.

It always seemed tremendously unlikely, yet the story of Sir Norman's fame in Albania has been reported in worthy sources like the BBC, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. According to the Guardian, when Wisdom visited Tirana in 1995 the then President and current Prime Minister Sali Berisha was there to greet him. The BBC story, reporting his return to the city in 2001, claimed he was a bigger draw than David Beckham, in the country at the same time with the England football team.

Another story from the Telegraph covers his visit in 2002 with British comedian, Tony Hawks. Together they performed a song, 'Big in Albania', written by Tim Rice. Hawks had taken a bet that he could get a song into the top 20 somewhere in the world and calculated that Sir Norman's status in Albania might help him into the local charts.

Despite all of this, I have never come across any indication of Wisdom's popularity in the country. While Albanian filmmaker and writer Fatmir Terziu has written about Sir Norman on his blog, I have never met anyone here who knows anything about him. I assume that this is because most of the Albanians I know tend to be in their twenties, while those who watched Sir Norman's films during the bleak years of communism would be much older.

Have any of my Albanian readers ever heard of Norman Wisdom? Do any of you remember going to see any of his films? Maybe it's time for the Millenium to run a Norman Wisdom retrospective. Or perhaps one of the many unnamed streets in the city could become Rr. Norman Wisdom (or would that be Uisdom?), or Rr. Pitkin.


Anonymous said…
You want to talk to Albanians of at least 25 years of age. Many of us remember his films, but once you grow up you realize how that that kind of humor isn't amongst the best the UK has to offer. I myself would rather go for Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder variety). Once we started watching Italian movies, Pitkin and most other TVSH movies were dead (except for nostalgia).
Anonymous said…
Yes of course i know him very well
Anonymous said…
First thing I thought was: who's that? :D
I heard about him , reading u.
Anonymous said…
Well I am under 25, and I remember his films being shown on tv well into the 90's. Children's magazines also used to have features called Pitkin's Corner (instead of Jokes Corner).

I did not realise he was called Norman Wisdom until I came to England though. So the character was popular, rather than the man himself.
ak said…
I know him, too. Very well. I'm under 25, too. I perfectly remember when he was in Albania. I perfectly remember his movies, too. Now that I think about it, it's been a looooong time since Mr. Wisdom has crossed my mind. I had totally removed him from my memory, but now that you mendtioned him, I perfectly remember the whole thing.

Anonymous said…
I think you right our man i tirana!
Most of the people who know him are over 25 or 30..
Yeah i know him, but like everyone all's in albania, i know him as "Pitkini" not as Norman Wisdom! However, i think the media here in England go a bit over the top about his popularity in Albania.
I mean, saying that somehow this guy is more favourite than Backham in 2001 is bouncers!!
I remembers his film before 90' and i did like them.
This were not the most favourite film from the Albanians, but had something that the Albania people value. Like the main characters was not rich but a simple guy. Also there were no violence on his films, no swearing or any sexually seen that can make you uneasy.
Just a nice, funny family film.
Also his popularity his high because of his excellent work with charities. He show to the Albanians that he actually is a nice person.
For that, he deserve a lot off respect from us.
Candyland said…
I'm 25 and remember him very well. We used to love his movies as kids. Don't remember his visits to Albania though.
ITS said…
Yeah, I vaguely remember "filmat me Pitkinin"...
Anonymous said…
I remember him too, but as Pitkin not N. Winsdom. I am over 25 btw. Since most of foreign movies were censored in Albania during the comunism there was a very limmited choice on what to like and what not. This may explain partially Mr Wisdom success in Albania.
Althoug I still don't understand why his movies were so much liked by Enver Hoxha and his censors. Probably as you state because Pitkin portrayed a member of working class in his comedies...
belle_fleur said…
Of course I remember him. In fact, flashes from his funny films come back to mind as I'm writing here:))
My guess is that most of the people in Albania know him by his stage name “Pitkin” and I believe you are very correct when you acknowledge the fact that it was his social philosophy.

“Pitkin, the downtrodden and oppressed representative of the workers, triumphed every time over his capitalist oppressor, Mr Grimsdale - and he got the girl.”

And “yes” I am over 25
ET said…
Hi Alwyn !
I don't know why i'm writing this post.
Because i'm e regular reader for a long time of your nice blog ?
or maybe i have more then 25 years and 30 too.
and i'm feeling “tirato in ballo” ?
If you can't understand what i'm writing for, don't doubt in your intelligency,
it's the first time for me trying to write in english:)

Now, to understand better the Pitkin “fenomen” we have to now a litl bit of albanian TV history.
The first experimetal transmissions begin at the late '60. two, three times a week for 1 to 2 hours a day. from 1967 to 70-71.
The regular programms begin after '71 thet coincide with electrificaton of all country(octtobre 71), every single village has power 24/7.,and constructions of factory in Durres(73-74?) for producting the TV
(Teuta, Adriatik,Lura :))
So in the second half of '70 a lot of people has e tv at home . (something like all)

About programs.
daily programms ; from 18 to 22:30 -23.
18-18:20 news. 18:20-17 childrens program. 19 -20 Discutions: family, school, society, health and so on,
20-20: news. 20:30 – 22:30 Films (movie). 22:30.-22:50 news ( the same of 18 and 20)and Good night.
weekly programms:
(prime time, second and third all in one from 20:30-22:30:))
Sunday: Dombey and Sons (movie trated by Charles Dickens novel)
Monday:Albanian music
tuesday :italin neo-realissm movie, tipo “ ladri di biciclete”
wednesday: Documentary, mostly “peoples and countries” life of some peoples in Amazonia or central Africa ( never the life of europeans or americans !)
thursday:italians neo- realissm or tv movie like “ The Citadel”
Friday: Clasic music. Bethoven, Mozart, Verdi, Pucini etc..

ad finally Saturday !!! urrrah...... Pitkin :)))*

but not only. we have lought with Carlz Caplin, Fernandel, Buster Keaton, Stanlio & Ollio, Louis de Finés in Saturday night fever ;)

This for the years from '75 to 80, after this period the Academy of Arts has preparated a lot of artists,
big investments was made in “Shqiperia e Re” kinostudio who makes in this times about 14 movie a year..
but this is another story.
Tash çar t'thot mo lala ty. T'uroj gjith t'mirat kudo qe t'jesh e ma bo kabull po e pata zgjat shum :)
Anonymous said…
Yes, my Albanian friends in the UK remember Pitkin, and also they seem to have a lot of knowledge about and love for Laurel and Hardy films.

They certainly have a sense of humour, but I suppose that compensated for living under Hoxha's tough regime!
Anonymous said…
My favorite film of his is "the window washer".... I think, or so was the albanian translation of the title.
Anonymous said…
"You want to talk to Albanians of at least 25 years of age. Many of us remember his films, but once you grow up you realize how that that kind of humor isn't amongst the best the UK has to offer."

I am younger than that. I remember watching him many years ago with my dad and my whole family. I missed the ideological part as well, maybe because of my age then.

Till now all UK comedians I watched have been hilarious. Thanks to the Internet and youtube, I spend now hours and hours watching and laughing till my cheeks and stomach ache.

I totally agree with our man on running a Pitkin retrospective at Millenium or on tv.

I can't stand melo-jelly drama sopa opera, or horror movies anymore. I have decided to watch only fun movies for my own sanity.
Anonymous said…
Laurel and Hardy films

Oh my GOOOSHH! I miss them so much. I use to watch them on Albanian tv, but mostly really early in the morning on the "boring" Italian state tv RAI 3 that to me was the best. It aired classical American shows,movies, old Italian/French music, comedies, documentaries, etc. Everything we had missed during isolation. My siblings fought with me for the remote and thought i was a weirdo.
I miss those shows!

A couple of months ago when i watched Laurel and Hardy o nyoutube I started crying. I want all the DVDs!
Anonymous said…
"I mean, saying that somehow this guy is more favourite than Backham in 2001 is bouncers!!"

He is probably to parents and grandparents. Each generation understands the pieces differently.
Anonymous said…
Thank you ET for the perspective.

Maybe Enver had a sense of humour?!
Anonymous said…
F**k knowes where the British newspapers get this info, sometimes I feel that there's a certain amount of cherrished ignorance and downright lasyness when it comes to a choice between researching (a country) or using same old stereotypes - stereotypes seem to be the safest bet.
Yes I know Mr Wisdom (one of the few offerings during Commie times), yes the generation of my father is fond of him but definitely not obsessed with him. As far as commedians go we were also familar with Chaplin, Oliver Hardy and Stand Laurel but mostly it must be said the the regime was far kinder to Italian and French cinema than say British or US.
In the early 90s Albanians were desperate for any creature coming from the west be it Norman or Jehovas witness, they all got a warm welcome for a while and were naturally subject of Albanian curiosity, this however is already history.
olli said…
Thanks all. Fascinating stuff.
Anonymous said…
Well the whole confusion comes from you refering to the actor as Norman Wisdom. That's like asking most people now days in US is they know who Sacha Baron Cohen is. I assure you 99% will have no clue who you are talking about. Ask them if they know who BORAT is and 99% of them will know. That is your flaw, ask people if they know about Pitkin, you will see how popular he was. I have a personal story on this whole Pitkin's name confusion. It was 1994 and I was taking an ESL class in Warwick, England, and all the students were foreign and we had to introduce ourselves and where we came from, so when I introduced myself as Albanian, my teacher jumped in:
- Ah you are famous for Enver Hoxha, bunkers and Norman Wisdom.
And since I did not know who Norman Wisdom was all I heard was:
- "Ah you are famous for Enver Hoxha, bunkers and your wisdom."
So since "wisdom" was the only positive word in that sentence I went on a rumbling spree about how wise my nation was and how old and hospitable we were.... took about 45 minutes to clear the confusion in the class and finally understand what was the teacher talking about. Needless to say i made a total ass of myself.
Love Pitkin, he was there at a time and in a place to give people some sort of ticket out of the sewer they were sinking in, albeit for maybe an hour or so.
Anonymous said…
surely anyone above 25y old remembers him. Back then, nobody had the choice to pick proper comedies. It was all about what our Mother Party decided to air. They liked Wisdom so we got stuck with him instead of watching proper comedy acting like Monty Python's and other excellent british actors

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