Monday Morning Brief | British comedian on Albanian stamp

August 29, 2016 08:22 AM

Monday Morning Brief | British comedian on Albanian stamp

Scott catalog new-issues editor Marty Frankevicz explains why Albania issued a stamp honoring British film comedian Norman Wisdom and how he achieved a cult following in that country.


Full video transcript:

Good morning and welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for August 29, 2016.

In my job of creating the catalog listings for all of the stamps of the world, uncovering some bizarre nugget is a rather common occurrence. Recently, while reviewing stamps issued in late 2015 by Albania, I came across a strip of four stamps depicting famous men from foreign countries. The name of one of the men honored in this strip seemed vaguely familiar to me, so I looked it up.

The person so honored, Norman Wisdom, was a British film comedian who had a long career. He was most famous for a series of films produced in Britain in the 1950s and 60s that featured a recurring character known for his pratfalls, named Norman Pitkin. Wisdom appeared in a few American-made films in the 1960s, and also performed in two Broadway comedies that had short runs.

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It was then that I recalled that Wisdom had appeared on stamps in the Comedians issue of Great Britain released on April Fools’ Day of 2015. That set paid tribute to other comedians like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Dudley Moore, and the stars of Absolutely Fabulous, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders - comedians far better known to Americans than Norman Wisdom.

But why was Wisdom appearing on a stamp from Albania? While Norman Wisdom is a relatively unknown actor to Americans, it turns out he actually achieved a cult following in Albania.

What accounts for Wisdom’s immense popularity in Albania? During the 1950s and 60s, Albania was a communist country run by Enver Hoxha, a paranoid guy who admired Joseph Stalin at a time when even the Soviets realized Stalin went too far. Hoxha’s various disputes with the Soviets eventually made him align Albania with the People’s Republic of China, thus isolating Albania from just about every other country in the world.

Being a true Marxist dictator, Hoxha allowed his people only limited information about Western countries. Virtually all Western-made films were verboten. But there was something about the way Wisdom’s characters struggled against the powers-that-be in his films that Hoxha saw as ideologically acceptable, and the few films that starred Wisdom that Hoxha allowed into Albania essentially gave a severely-repressed generation of Albanians their only view of the Western world.

Wisdom visited Albania after the communist era and was amazed at the extent of his stardom there. On his first visit, he was greeted by one of his fans, the president of Albania, and later he was declared an honorary citizen of Albania’s capital, Tirana.

So while Wisdom wasn’t a household name in America, he hit it big in Albania  ̶̶ big enough for them to issue a stamp in his honor.

For Linn’s Stamp News and the Scott Catalogs, I’m Marty Frankevicz. Enjoy your week in stamps.