The importance of Norman Wisdom to Albanians during the Hoxha period cannot be overestimated, writes Mira Blushi
This article originally appeared in Index on Censorship magazine, November/December 2000
Through years of ideological isolation, British comedian Norman Wisdom lighted the gloom of Enver Hoxha’s Albania, articulating out loud what the country’s cowed subjects dared not whisper. Foreign films were one of the country’s only windows on the outside world. The comedies of Norman Wisdom, known as Pitkin, were by far the most successful.
After 1973, even these were banned, condemned as “foreign manifestations…with a negative influence on the spiritual tranquillity and peace of mind of the Albanian people.” However, after a decade of nothing but the products of the Shqipёria e re (New Albania) film studio, foreign films began to creep back.
Though Wisdom had been out of fashion for decades in the UK, the news that Pitkin would be screened every Sunday after the 8.30pm news bulletin was the major news event of 1982. Even the censors kept quiet. The entire Wisdom oeuvre was screened again in 1987.
It took dramatic political change and a further decade, but Albanians did finally have the last laugh on Hoxha when Wisdom came to Tirana and finally met his keenest fans.
Mira Blushi is director of international relations at Albanian radio and TV