When the two men met briefly in 1950 Chaplin told Wisdom: “You will follow in my footsteps,” and three years later Wisdom made his first major film, Trouble in Store. Although he was already established on stage and on television, reviews of the film were moderate, and Rank executives held out no great hopes for it. In the event, the film set records in 51 London cinemas, and Wisdom’s plaintive theme song, Don’t Laugh at Me, spent months in the Top 10.
An unbroken run of 15 successes followed until 1966, with the 5ft 4in tall Wisdom holding off even the challenge of James Bond to be Britain’s favourite box-office draw. In 1964 a record 18.5 million people watched his BBC pantomime Robinson Crusoe.