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For many years the name Pitkin has been synonymous with hope and laughter for hundreds of thousands of Albanians.

Despite the rigorous control and censorship placed on the Albanian media during the Hoxha regime, little Norman Wisdom was able to sneak through and entertain with his own unique humour. Ever since Mr Andrew Axford's first visit to Albania in August 1991, he has heard many tales and yarns of how Albanians crowded around the few television screens that existed, to watch the Pitkin films. It was therefore an exciting moment when one of his clients, who were actively investing in Albania, mentioned that they knew Norman Wisdom's agent and would see the possibilities of arranging a visit. After 12 months of waiting for this to happen, he finally decided to try and talk to Norman himself. In November 1994, he was able to speak to Norman's agent and arranged a meeting to discuss the possibility of visiting Albania. On the basis that Mr Axford took responsibility for funding and organising the visit, Norman readily agreed to a four day trip at the end of January 1995. Mr Axford was able to secure the support of Austrian Airlines who agreed to sponsor the visit. Axford then left for Tirana to see if it was going to be possible to arrange a number of activities for the visit and was delighted with the response, particularly from Sali Kelmendi, the Mayor of Tirane, Skender Buchpapaj, General Director of TVSH and Bujar Kapexhiu, Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts.

The stage was set for the event of the year in Tirana. The arrival of Norman on Thursday 22nd January was reminiscent to sketches in his early film career. The trip down the stairways from the Austrian aeroplane brought an immediate cheer from the awaiting crowds. The first evening was set aside for the Academy of Fine Arts to stage a variety show in honour of Pitkin and to welcome him for the first time to Albania. This was followed by a dinner at Enver Hoxha's villa, hosted by Teador Laco, Minister of Culture.

Friday was a day to celebrate the outstanding activities of the British charities that are working in Tirana, including Feed the Children, ChildHope, ADRA, Task Force Albania, CAFOD and the Red Cross. In the afternoon Pitkin spent 50 minutes talking and joking with the then-President Sali Berisha. The evening events started with a cocktail party at the National History Museum followed by an official dinner hosted by Stephen Nash, British Chargé d'Affaires.

Saturday morning began with a visit to the Jersey Aid Kindergarten project, then on to the National Variety Theatre for a show put on by students of the Academy of Fine Arts. Pitkin then went on a walk about to meet people in the street on route to the International Culture Centre where he was presented with the Freedom of the City of Tirane. In the afternoon the delegation visited the children's hospital and the Dystrophic Hospital before going onto the Television centre where Pitkin's variety show followed by a talk show were screened live.

The final day of the four day visit culminated in a performance at the sports palace where Pitkin sang songs, did some sketches and met hundreds of children. At the end of what was a vigourous schedule for anyone, the eighty year old Pitkin continued to bring smiles to thousands of Albanian fans. At Rinas airport he was lifted into the air by four policemen who carried him up the stairs, with Pitkin screaming "I want to stay for another two weeks, please let me stay".

Asked for his reaction to the visit, Pitkin explained "When I was asked if I would come to Albania, I never thought in my wildest dreams that so many people liked me". He went on to say "I have met many people during the past four days and I can honestly say that they have been warm, delightful and very caring towards me". He added "despite the conditions in Albania the people have a great sense of humour and a kindness that should never change". Pitkin concluded "I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this visit and want to thank Andre Axford for his amazing organisation and Austrian Airlines for their sponsorship of the flights". He added, "if they had not worked so hard and contributed so much both in time and money, this visit may never have happened".


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