Comedian, actress, singer, songwriter, screenwriter and director. Victoria Wood could do it all and was brilliant at it, too. From a shy, piano-playing comic to national treasure, she broke the mould when it came to what being a woman and a comedian was. Her untimely death in April 2016 shocked the nation and sparked an outpouring of grief and respect for a body of work that will stand the test of time for generations to come.
Victoria Wood began her career on the popular television talent show New Faces in 1974, which lead to her first break on the consumer affairs programme That’s Life. Hosted by Esther Rantzen, That’s Life featured Wood as a regular musical guest singing her own self-penned songs. In the early 1970s she met her long-time friend and collaborator, Julie Walters. The pair would share the screen in an adaptation of Wood’s own stage play, Talent as well as a short-lived comedy sketch show for Granada Television in the early 80s. Much of Wood’s writing style was formed on this show and, after leaving Granada for the BBC in 1984, it was defined in Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV.
As Seen On TV would see some of Wood’s finest sketches, characters and songs come to life with the aid of Walters and fellow collaborators Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie, Susie Blake and Patricia Routledge. The series also featured what is arguably one of Wood’s finest creations, the spoof soap opera Acorn Antiques. Her signature song, The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s Do It), originated on this series, too and showcased her acute observations and stylish writing.
In 1988 she took to the television stage in the popular series An Audience With.. which featured her stand-up and songs in front of a celebrity audience. Throughout most of the 1990s Wood embarked on sell-out tours around the country, breaking box-office records and selling out The Royal Albert Hall. A television film, Pat & Margaret, in which she also co-starred with Walters showed how nuanced her writing was, mixing pathos and humour to precision. There were also Christmas specials of her sketch shows before she took yet another turn into the world of sitcom.
Dinnerladies was set in the kitchen of a northern factory and featured all the types of characters that Wood had become known for. Although she took the leading role, Wood often gave the best work to her co-stars Anne Reid, Thelma Barlow, Maxine Peake, Shobna Gulati and Julie Walters who, this time around, played Wood’s mother, Petunia. In 2001 she began her last stand-up tour, At It Again, which ran for 62 dates and included another sell-out run at The Royal Albert Hall. She changed pace again and began making documentaries as well as adapting Acorn Antiques into a smash-hit musical.
In 2006 she wrote a one-off drama for ITV called Housewife 49, based on the diaries of Nella Last and set during the Second World War. The drama won two BAFTAs for Wood – one for writing and the other for acting. She returned to making documentaries in Victoria’s Empire as well as appearances on Desert Island Discs and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for radio. In 2011 she appeared in Eric and Ernie, a drama based on the early lives of the British comedy duo Morecambe & Wise, which she was also executive producer and co-creator.
For the Manchester International Festival, Wood wrote and directed the musical That Day We Sang about a middle-aged couple who meet and fall in love after appearing on a television show celebrating the children’s choir they were both a part of. She later adapted this stage musical for the small screen version that starred Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. As well as further appearances on radio on television, Wood took part in a celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief in which she was crowned Star Baker. Her last project, and final acting role, came in the three-part television adaptation of Fungus The Bogeyman for Sky where she starred alongside Timothy Spall.
What stands out, though, is her diversity. Stand-up shows one day to heart breaking dramas the next, Wood was a unique talent and rightly deserved her National Treasure status. She made the ordinary appear completely hilarious and the world has been robbed of what could have been. How many more classic moments of comedy and drama could there have been? When she passed away after a very private battle with Cancer, she left behind not only her two children but a legacy of sheer joy that will last long after the rest of us have parted ways.
VICTORIA WOOD 1953-2016