Victoria Wood CBE (19 May 1953 – 20 April 2016) was an English comedian, actress, singer and songwriter, screenwriter and director. Wood wrote and starred in sketches, plays, films and sitcoms, and her live comedy act was interspersed with her own compositions, which she accompanied on piano. Wood also composed and performed the theme music for her award winning BBC sitcom Dinnerladies. Much of her humour was grounded in everyday life, and included references to popular British media and brand names of quintessentially British products. She was noted for her skills in observing culture, and in satirising social classes.
She started her career in 1974 by winning the ATV talent show New Faces. It wasn’t until the 1980s that she began to establish herself as a comedy star, with the award-winning television series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV and became one of Britain’s most popular stand-up comics. In 1998, she wrote and starred in the (again, award-winning) sitcom Dinnerladies. In 2006, she won two BAFTA awards for her one-off drama for ITV1, Housewife, 49. Wood frequently worked with long-term collaborators Julie Walters, Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie. Wood died on 20 April 2016 after a short battle with cancer.
Wood was the youngest daughter of Stanley Wood and Nellie Mape. She had three siblings: a brother, Chris, and two sisters, Penny and Rosalind.
Wood began her show business career while an undergraduate studying drama at the University of Birmingham, appearing on the TV talent show New Faces. This led to her appearance in a sketch show featuring the winners of that series, The Summer Show. Her first big break was as a novelty act on the BBC‘s consumer affairs programme That’s Life! in 1976. Wood had first met long-term collaborator Julie Walters in the early 1970s, when Wood applied for Manchester Polytechnic, and coincidentally met up once more when they appeared together in the same theatre revue, In at the Death, in 1978 (for which Wood wrote a brief sketch). Its success led to the commissioning of Wood’s first play, Talent (also 1978), starring Hazel Clyne (in a role written for Walters), which won Wood an award for Most Promising New Writer. Peter Eckersley, the then-head of drama at Granada Television, saw Talent and immediately invited Wood to create a television adaptation. This time Julie Walters took the lead role, which had been written for her, while Wood reprised her stage role.
The success of the television version of Talent led to Wood writing the “follow-up”, Nearly A Happy Ending. Shortly afterwards, a third play for Granada was written and made, Happy Since I Met You, again with Walters alongside Duncan Preston as the male lead. During 1980 she also wrote and starred in the stage play Good Fun.
Recognising her talent, Eckersley offered Wood a sketch show, though Wood was unsure of the project; she only agreed to go ahead with the programme if Walters received equal billing. Eckersley came up with the obvious title Wood and Walters, and the dry run of the show (the pilot episode) was filmed. The programme was made into a full series, and went on to co-star Duncan Preston and a cast of other supporting actors. However, in between the filming of the pilot and the series, Eckersley died. Wood cites Eckersley as giving her first big break, and feels that Wood and Walters suffered due to his death. She was not impressed by Brian Armstrong, the emergency fill-in for Eckersley, and was of the opinion that he hired unsuitable supporting actors.
Wood also appeared as a presenter in Yorkshire Television‘s 1984 schools television programme for hearing-impaired children, Insight, in a remake of the series originally presented by Derek Griffiths. In 1982 and 1983 she appeared in BBC Radio’s Just a Minute.
Wood left Granada in 1984 for the BBC, who promised Wood more creative control over projects. Later that year, Wood’s sketch show Victoria Wood As Seen on TV went into production. This time, Wood chose actors herself: her friend Julie Walters once again starred, as did Duncan Preston. Wood’s friend Celia Imrie was also cast, as well as Susie Blake and Patricia Routledge. As Seen on TV was notable for featuring classic sketches such as Acorn Antiques, a spoof of low-budget soap opera and rumoured to be named after an antiques shop in her birthplace. Acorn Antiques is remembered for characters such as “Mrs Overall” (played by Walters), the deliberately bad camera angles and wobbling sets, as well as Celia Imrie’s sarcastic tone as “Miss Babs”. The sketches were seen as satirising the production values of the ITV soap operaCrossroads in the 1970s. Wood’s most popular comic song, “The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s Do It)” originated in this show. It tells the story of Freda (a woman eager for sex) and Barry (an introverted man terrified of sex), makes clever use of allusions to a multitude of risqué activities while avoiding all taboo words. There was a second series of Victoria Wood As Seen on TV in 1986, followed by a one-off ‘special’ in 1987.
During this period Wood began to move away from the sketch show format and into more self-contained works, often with a more bittersweet flavour. Victoria Wood (six parts, 1989) featured Wood in several individual stories such as “We’d Quite Like To Apologise”, set in an airport departure lounge, and “Over to Pam”, set around a fictional talk show. There was a brief return to sketches with the 1992 Christmas Day special Victoria Wood’s All Day Breakfast. The television film Pat and Margaret (1994), starring Wood and Julie Walters as long-lost sisters with very different lifestyles, continued her return to stand-alone plays with a poignant undercurrent to the comedy. In 1998, she wrote her first sitcom, Dinnerladies, which continued her now established milieu of mostly female, mostly middle-aged characters depicted vividly and amusingly, but with a counterpoint of sadder themes.
In 1994 there was also the one off BBC 80-minute programme “Victoria Wood: Live in Your Own Home” featuring Julie Walters and Duncan Preston.
December 2000 saw the Christmas sketch show special Victoria Wood with All The Trimmings, starring her traditional troupe of actors as well as a string of special guest stars. However, it was during this period that Wood tended to move away from comedy, focusing on drama instead. She did continue to produce one-off specials, though, including Victoria Wood’s Sketch Show Story (2002) and Victoria Wood’s Big Fat Documentary (2005).
Wood wrote her first musical, Acorn Antiques: The Musical!, which opened in 2005 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, for a limited period, directed by Trevor Nunn. It starred most of the original cast, withSally Ann Triplett playing Miss Berta (played in the series by Wood). Wood played Julie Walters’ character Mrs. Overall for matinee performances.
Wood wrote the 2006 one-off ITV serious drama Housewife, 49, an adaptation of the real diaries of Nella Last, and played the eponymous role of an introverted middle-aged character who discovers new confidence and friendships in Lancashire during the Second World War. Housewife, 49 was critically praised, and Wood won BAFTAs for both her acting and writing for this drama – a rare double.
In November 2006, Wood directed a revival production of Acorn Antiques: The Musical! with a brand new cast. The musical opened at the Lowry in Salford in December and toured the United Kingdom from January to July 2007.
In January 2007, she appeared as herself in a series of new adverts featuring famous people working for supermarket chain Asda. The adverts featured Wood working in the ASDA bakery and introduced a new catchphrase for the supermarket – “there’s no place like ASDA”. Wood was also the subject of an episode of The South Bank Show in March 2007, and is the only woman to be the subject of two South Bankprogrammes (the previous occasion was in September 1996).
Wood appeared in her own travel documentary show on BBC One called Victoria’s Empire, in which she travelled around the world in search of the history, cultural impact and customs the British Empire placed on the parts of the world it ruled. She departed Victoria Station, London for:
- Programme One: Calcutta (India), Hong Kong and Borneo
- Programme Two: Ghana, Jamaica and Newfoundland, Canada
- Programme Three: New Zealand, Australia and Zambia, finishing at the Victoria Falls.
In a tribute to Wood, the British television station UKTV Gold celebrated her works with a weekend marathon of programmes between 3 and 4 November 2007. The weekend focused on programmes such as Victoria Wood Live and Dinnerladies in addition to Victoria Wood As Seen on TV – its first screening on British television since its last repeat in 1995.
Wood returned to stand-up comedy with a special performance written for the celebratory show Happy Birthday BAFTA on 28 October 2007, alongside other household names. The programme was transmitted onITV1 on Wednesday 7 November 2007. On Boxing Day 2007 she appeared as “Nana” in the Granada dramatisation of Noel Streatfeild‘s novel Ballet Shoes.
In December 2007, while guesting on the radio programme Desert Island Discs, Wood said that she was about to begin writing a film, described as a contemporary comedy about a middle-aged person, marking her first foray into film. On Thursday, 12 June 2008, Wood was part of the celebrity guest panel on the series The Apprentice: You’re Fired! on BBC Two.
In June 2009, Wood appeared as a panellist on the first 2 episodes of the new series of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.
Wood returned to television comedy for a one-off Christmas comedy sketch-show special, her first in 9 years, titled Victoria Wood’s Mid Life Christmas, transmitted on BBC One at 21:00 on Christmas Eve 2009.The special, which reunited Wood with long-time collaborator Julie Walters, included a spoof of BBC period drama (Lark Rise to Candleford, Little Dorrit and Cranford) entitled Lark Pies to Cranchesterford, a spoof documentary following Acorn Antiques star Bo Beaumont (Walters) titled Beyond the Marigolds, highlights from the Mid Life Olympics 2009 (with Wood as the commentator), parodies of personal injury advertisements and a reprise of Wood’s most famous song “The Ballad of Barry and Freda” (“Let’s Do It”), performed as a musical number with tap-dancers and a band. Victoria Wood: Seen On TV, a 90-minute documentary looking back on Wood’s career, was broadcast on BBC Two on 21 December, whilst a behind-the-scenes special programme about Midlife Christmas, Victoria Wood: What Larks!, was broadcast on BBC One on 30 December.
For the 2011 Manchester International Festival, Wood wrote and directed That Day We Sang, a musical set in 1969 with flashbacks to 1929. It tells the story of a middle-aged couple who find love after meeting on a TV programme about a choir they both sang in 40 years previously. Though the characters are imaginary, the choir really did exist, singing with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on a record that sold over a million copies. Apart from the pieces on the 1929 recording (Purcell’s “Nymphs and Shepherds” and the Evening Benediction from Hansel and Gretel) the score for the musical was written by Wood herself.
On 23 December 2012, BBC One screened Loving Miss Hatto, a drama written by Wood. It was her “imagining” of the life of real concert pianist Joyce Hatto, the centre of a scandal over the authenticity of her recordings and her role in the hoax. In April 2013, Wood produced a documentary about the history of tea named Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup of Tea. In 2013 Wood played retired constable-turned-security-guard Tracy in BBC Scotland’s “Case Histories” starring Jason Isaacs. She appeared on an episode of QI, broadcast on 13 December 2013 and around the same time made two return appearances on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue during the show’s 60th series. In March 2014, Wood voiced the TV advert for the tour of the old set of Coronation Street. On 26 December 2014, a television adaption of That Day We Sang, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton was shown on BBC 2.
In early 2015, she took part in a celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief and was crowned Star Baker in her episode. She co-starred with Timothy Spall in Sky television’s 3-part television adaptation of Fungus the Bogeyman, which was first shown on 27, 28 & 29 December 2015.
She died after a short battle of Cancer on the 20th April 2016.
Wood was notable for frequently including the same actors in her shows. These actors appeared in most of her work in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and included – most notably – Julie Walters, Celia Imrie andDuncan Preston. To a lesser extent, other associated actors include: Lill Roughley, Anne Reid, Philip Lowrie and Susie Blake.
Awards and recognition
Wood received many awards in her long career. In 1997, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Earlier in 1994, she was made an honoraryDoctor of Letters by the University of Sunderland. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 Funniest Acts in British Comedy. In the 2005 Channel 4 poll the Comedians’ Comedian, she was voted 27th out of the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. She was the highest-ranked woman on the list, beating French & Saunders (who paid tribute to her in their ‘Lord of the Rings’ spoof, where a map of middle earth shows a forest called ‘Victoria Wood’), Joan Rivers and Joyce Grenfell.
Her sketch show Victoria Wood As Seen on TV won BAFTA awards for its two series and Christmas Special. In 2007, she was nominated for and won the BAFTA awards for “Best Actress” and for “Best Single Drama” for her role in the British war-time drama Housewife, 49, in which she played the part of an ordinary housewife dominated by her moody husband. Wood’s character eventually stands up to him and helps the WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) in their preparations for the British soldiers.
Her popularity with the British public was confirmed when she won ‘Best Stand-Up’ and ‘Best Sketch Show’ by Radio Times readers in 2001. Wood was also voted ‘Funniest Comedian’ by the readers of Reader’s Digest in 2005 and came 8th in ITV’s poll of the public’s 50 Greatest Stars, four places behind occasional co-star Julie Walters.
Wood was the recipient of six British Comedy Awards: Best stand-up live comedy performer (1990); Best female comedy performer (1995); WGGB Writer of the year (2000); Best live stand-up (2001); Outstanding achievement award (jointly awarded to Julie Walters) (2005); Best female TV comic (2011).
- Wood had four wins from fourteen nominations (she also won a special Bafta that she received at a tribute evening in 2005, taking her total to five):
|1986||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood As Seen on TV||Won|
|1987||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood As Seen on TV||Nominated|
|1988||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood As Seen on TV||Nominated|
|1989||Best Light Entertainment Performance||An Audience With Victoria Wood||Won|
|1990||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood||Nominated|
|1995||Best Actress||Pat and Margaret||Nominated|
|Best Single Drama||Pat and Margaret||Nominated|
|Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood: Live in Your Own Home||Nominated|
|1999||Best Comedy Programme or Series||Dinnerladies||Nominated|
|2000||Best Situation Comedy||Dinnerladies||Nominated|
|2001||Best Comedy Programme or Series||Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings||Nominated|
|2007||Best Actress||Housewife, 49||Won|
|Best Single Drama||Housewife, 49||Won|
|2011||Best Single Drama||Eric and Ernie||Nominated|
- Victoria Wood As Seen on TV won the BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme in 1986, 1987 and 1988; these awards went to the producer, Geoff Posner.
- An Audience With Victoria Wood won the BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme in 1989; this award went to David G. Hillier.
Wood married magician Geoffrey Durham in March 1980. They separated in October 2002. They had two children, Grace (born 1988) and Henry (born 1992). Although Wood fiercely maintained her privacy and that of her children, even originally refusing to release publicly the name of her son when he was born, Henry Durham appeared in a small cameo in the accompanying ‘making of’ documentary for her 2010 BBC Christmas Special.
- Sold Out (1991)
- Live in Your Own Home (31 October 1994)
- Live 1997 (27 October 1997)
- At the Albert Hall – Live (25 November 2002)
- “Victoria Wood”. Desert Island Discs. 23 December 2007. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
- Brandwood, Neil (2002). Victoria Wood – The Biography (1st ed.). London: Boxtree. ISBN 1-85227-982-6.
- Duguid, Mark (July 2003). “Wood, Victoria (1953–2016)”. British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- The custard.tv guide to… dinnerladies at the Wayback Machine(archived April 10, 2008)
- “Manchester Stars & Celebrities of Television & Film”. Papillon Graphics’ Virtual Encyclopedia & Guide to Greater Manchester. manchester2002-uk.com. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- “BFI Film & TV Database on The Summer Show”. BFI. 29 March 2007.
- ITV 50: What Did ITV Do For Me?, interview with Victoria Wood (September 2005).
- Duguid, Mark (July 2003). “Talent (1979)”. Screenonline.org.uk. British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- Wood, Victoria. “The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s do it!)”. prestel.co.uk. Retrieved 27 August 2007.
- “Victoria Wood (1989)”. Screenonline.org.uk. British Film Institute. 2007.
- “All Day Breakfast (1992) (TV)”. Internet Movie Database. 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- Duguid, Mark (July 2003). “Pat and Margaret (1994)”.Screenonline.org.uk. British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- Duguid, Mark (July 2003). “dinnerladies (1998–2000)”.Screenonline.org.uk. British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings (2000) (TV)”. Internet Movie Database. 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “Victoria Wood’s Sketch Show Story”. Simply Stephanie Beacham. 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007.[dead link]
- “Victoria Wood’s Big Fat Documentary”. weightlossresources.co.uk. 2004. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- Caroline, Briggs (2 December 2004). “Mrs Overall Sings Onto The Stage”. BBC News. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
- “Victoria Wood Scoops BAFTA Double”. BBC News. 20 May 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “Acorn Antiques: The Musical!”. The Stage. 28 August 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “A Touch of Class?”. Ad Breakdown (BBC News). 2 May 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “The South Bank Show”. epguides.com. 2 May 2007. Retrieved18 October 2007.
- Mangan, Lucy (30 April 2007). “The Weekend’s TV: Victoria’s Empire”. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “Happy Birthday BAFTA“. BAFTA Heritage. 8 November 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
- Hemley, Matthew (20 July 2007). “Wood to star in a BBC1 adaptation of Ballet Shoes”. The Stage. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- Brown, Mark (17 September 2009). “BBC One Christmas special for Victoria Wood”. Seen It. Retrieved 19 September 2009.
- “Victoria Wood tells all about Eric and Ernie”. BBC News. 30 December 2010. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
- Warren, Lydia (17 January 2011). “Remembering Manchester Children’s Choir”. Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 19 July2011.
- “That Day We Sang : A Manchester love story – with singing”.Manchester International Festival. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
- Barber, Richard (14 December 2012). “How I fell for a con artist: The bizarre true story of a husband who tricked the world into thinking his wife was a virtuoso pianist – and one woman’s obsession with it”.Daily Mail. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
- Loving Miss Hatto, BBC Media Centre. Retrieved: 24 December 2012.
- Gilbert, Gerard (11 April 2013). “Last Night’s Viewing: Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup of Tea, BBC1 The Century That Wrote Itself, BBC4”. The Independent (London).
- “Fungus The Bogeyman Series 1”. Sky. Retrieved 2016-01-02.
- “WOOD on Walters on Imrie on Preston on Blake”. prestel.co.uk. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
- “Victoria Wood – A Chronology”. prestel.co.uk. July 2003. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “Alumni”. University of Sunderland. July 2003. Archived from the original on 13 January 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- The London Gazette: . 14 June 2008.
- “The A-Z of laughter (part two)”. London: The Guardian. 7 December 2003. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “The comedians’ comedian : News 2004 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide”. chortle.co.uk. 2004. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
- “Eric Idle // Idleized Heaven // The Daily Dirty Fork – 2005”. eric-idle.com. 2005. Archived from the original on 3 October 2007. Retrieved 31 October 2007.
- “Bafta Television and Craft”. Bafta. Archived from the original on 1 June 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2007.
- “Wood nominated for record BAFTA”. BBC News. 11 April 2007. Retrieved 6 January 2010.
- “Victoria Wood scoops Bafta double”. BBC News. 20 May 2007. Retrieved 6 January 2010.
- “Radio Times Comedy Poll results”. BBC News Online. 21 August 2001. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- “Victoria Wood voted funniest woman”. Manchester Evening News. 17 August 2005. Archived from the original on 10 February 2012. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
- The British Comedy Awards – Past Winners
- “Comic Wood splits from husband”. BBC News. 25 October 2002. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
- Bates, Stephen (22 May 2002). “Peace of the action”. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- Saul, Heather. “Victoria Wood dead: Actress and comedian dies from cancer”. Independent. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
- Victoria Wood at the Internet Movie Database
- Victoria Wood at the British Film Institute‘s Screenonline
- In-depth look at her first TV play ‘Talent’
- Profile at Caroline’s Comedy Base
- Profile at TV Museum
- Victoria Wood at BBC Comedy Guide
- Return to drama (Manchester Evening News)
- BBC Writers Room – Video and text interview with Victoria Wood about writing comedy
- The Independent – The 5-Minute Interview: Victoria Wood, comedian and writer
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