The role call of heroes from my youth who are passing is getting longer and longer in 2016. I don't normally agree with comments by Ricky Gervais, but his Twitter tribute to Victoria Wood, who died today, got it right.
Within Twitter's 140 characters, Gervais successfully summed up what we all thought about Wood, and what we are thinking about 2016
Within Twitter's 140 characters, Gervais successfully summed up what we all thought about Wood, and what we are thinking about 2016.
Wood was first “noticed” on the TV show New Faces, in 1974, but I first noticed this extremely funny lady during her regular appearances on the legendary show That's Life, in 1976, singing hilarious songs from the piano. She could easily have been a songwriter and/or pianist, but she chose to entertain us by comedy and comedy-acting.
Her own TV series As seen on TV was a must-watch event in Britain in the mid-1980s. It was at this point that her informal “repertory company” began to develop, where we noticed that all her projects seemed to contain the same people, who were obviously her real-life friends – people like Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie and Suzie Blake, who, despite being independently famous, would be happy to drop everything to appear in a silly sketch with Wood. Probably the most notable member of this “repertory company” was Julie Walters, who would abandon Hollywood dignity to dress up as an old crone, to partner with Wood and make people laugh.
One of the sketches from As seen on TV was Acorn Antiques. It was a brilliant pastiche of the low budget, badly acted soap operas of the era.
In fact, many of Wood's creations were poignantly “of the era”. In the late 90s, she wrote and starred in the sitcom dinnerladies (always with a small d). This was set in a workplace canteen – a concept which was coming to an end in the 1990s, as the show itself acknowledged in its script, and now serves to remind us of the actual fun we used to have, before the soulless tradition of grabbing a sandwich at the desk took over – when we met for tea in the canteen, not for water-cooler moments.
I cannot possibly list everything that Wood achieved in this post. Other people are already commenting today on so much more that she did. So I will skip to a project of more recent years, which delighted, entertained and moved me in equal measure. It was her beautiful tribute to her own comedy heroes, Morecambe and Wise, in a TV drama entitled Eric and Ernie. Wood wrote the script, and, by all accounts, chose many of the actors. She played Sadie Bartholomew, the ambitious mother of Eric Morecambe. The drama traced the early careers of the comic double act, from childhood stars, to national treasures.
The status “national treasure” is flung about too widely today. It should only apply to a select and small number of entertainers, who seared themselves into national consciousness. Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were two such people. Without a doubt, Victoria Wood earned her place among that select category.