Friends, colleagues pay tribute to comic Mel Smith, dead at 60
Published 21/07/2013 | 05:00
Tributes have been paid to comedian Mel Smith after his death at the age of 60, with his sidekick Griff Rhys Jones describing him as someone who "inspired love and utter loyalty".
The star of Alas Smith and Jones and Not the Nine O'Clock News had a heart attack at his London home on Friday.
Jones, who had been friends with Smith for 35 years, said: "I still can't believe this has happened. To everybody who ever met him, Mel was a force for life. He had a relish for it that seemed utterly inexhaustible.
"He inspired love and utter loyalty and he gave it in return. I will look back on the days working with him as some of the funniest times that I have ever spent.
"We probably enjoyed ourselves far too much, but we had a rollercoaster of a ride along the way. Terrific business. Fantastic fun, making shows. Huge parties and crazy times. And Mel was always ready to be supportive. Nobody could have been easier to work with.
"We never had an argument. We loved performing together. He was a very generous and supportive actor.
"Mel was a gentleman and a scholar, a gambler and a wit. And he was a brilliant actor. But he never took himself too seriously. We are all in a state of shock. We have lost a very, very dear friend."
Smith attended Oxford University while Jones was at Cambridge, and the pair became known to each other while performing at the Edinburgh fringe.
They became friends working on Not the Nine O'Clock News and went on to make Alas Smith and Jones, which lasted for 10 series over 16 years. Smith and Jones together formed production company Talkback, which was sold in 2000.
BBC director general Tony Hall said: "Mel Smith's contribution to British comedy cannot be overstated.
"He helped define a new style of comedy from the late Seventies that continues to influence people."
BBC director of television Danny Cohen said: "Mel Smith was one of the comedy greats of the modern era. Many of today's most celebrated comedians will have grown up learning from Mel Smith."
ITV's director of television Peter Fincham, who was the business partner of Smith and Jones at Talkback, said: "Being funny came naturally to Mel, so much so that he never seemed to give it a second thought.
"Mel and Griff were one of the great comedy acts, and it's hard to imagine that one of them is no longer with us."
Not the Nine O'Clock News producer John Lloyd told BBC News that Smith was an "amazingly talented guy" but added that he had not been in good health.
He said: "He's been ill for some time. So although it is the most awful news, I think he was not in good shape, so in some ways we try and put a good spin on it by saying it's a relief for him."
Comedian and broadcaster Stephen Fry wrote on Twitter: "Terrible news about my old friend Mel Smith, dead today from a heart attack. Mel lived a full life, but was kind, funny & wonderful to know."
Father Ted writer Graham Linehan said he and writing partner Arthur Mathews had been helped in their career by Smith, with their first sketches being broadcast on Alas Smith and Jones.
He said: "Very sad to hear news of Mel Smith's death has been confirmed. He and Griff gave Arthur and I our break. Was always so kind & generous to us."
Rowan Atkinson, who worked with Smith on both Not the Nine O'Clock News and Bean, the first Mr Bean film, said he was "truly sad" to hear about his death.
In a statement, he said: "Mel Smith, a lovely man of whom I saw too little in his later years. I loved the sketches that we did together on Not the Nine O'Clock News.
"He had a wonderfully generous and sympathetic presence both on and off screen."