Saturday 21 April 2018

Comedy groundbreaker Victoria Wood loses her battle with cancer

Victoria Wood was extremely popular with TV viewers, but was an intensely private person Photo: Peter Jordan/PA Wire
Victoria Wood was extremely popular with TV viewers, but was an intensely private person Photo: Peter Jordan/PA Wire

The comedian Victoria Wood has died of cancer at the age of 62.

She blazed onto the scene in the 1970s as one of Britain's first female stand-up comics, and the plump chanteuse of bitter-sweet songs, often with a social point, quickly became very popular.

At the heart of her acerbic observations on human frailty lay her mischievous brand of witty musical epigrams that conjured a lost world of feeble men, gynaecological afflictions, split ends, corner shops and unsatisfactory sex.

Last night, tributes poured in from a host of stars. Comic James Corden said: "I'll always feel incredibly grateful that I got to see Victoria Wood on TV and in theatres."

Ricky Gervais also remembered her, writing: "RIP the brilliant Victoria Wood. So innovative, funny and down-to-earth. This has not been a good year."

Absolutely Fabulous actress Jennifer Saunders said: "Vic was simply one of the funniest writers and performers this country has ever produced.

"She was an inspiration and will be terribly missed. I am devastated that she has gone and my thoughts are with her family."

In the days when a huge amount of stand-up comedians were men spouting sexist and/or racist material, Victoria Wood counted herself fortunate that she narrowly pre-dated the wave of alternative comedians in the early '80s.

Indeed, seated breezily at the piano, she seemed to frame her essentially Northern, self-deprecating view of life in the old-fashioned cabaret style of Noel Coward.

It was perhaps in subconscious homage to Coward (who had fashioned his own version of the Cole Porter standard in the 1950s) that she wrote her most popular number, 'Let's Do It' - putting her own twist on it by making it a marathon saga of inverted suburban lust, with the wife, Freda, wanting sex and the husband, Barry, finding every excuse not to oblige.

While her on-stage persona suggested the matey, if mumsy, 'girl next door', she earned a reputation for being somewhat dour in private. She disliked publicity, was wary of journalists and gave interviews only when they served to promote her work. There were hints of a troubled childhood, and in the 1990s she underwent psychotherapy "to clear out things that might have been bothering me from my past", although these were never specified.

Her first substantial success on television was with her series 'Wood and Walters' (1982), starring with her close friend from her drama school days, Julie Walters. In 'Victoria Wood - as Seen on TV' (1985), she created a cult classic with 'Acorn Antiques', a soap opera parody in which the cast, featuring Wood and Walters, fluffed their lines on the wobbly set, a throwback to the days of 'Crossroads'.

Her scripts were clever, quirky and original, and the show won Bafta's prize for Best Comedy of the Year, cementing her claim to be the funniest woman in Britain.

In the last three years she appeared in episodes of 'QI' and 'I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue', and in 2015 took part in a celebrity version of 'The Great British Bake Off' for Comic Relief, when she was crowned Star Baker.

In December last year she co-starred with Timothy Spall in Sky TV's three-part adaptation of 'Fungus the Bogeyman'.

Her TV work earned her many British comedy and Bafta awards, including a tribute award in 2005 and, in 2007, a Bafta award for Best Actress and Best Single Drama for 'Housewife, 49'. She was the Variety Club's BBC Personality of the Year for 1987.

She once beat the Queen Mother into second place in a poll of 'People You'd Most Like to Live Next Door To'.

In 1980 she married Geoffrey Durham, a magician who entertained under the name The Great Soprendo. They separated in 2002, and he survives her with their son and daughter.

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