Saturday, 14 May 2016

Victoria Wood R.I.P. - by Lynne Benton

It may seem strange to miss someone you've never met, but the sudden, unexpected news of Victoria Wood’s death came as a great shock.  She was only 62, and still had so much more to give.  We can only guess what other priceless gems she might have written had she lived longer.  She has left a big gap.
      It is hard to imagine the television schedules with no more “Wood and Walters”, no more “An Audience With…”, no more “Dinnerladies”, no more “Victoria Wood Christmas Special”, not to mention the dramas she wrote, such as  "Pat and Margaret", "Eric and Ernie," "That Day we Sang”, and especially the wonderful “Housewife 49”, in which she played the title role.   Television will not be the same without her.

     And yet it wasn’t only her performances that were so brilliant, it was her writing.  She managed the fine line between comedy and pathos, so she could make you laugh out loud one minute and cry the next.  Remember the mini-story of Chrissie, the lumpy teenager whose ambition it was to swim the Channel, and whose parents showed no interest in her?  It was heartbreaking to see her setting off for her mammoth swim from an empty beach, cheerfully asserting that she'd be fine, because she had her sandwiches.  Her parents were airily unconcerned when she failed to reappear, and simply shrugged and said, "She’ll turn up.”  It was so exaggerated that it was funny, but there was a core of truth to the story, and you couldn't help feeling for neglected Chrissies everywhere.
     Whether it was her stand-up show, the script for a play or series, or the words of a song, she crafted everything with the same humour, warmth and wit.  And maybe one of her trademark gifts was to insert the mundane into her sparkling dialogue.  For example, in these lines from her most famous song, “Let’s Do It”:  
“She licked her lips.  She felt sublime.
She switched off Gardeners’ Question Time.”
     And of course after the penultimate line, “Beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly”, I understand the sales of the magazine went through the roof!  Such is fame!
     I first saw her on “That’s Life” in the late 70’s, when she was a shy, slightly prim-looking girl sitting at the piano.  Then she began to sing, and I was captivated by a) the clever, funny words, and b) her ability to play the piano so well and sing so wittily at the same time.          
From then on she was on television frequently, until everyone felt they knew her.  I went to see her on stage once, an unforgettable experience, but mostly it was her television work I enjoyed so much.
     Several of her fellow-actors have said that when writing her scripts she was always very generous in giving most of her best lines to others, rather than keeping them for herself.  This was particularly evident in "Dinnerladies", in which there was quite a large cast, among whom the funniest lines were spread evenly.  This, I gather, is quite unusual – many comedians who write their own material want to keep the biggest laughs for themselves.  Not so in this case.

     What more can I say?  Her close friend and fellow-actor Julie Walters must be quite devastated by Victoria’s death.  Victoria wrote some of her greatest and most hilarious characters for Julie, knowing that Julie would make them her own.  Who could forget Mrs Overall in "Acorn Antiques", or the hapless waitress in the "Two Soups" sketch?  Theirs was a great partnership.
     One of the nicest tributes I heard after the news of her death was announced, came from fellow-actor Anne Reid from "Dinnerladies", who said, “Happiness was a new script by Vic dropping through my letterbox.”
     For me, it was looking forward to Victoria Wood's next series/play/show.  Sadly, there will be no more.


John Dougherty said...

She really was one of a kind, wasn't she, Lynne. A tremendously gifted writer and a talented performer.

Susan Price said...

I loved Victoria Wood too, Lynne. For one thing, she gave the lie to that stale old myth that 'women can't be funny.'

Lynne Benton said...

Thank you, John and Sue. I entirely agree! We really will miss her.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

A lovely tribute to a great talent. I always divide famous people into the ones I'd invite to tea, and Victoria would have been welcome any time, especially if she brought Julie Walters with her.

Penny Dolan said...

Lovely memories there, Lynne, Thanks. I feel that generosity of spirit with her scripts makes Victoria Wood memorable indeed. A sad loss.