Obituary: Victoria Wood, CBE, comedian

Born: May 19, 1953, Prestwich. Died: April 20, 2016, London

Victoria Wood, one of the UKs best-loved comedians. Picture: PA
Victoria Wood, one of the UKs best-loved comedians. Picture: PA

Victoria Wood was one of the nation’s most respected and loved comedians. But she was also a highly versatile entertainer who was as much at home in drama and music as comedy.

An accomplished writer, performer and singer, she received many accolades in her long career, including Baftas and British Comedy Awards.

Born on 19 May, 1953, in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, Wood was still a drama student at Birmingham University when she won talent series New Faces.

In 1976, she became a regular on Esther Rantzen’s BBC consumer show That’s Life! and supported Jasper Carrott on tour.

In that same year, Wood met her husband, magician Geoffrey Durham. They wed in 1980, but separated after 22 years of marriage. They had a son Henry and daughter Grace.

Her first play, Talent, was adapted for television in 1979.

It reunited her with Julie Walters, whom she met while auditioning at Manchester Polytechnic’s student theatre when she was 17.

It was a partnership which was to endure for decades and included their own show on Granada Television in the early 1980s.

In 1985, Wood moved back to the BBC for the series that would finally establish her as a television force: Victoria Wood - As Seen on TV.

Showcasing her skill for observational comedy and sharp characterisation, it also included her most memorable pastiche: Acorn Antiques.

This amusing homage to daytime soap operas became a series in its own right and a musical, and was a favourite with critics and viewers.

Victoria Wood - As Seen On TV featured an ensemble cast who would go on to become leading lights alongside Wood, including her frequent collaborator Walters, Celia Imrie, Anne Reid, Duncan Preston and Patricia Routledge.

It won three Bafta TV Awards: best light entertainment programme and best light entertainment performance in 1986 and best light entertainment performance the following year.

ITV’s An Audience With Victoria Wood, recorded in 1988, also won two Baftas for best light entertainment programme and performance.

In 1989, the comedian returned to the BBC for her series of half-hour plays entitled Victoria Wood and in 1990 she visited Ethiopia as part of Comic Relief.

This was followed by a sell-out season of stand-up entitled Victoria Wood Up West at London’s Strand Theatre in 1990.

In December 1992, Wood returned to television with a Christmas special called Victoria Wood’s All Day Breakfast. This won a Writers’ Guild Award for best light entertainment programme.

A year later, Wood embarked on a six-month sell-out tour of the country, including a record-breaking 15 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

But it was the 1994 screenplay for Pat And Margaret, Wood’s first drama for 13 years, that marked an ambitious BBC return and a reunion with Walters.

Wood’s acclaimed tale of two very different sisters, which won her a Broadcasting Press Guild Award for best single drama, saw her compared to Alan Bennett.

Another successful UK tour, with more sell-out dates at the Royal Albert Hall, was followed by a frank and revealing interview with Melvyn Bragg on ITV’s The South Bank Show, an appearance in Terry Jones’s film, The Wind In The Willows and the publication of her book, Chunky.

The year 1997 was marked by an OBE, with her hugely successful BBC One sitcom Dinnerladies following a year later.

Set in a factory canteen, it played to Wood’s strengths of razor-sharp dialogue, eccentric characters and a strong cast including, once again, Walters, Imrie, Reid, Preston and former Coronation Street stars Thelma Barlow and Shobna Gulati.

Dinnerladies confirmed its place as a popular sitcom by winning a National Television Award (NTA) in 1999 and best TV comedy at the British Comedy Awards in 2000.

Wood kept busy with various television ventures including Victoria Wood’s Big Fat Documentary in 2004 and Victoria Wood - Moonwalking, a programme for ITV which captured 15,000 women walking to raise money for breast cancer. A special Bafta tribute followed in 2005, and in that same year, her musical Acorn Antiques opened at London’s Theatre Royal for a 16-week run.

More sombre than her usual output, a moving performance in ITV’s 2006 World War II drama Housewife, 49 won Wood a Bafta for lead actress. It also won best single drama.

Wood continued to write, perform stand-up and lend her wit to celebrity panel shows and radio series before reuniting with Walters again for Victoria Wood’s Mid Life Christmas in 2009.

Impressive viewing figures and universal critical acclaim greeted Wood’s 2011 comedy drama about the early years of beloved BBC double-act Morecambe and Wise.

One of her final productions was That Day We Sang, a 2014 BBC Two musical television film of her stage play starring Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball. It exemplified the warmth and wit Wood had demonstrated throughout her career.

Wood’s humour was always grounded in ordinary experience, but it was her extraordinary gift for observation and dialogue that made her so revered.