As the youngest member of the The Wee Review team, it may seem odd that Joe Gardner is paying tribute to a face of the 1980s. Now an award-winning comedian himself, Wood shaped Gardner’s passion for comedy. In this piece, the eighteen-year-old comic discusses why having an inspirational figure is important in life…
The first thing I saw by Wood was dinnerladies. It wasn’t crafted like a traditional classic studio sitcom; it felt very theatrical. The characters didn’t just have funny qualities, they had depth and background. For instance, Anne Reid’s character Jean was suffering a terrible break-up with her husband. The hilarity was in the fact that the new woman was a “dental hygienist from Wales”, the tragedy was in the split. The storylines didn’t suffer at the hands of the comedy, they walked hand-in-hand with them. They were laced with drama and often very poignant. The death of Bren’s (Victoria Wood) mother Petula, played superbly by Julie Walters, was rather emotional for a sitcom. When one examines the performance of Walters in dinnerladies, it can easily be described as a comedy master class, and, in my opinion, possibly the best female comedy performance in a British sitcom ever. Walters’ performance would not have come without Victoria’s craft for writing and her generosity for giving these incredible parts to her dear colleagues.
My journey through Victoria’s work continued backward in time. I watched every episode of As Seen on TV at least twice. I even treaded back to Wood and Walters where Ted Robbins infamously showed his bare bottom to the studio audience (not on the DVD) in an effort to make them laugh. I laughed without Ted’s arse. Victoria’s ability to convey everyday people with very little sneer or malice was incredible. She pulled the hilarity from mundane characters and made them into memorable faces. She parodied many TV shows of the time, coming from a well publicised love of television as a child, something which I share with her. This love even stretched to being the binding for her All Day Breakfast special in 1992 where Wood and Duncan Preston parodied ITV’s This Morning, dressed very similarly to Richard and Judy. However, surely the most memorable example of this is the incomparable, side-splitting Acorn Antiques. We can thank Crossroads for something.
At age eleven, I knew what Let’s Do It was about. I didn’t get half the jokes, but I was impressed. The length of the number, the key changes, the witty lyrics. The Ballad of Barry and Freda (the full title of the song) is the tip of an iceberg of songs by Victoria Wood, some make even more honest and brash comments about life than dinnerladies.
I loved so many things about Victoria Wood and her work. I loved how she used the same little group of actors, they all felt like friends and you could see they loved working with each other. I loved the variety; from songs to sitcom to stand-up to even musical (Hey Hey, We’re On Our Way from Acorn Antiques: The Musical seems so apt for Vic’s passing). I loved the poignancy and that’s why Pat and Margaret is still one of my favourite films.
This woman could do it all. I had to write to her. I tried sending her a small dinnerladies script I had written but she never got it. She did get my letter which was attached. About six weeks later, Victoria replied. I was absolutely ecstatic. But, in 2010, none of my friends at that age knew who she was. I did, and that’s what mattered. I tried my luck again and she replied for a second time. The second note contained three kisses at the end.
I could recall so many stories about how only now I understand the adult humour of some of her sketches and at too young an age I was recalling these lines in public but, Victoria was an idol, and an inspiration. As a young Scottish male, this older female Northerner may not have seen an obvious choice to inspire me, especially since I was born ten years after Victoria’s heyday, but she did. Her multi-talented self, her generous nature towards me in her notes, her ability to make any life experience funny and her talent to make honest social comments, with or without comedy, was truly admirable.
I, like many comics, would not be doing what I’m doing without seeing Victoria Wood’s work. Everyone needs a role model or an inspiration. Whether it’s a parent, a friend, a sportsman, an actor or a comedian, we all need one.
I never saw Victoria Wood live on stage. I never met her. I knew who she was, and, for some brief periods in time, she knew who I was too. I was on the bus when I found out she had passed. I had a listen to Let’s Do It and despite its comedy, I cried a bit. I felt guilty for being upset about someone who I never knew on a personal level but this was a woman who shaped my passion and my yearning for comedy. There’s a small list of celebrities who I’ll be deeply sad to see pass. Victoria was the first.
I wanted to tell her in person all this, but I never did. I sent her a third note in January of this year but I received no reply, and I now know why.
I’m off to have two soups and a macaroon with Mrs Overall at the canteen.
Thank you so much for all the laughs, Victoria. When I get that first BAFTA, it’s for you.
Victoria Wood (1953-2016)