PERFORMERS: VICTORIA WOOD

by PETER TATCHELL (updated from LAUGH MAGAZINE #21, 2000)

Victoria Wood had a lot in common with Noel Coward. A composer, lyricist, writer of sketches and plays, and a performer who sang and acted, she did the lot. Coward was called “the master” but perhaps it would be unkind to refer to Ms. Wood as “the mistress”. Suffice to say, after twenty years on stage and television, she became the top female comedy performer in the British Isles, renowned for her versatility as well as her humour.

Victoria was born in Lancashire in 1953 and grew up with a flair for music and drama which led to a  course in theatre arts at Birmingham University. Her early attempts at performing original compositions resulted in a successful appearance on the talent show New Faces in the mid-1970s followed by a starring role in the short-lived ATV series The Summer Show (along with other winners Lenny Henry and Marti Caine). There was also regular radio work on such shows as Start The Week.

In early 1976 she was signed as a regular for a season of BBC1’s That’s Life (writing and performing a topical song each week) but found the experience limiting rather than educational. Spending the next couple of years performing in summer season and cabaret (at one time, in support of  Jasper Carrott) she met her husband-to-be, magician Geoffrey Durham. Victoria also contributed sketch material to the revue In At The Death which, apart from exploring a new area of expertise, saw her working for the first time with actress Julie Walters.

Soon after, her dramatic skills came to the fore when she wrote a play titled Talent which was aired by ITV in 1979. Victoria co-starred with Walters in the production, to such acclaim that the pair repeated their characterisations in a follow-up called Nearly A Happy Ending screened the following year, and a stage production called Good Fun.

Some months later Wood and Walters teamed in a self-titled sketch programme (aired on New Year’s Day, 1981) which spawned a seven-part series in early 1982. Victoria had also written a third dramatic offering Happy Since I Met You (starring Walters and Duncan Preston) and taken part in a radio series The Little And Large Party, both in mid-1981. In September that year she was invited to take part in the fourth Amnesty International all-star fundraiser The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball and contributed a selection of songs.

A more substantial vehicle for Wood’s burgeoning talents was the one-woman stage presentation Lucky Bag, which she performed in October 1983. The show was a mixture of musical items and an increasing amount of standup material. Her repertoire now included songs, jokes and sketches (not to mention full-length plays) and the B.B.C. was keen to welcome her back to the Television Centre with series capitalizing on her many talents.

Every line of Victoria Wood (As Seen On T.V.) was scripted by Victoria herself, and she supplied a varied mixture of standup, songs, mockumentaries and satire of various forms of television programming. A decade of scripting and performing on the medium had provided Victoria with a virtual repertory company of supporting players, and the series also featured her friend Julie Walters (now an Academy Award winner), Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie, Susie Blake (as the snobbishly neurotic continuity announcer) and, occasionally, Patricia Routledge as the redoubtable Kitty, a Hyacinth Bucket in embryo.

Regular characters included Joan and Margery (feuding daytime tv presenters), Gail and Carl (the I.Q.-deficient courting couple from up north) and the splendidly dotty ensemble from Acorn Antiques, an ongoing segment which sent up the plots and production techniques found in the world of soap operas. Walters all but stole the show as the gloriously frumpy Mrs. Overall.

The series was a delight, attracting vast audiences, critical acclaim and along the way some B.A.F.T.A. awards. A followup season (plus a Christmas special) were quickly commissioned by the Beeb and Victoria Wood found, after ten years of trying, she’d become a household name.

Despite the success of the venture, Victoria found sketch writing very draining and resisted offers for more. Instead, she went back to live appearances (including an engagement at the London Palladium and later at the Royal Albert Hall), appeared on charity fundraisers for the Oncology Fund (CH4 December 23 1986) and Comic Relief (BBC February 5 1988), and was the subject of L.W.T.’s An Audience With … format in late 1988. Other notable productions at the time included giving birth to a daughter and a son.

She was back at the B.B.C. at the end of 1989 for a new self-titled series, not sketches this time, but a Comedy Playhouse approach featuring six sitcom storylines or playlets. It would be her last tv work for several years (apart from an ITV airing of one of her stage performances Sold Out in early 1992) before agreeing to write and star in a couple of Christmas specials for the B.B.C.

Victoria Wood’s All Day Breakfast (in 1992) was a return to the As Seen On T.V. mixture of songs, standup and sketches (including a new swipe at soap operas called The Mall) while Victoria Wood Live In Your Own Home (1994) was more of a solo stage show with a couple of character sketches breaking up the standup and songs. In between, she created a new telemovie vehicle for herself and Julie Walters titled Pat And Margaret, about the contrasting lifestyles of two sisters.

Other 1990s committments included more work for Comic Relief (recording a single, The Smile Song, in 1991, reporting from Africa for the 1995 telethon and creating a 15 minute comedy-drama for 1999’s Red Nose Day) and taking British Rail to task in an edition of Great Railway Journeys in September 1996. That month Wood was also thought notable enough to be profiled by The South Bank Show.

Then, in late 1998, she returned to the B.B.C. to expand her talents into a new arena … the sitcom. Dinner Ladies brought back her old team (Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie and occasionally Julie Walters) in a format that centred on the joys and tragedies in the everyday lives of  workers in a factory canteen. The series was a triumphant return to the small screen with some cleverly drawn characterizations, including Walters coming up with yet another monstrous creation as the mother-from-hell (along the lines of Mrs. Overall meets Ab Fab‘s Patsy Stone). A further batch of programmes was screened a year later, but Wood has declared them to be the final installments of the saga. Again she wanted to move on.

In 2000 she was the sole guest on a special Michael Parkinson programme, and performed several vocals as part of the appearance. The new millennium brought more live concerts (including a triumphant return to The Albert Hall) and Christmas specials for television. The West End also saw a stage musical based on her famous Acorn Antiques segment.

Sadly the incredibly talented artist departed far too soon on April 20 2016 after a six-month battle with cancer.

 

Radio

THE LITTLE AND LARGE PARTY
BBC Radio 2 March 29 to May 17 1981 (8 x 30 min)

 

Television

THE SUMMER SHOW
ITV August 2 to 30 1975 (5 x 45 min)

THAT’S LIFE
BBC1 January 26 to May 23 1976

TALENT
ITV/Granada August 5 1979

NEARLY A HAPPY ENDING
ITV/Granada June 1 1980

HAPPY SINCE I MET YOU
ITV/Granada August 9 1981

WOOD AND WALTERS
Special: ITV/Granada January 1 1981 (30 min)
Series: ITV/Granada January 1 to February 21 1982 (7 x 30 min)
included sketches Skin Care, The Woman With 740 Children, Young Love, Dotty On Women’s Lib, Toddlers, The Practice Room and Groupies

THE PANTOMIME DAME
CH4 December 16 1982

SCENE
BBC2 May 9 1985 (20 min)

VICTORIA WOOD – AS SEEN ON T.V.
Series 1: BBC2 January 11 to February 15 1985 (6 x 35 min)
1
  Radio Interview (standup) / Bunbury Home (advert) / In The Office / Wilde Visits Dickens / All In The Game (song) / Acorn Antiques (ep 1) / Video Box / A Fairly Ordinary Man / Margery And Joan #3 / Shopping (musical number)
2
  Strange Man In Bed (standup) / Cheap ‘N’ Handy (advert) / Turkish Bath / Playbox / Knock On Your Knocker (song) / Young Love / Acorn Antiques (ep 2) / Kitty #1: Keeping Young / Pissed Off With Love (song) / Swim The Channel /The Reporter
3  Swimming Pool (standup) / Doorbells (advert) / Shoe Shop / Paul And Jane / Service Wash / Anti-Mugging Spray / Brass Band Love Song / Transvestite / Video Box / Acorn Antiques (ep 3) / Piano Shop / To Be An Actress / Pause For Thought
Phone Call From Fashion Magazine (standup) / Doctor’s Surgery #1 / Cosmetic Surgery / Witherslack’s Bits And Doings / Young Love #2 / I’m Tired (song) / Doctor’s Surgery #2 / Acorn Antiques (ep 4) / Kitty: Agony Aunt Letters / On Campus / Doctor’s Surgery #3 / Motivation Class
5  Coventry (standup) / Happy With Your Wash? (advert) / Supermarket Checkout / The Divorce / Margery And Joan #1 / Acorn Antiques (ep 5) / Giving Notes / Just An Ordinary School / Say Goodbye (song)
6 Parties (standup) / Boring Library Books / Cafeteria / Film Classic / Kitty #3: Running Buffet / Library #2 / Acorn Antiques (ep 6) / Young Love #3 / Dandruff Commercial / Whither The Arts?
Series 2: BBC2 November 10 to December 15 1986 (6 x 35 min)
1  Babies (standup) / Bicycle Clips (advert) / Spaghetti / 1930s Hollywood Musical / Country Living / Acorn Antiques (ep 7) / Mr. Right / Barry And Freda (song) / Late News
2  Blood Donor, Plays (standup) / Shoplifting (advert) / Bingo / Spanish Opera / He Didn’t #1 / Acorn Antiques (ep 8) / Kitty #2/1: The Producer / Say Who You Are? / The Good Old Days (incl. Music Hall Song) / Today In Hospital / Fireside Tales: Welsh
3  Transportation (standup) / Pregnant / The Trolley / The Second Mrs. Constable / Margery And Joan #2/3 / Acorn Antiques (ep 9) / I Just Don’t Care (song) / Billy / Fireside Tales: Scottish
4  Adolescence (standup) / When The War Is Over / No Gossip / Kitty #2/2: Supernatural / Acorn Antiques (ep 10) / Crush (song) / He Didn’t #3 / Medical School / A Very Funny Young Man Indeed
5  The Builders (standup) / Countrywide Local / Chocolates? / Partly Political Broadcast / Margery And Joan #2/4 / Acorn Antiques (ep 11) / Sitting On The Prom (song) / Sex Survey / Flatmates
6  Old Moore’s Almanac (standup) / Tattoo Parlour / Acorn Antiques (ep 12) / Winnie’s Lucky Day / Count Your Blessings (song) / Soup Of The Day
Special: BBC2 December 18 1987 (40 min)
included sketches Dr. Who, Self Service and The Making Of Acorn Antiques, and the song At The Chippy

(sketches in bold type are featured in script books) 

AN AUDIENCE WITH VICTORIA WOOD
ITV December 10 1988 (60 min)
includes the songs It Would Never Have Worked and Barry And Freda

VICTORIA WOOD
November 16 to December 21 1989 (6 x 30 min)
Mens Sana In Thingummy Doodah / The Library / Over To Pam / We’d Quite Like To Apologise / Val De Ree / Staying In

VICTORIA WOOD – SOLD OUT
ITV April 25 1992 (65 min)
includes standup about pregnancy testing, school reunion and wife-swapping, plus the songs Saturday Night, It’s Too Late Now and Reincarnation

VICTORIA WOOD’S ALL DAY BREAKFAST
BBC1 December 25 1992 (50 min)
includes The Mall (serial), Time (standup), Real Life (song)

PAT AND MARGARET
BBC1 September 11 1994 (85 min)

VICTORIA WOOD – LIVE IN YOUR OWN HOME
BBC1 December 25 1994 (50 min)
Standup interspersed with the character sketches Madeline and Fattitude, and the songs I’m Feeling In The Mood Tonight, The Paradise Where Dreams Come True, Go With It, Bum To The World and Barry And Freda

SOUTH BANK SHOW
ITV September 15 1996

GREAT RAILWAY JOURNEYS
BBC September 1996

THE BEST OF BRITISH – Victoria Wood
November 11 1998 (40 min)

DINNERLADIES
Series 1
: BBC1 November 12 to December 17 1998 (6 x 30 min)
Monday / Royals / Scandal / Moods / Party / Nightshift
Series 2: BBC1 November 25 1999 to January 27 2000 (not Jan 6, but extra edition Dec 24) (7 x 30 min + 3 x 40 min*)
Catering / Trouble / Holidays / Fog / Gamble* / Christmas* / Minnellium* / Christine / Gravy / Toast

COMIC RELIEFWetty Hainthropp Investigates
BBC1 March 12 1999 (15 minute segment)

PARKINSON
BBC1 March 24 2000 (50 min)

DON’T PANIC – THE DAD’S ARMY STORY
BBC1 May 28 200 (50 min)

VICTORIA WOOD WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS
BBC1 December 25 2000 (50 min)

VICTORIA WOOD’S SKETCH SHOW STORY
BBC1 October 25 and November 1 2001 (2 x 60 min)

VICTORIA AT THE ALBERT
ITV March 31 2002 (60 min)

VICTORIA WOOD – SEEN ON TV
BBC2 December 21 2009 (90 min celebration)

VICTORIA WOOD’S MID-LIFE CHRISTMAS
BBC1 December 24 2009 (60 min)

VICTORIA WOOD – WHAT LARKS!
BBC1 December 30 2009 (45 min)

 

Discography

THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S OTHER BALL
Springtime/Island LP HAHA 6003, Island 2CD ESDCD 152
Had It Up To Here
What We Find*
A Song For Princess Di*
(* extra tracks only on 2CD version)

LUCKY BAG
V.C.L./P.R.T. LP VCLP 1 (1983)
Opening*
Put It Out Of Your Mind*
Playtex Discontinued*
Thinking Of You
Funny How Things
Keeping Fit*
Don’t Do It
What We Find
Fourteen Again
Love Song
Depressed*
Dear God*
Brontes*
Had It Up To Here
School Debate*
Bastards
Music And Movement
Northerners
(* standup)

VICTORIA WOOD LIVE
E.M.I./Columbia LP/CD CDP 7 91356 2 (1988)
Happy To Be Here (Where Was It Again?)*
It Would Never Have Worked
Hospital*
Holidays*
Sex*
Barry And Freda
(* standup)

VICTORIA WOOD (THE BEST OF VICTORIA WOOD – AS SEEN ON T.V.)
B.B.C. double-cassette ZBBC 1263 (1991), cd ZBBC CD 1263
Radio Interview (standup)
Doorbells
Spaghetti
Medical School
Acorn Antiques (ep 1)
Kitty: Keeping Young
Cosmetic Surgery
He Didn’t #1
Babies (standup)
Barry And Freda
Transport (standup)
Turkish Bath
Country Life
So Pissed Off With Love
Acorn Antiques (ep 2)
Kitty: Agony Aunt
In The Office
Hotel Reception
He Didn’t #3
Parties (standup)
Weather Check
Coventry (standup)
Self Service
Ad Talk
Service Wash
Crush
Kitty: Running Buffet
Young Love #2
The Reporter
Dandruff Commercial
Adolescence (standup)
Old Moore’s Almanac (standup)
Supermarket Checkout
Giving Notes
Acorn Antiques (ep 7)
Kitty: The Supernatural
Young Love #3
No Gossip
Builders (standup)
Shopping

VICTORIA WOOD ENCORE
B.B.C. double-cassette ZBBC 1893, CD ZBBC CD 1893 (1996)
includes standup and sketches from VICTORIA WOOD (AS SEEN ON T.V.) :
Phone Call From Fashion Magazine (standup)
Pre-War Yorkshire Drama
Library
Tea Shop
Film Classic
Self Help
Dirty Book
Dandruff Commercial
Whither The Arts?
Pregnant
The Trolley
I Just Don’t Care
Blood Donor and Plays (standup)
Mr. Right
Bingo
Bio-Pic
I’m Choked
The Partly Political Broadcast
Winnie’s Lucky Day
The Good Old Days (incl. Music Hall Song)
Acorn Antiques (ep 12)
Billy
Sex Survey
The Old Days
Schoolgirl
A Very Funny Young Man Indeed
Count Your Blessings

and from VICTORIA WOOD’S ALL DAY BREAKFAST :
commercials
The Mall
Exercises
Time (standup)
Real Life (song)

VICTORIA WOOD – LIVE 1997
Penguin single-cassette ISBN 0 14 086766 X (1997)
includes dialogue about cellulite and Christmas with relatives, plus the character sketch Fattitude and  the song Barry And Freda

REAL LIFE – THE SONGS
Ovation/Pearson New Entertainment CD OMCD 1212 (1997)
Baby Boom
It Would Never Have Worked
Andrea
Reincarnation
Love Song
Pam
Real Life
Music And Movement
Litter Bin
Crush
Saturday Night
Go With It
Alternative Tango
Barry And Freda

DINNER LADIES
B.B.C. double-cassette ISBN 0563 553065 (2000)
Monday / Royals / Moods / Party

 

Videos

THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S OTHER BALL
Columbia / Tristar Video
includes I’ve Had It Up To Here

VICTORIA WOOD (AS SEEN ON T.V.)
B.B.C. Video BBCV 4246, BBCV 5838
Radio Interview (standup)
Bunbury Home (advert)
In The Office
Film Classic
Margery And Joan: Double Glazing
Dirty Book
Brass Band
A Fairly Ordinary Man
Acorn Antiques (eps 2 and 3)
Kitty: Keeping Young
Library
Shoe Shop
Swim The Channel
Shopping
Weather Check.
Horoscope (standup)
Doorbells (advert)
Turkish Bath
Vegetarian Health Food
Knock On Your  Knocker
Young Love #1
Anti-Mugging Spray
To Be An Actress
Close Up
Supermarket Checkout
Kitty: Running Buffet
Acorn Antiques (eps 5 and 6)
Giving Notes
Whither The Arts?

MORE VICTORIA WOOD (AS SEEN ON T.V.)
B.B.C. Video BBCV 4309
Transport (standup)
Spaghetti
Coronation Street
The Second Mrs. Constable
The Making Of Acorn Antiques
Kitty: The Producer
Winnie’s Lucky Day
Margery And Joan: Holidays
The Trolley
At The Chippy.
Adolescence (standup)
McOnomy
He Didn’t #1
Kitty: The Supernatural
Acorn Antiques (ep 11)
Mr. Right
Soup Of The Day
Anorak Song
Ad Talk
Self Service
Acorn Antiques (ep 12)
Barry And Freda 

VICTORIA WOOD SOLD OUT
Virgin Video

MEN’S SANA IN THINGUMMY
B.B.C. Video BBCV 4843
Mens Sana In Thingummy Doodah / The Library / Over To Pam 

WE’D QUITE LIKE TO APOLOGISE
B.B.C. Video BBCV 4844
We’d Quite Like To Apologise / Val De Ree / Staying In

VICTORIA WOOD’S ACORN ANTIQUES
B.B.C. Video BBCV 4969

LIVE IN YOUR OWN HOME
B.B.C. Video BBCV 5379

DINNER LADIES – Volume 1
B.B.C. Video BBCV 6930
Monday / Royals / Scandal

DINNER LADIES – Volume 2
B.B.C. Video BBCV 6931
Moods / Party / Nightshift

 

DVDS

AN AUDIENCE WITH VICTORIA WOOD
Network DVD
also includes bonus interviews from Aspel & Company, Clive James, Sunday Sunday and The Glass Box

VICTORIA WOOD – AS SEEN ON TV
BBC 2DVD
contains both series and the Christmas special

VICTORIA WOOD – LIVE
Spirit DVD
contains the 1997 concert (95 min)

DINNER LADIES
BBC 3DVD set
contains both seasons

WOOD AND WALTERS
Network DVD
contains the series and special

SCREENPLAYS
Network DVD
contains the three plays:
Talent
Nearly a Happy Ending
Happy Since I Met You

Bibliography

Song and script collections by Victoria Wood:

LUCKY BAG – THE VICTORIA WOOD SONG BOOK
(Methuen, London. 1984)
contains Don’t Get Cocky / Living Together / Thinking Of You / Funny How Things Turned Out / Don’t Do It / What We Find / Fourteen Again / Love Song / Nasty Things / The Song Of The Lonely Girl / I’ve Had It Up To Here / Bastards / Music And Movement / Northerners

UP TO YOU, PORKY – THE VICTORIA WOOD SKETCH BOOK
(Methuen, London. 1985)
thirty-five sketches, from the stage show LUCKY BAG and the tv series WOOD AND WALTERS and VICTORIA WOOD (AS SEEN ON T.V)

BARMY – THE SECOND VICTORIA WOOD SKETCH BOOK
(Methuen, London. 1987)
twenty-eight sketches (and twelve episodes of Acorn Antiques) from VICTORIA WOOD (AS SEEN ON T.V.)

MENS SANA IN THINGUMMY DOODAH
(Methuen, London. 1990)
contains the six thirty-minute scripts from the 1989 series VICTORIA WOOD: Mens Sana In Thingummy Doodah / The Library / We Would Quite Like To Apologise / Over To Pam / Val De Ree / Staying In

PAT AND MARGARET
(Methuen, London. 1994)
contains the script of the telemovie

CHUNKY
(Methuen paperback, London. 1996)
omnibus edition of Up To You Porky, Barmy and Mens Sana In Thingummy Doodah plus three (previously unpublished) sketches from Victoria Wood: Live In Your Own Home.

DINNER LADIES – FIRST HELPINGS
(Methuen paperback, London. 1999)
scripts of the six season one episodes

Biographies:

THE FUNNY SIDE OF VICTORIA WOOD
by Bruce Dessau (Orion Media, London. 1997)

VICTORIA WOOD – THE BIOGRAPHY
by Neil Brandwood (Virgin/Ted Smart, London. 2002)

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