Victoria Wood 1953-2016
Victoria Wood, CBE was a prolific English comedienne, actress, singer and songwriter, screenwriter, producer and director. Wood wrote and starred in dozens of sketches, plays, musicals, films and sitcoms over several decades and her live comedy act was interspersed with her own compositions, which she performed on the piano. Much of her humour was grounded in everyday life and gently mocked quintessentially ‘British’ activities, attitudes and products. She was noted for her skills in observing culture and in satirising social classes and their mores.
Victoria Wood was the youngest child of Stanley and Nellie Wood, She was born in Prestwich Lancashire on 19 May 1953 and her father was an insurance salesman, who also wrote songs for his company’s Christmas parties . She had three siblings, a brother, Chris and two sisters, Penny and Rosalind.
Wood was brought up in Bury, Lancashire and was educated at Fairfield County Primary school and then Bury Grammar School for Girls where, from being the brightest girl in the school, she immediately found herself out of her depth with the competition . She felt isolated, had a miserable time and developed eating disorders, but in 1968, her father gave her a piano for her 15th birthday when she started reading, writing and working at the piano all the time she could. Later that year, she joined the Rochdale Youth Theatre Workshop, where she felt she was “in the right place and knew what I was doing” and she made an impression with her comic and writing skills. She went on to study drama at the University of Birmingham.
Wood began her show business career while an undergraduate, appearing on the TV talent show ‘New Faces’ in 1974. It led to an appearance in a sketch show featuring the series’ winners and a further break came as a novelty act on the BBC’s ‘That’s Life!’ in 1976. She met long-term collaborator Julie Walters in the early 1970s and after some successful sketch writing, she was commissioned to write her first play ‘Talent’ in 1978 , for which she won an award for the ‘Most Promising New Writer’ and was asked to produce a TV version in which Julie Walters took the lead role. Wood followed up with ‘Nearly a Happy Ending’ and ‘Happy Since I Met You’, again with Walters and in 1980, she wrote and starred in the stage play ‘Good Fun’ . Granada Television then commissioned a series called ‘Wood and Walters’ starring the two friends which although Wood hated it, was nominated for a BAFTA for ‘Best Light Entertainment Programme’. It had seven episodes and was a first for female writing and humorous sketch performances .
Wood and Walters place in British comedy history can be seen as that of a dry run for the acclaimed ‘Victoria Wood As Seen on TV ‘ on BBC television between 1985 and 1987, which shared some of the same elements such as pseudo-documentaries.and included the much-loved ‘Acorn Antiques’.
In October 1987, Wood went on the road with her one-woman show. The tour included a sell out run at the London Palladium repeated in April 1988. The end of 1988 saw the release of her second live performance ‘Victoria Wood Live’ recorded at the Brighton Dome.
In May 1990 Wood went on a 60-date tour of the United Kingdom which was followed by a ten-week run at the Strand Theatre in London, titled ‘Victoria Wood Up West’. Wood took the show on the road again during March 1991 where it was recorded at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, and later released as ‘Victoria Wood Sold Out’ in 1991.
She briefly returned to sketches for the 1992 Christmas Day special ‘Victoria Wood’s All Day Breakfast’.
In March 1993 Wood began a seven-month tour of the UK. The 104-date tour broke box office records, including 15 sell out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall and played to residencies in sixteen main British cities.
Wood set out on a 68-date, 13 city tour of the UK in May 1996. The tour culminated with another 15 sell out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall in the autumn. The tour recommenced in April 1997 in Liverpool and then travelled to Australia and New Zealand during the Summer. It was later released as ‘Victoria Wood Live’ 1997.
In October 1997 Wood released a compilation of 14 of her songs titled ‘Victoria Wood, Real Life The Songs’.
Her first sitcom ‘Dinnerladies’ (1998), continued her now established milieu of female, middle-aged characters depicted vividly and amusingly, but with a counterpoint of sadder themes.
December 2000 saw the Christmas sketch show special ‘Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings’, featuring her regular troupe of actors as well as a string of special guest stars .
2001 saw Wood embark on her last ever stand up tour. The tour was titled ‘Victoria Wood At It Again’ and the 62-date tour included twelve nights at the Royal Albert Hall and had a further 23 dates in 2002.
Wood wrote the one-off ITV serious drama ‘Housewife’ in 2006, an adaptation of the diaries of Nella Last and played the eponymous role of an introverted middle-aged character who discovers new confidence and friendships in Lancashire during the Second World War.
In November 2006, Wood directed a revival production of ‘Acorn Antiques- The Musical’ with a new cast.
In January 2007, she appeared as herself in a series of advertisements featuring famous people working for the supermarket chain Asda. With an appearance on The South Bank Show in March 2007, Wood is the only woman to be the subject of this TV show twice.
In 2007, Wood appeared in a three-part travel documentary on BBC One called ‘Victoria’s Empire, in which she travelled around the world in search of the history, cultural impact and customs the British Empire placed on the parts of the world it ruled.
In a tribute to Wood, the British television station, UKTV Gold celebrated her work with a weekend marathon of programmes in November 2007 featuring programmes such as ‘Victoria Wood Live’ and ‘Dinnerladies’ and ‘Victoria Wood as Seen on TV’ – its first screening on British television since 1995.
Wood returned to stand-up comedy with a special performance for the celebratory show ‘Happy Birthday BAFTA’ on 28 October 2007, alongside other household names. The programme was transmitted on ITV1 in 2007.
2009 saw Wood reunite with Julie Walters to produce a 2009 Christmas special for the BBC ‘Mid Life Christmas’ . On New Year’s Day 2011 Wood appeared in a BBC drama ‘Eric & Ernie’ as Eric Morecambe’s mother.
In 2011, Wood’s last major stage work, ‘That Day We Sang’, again based on a true story, received rave reviews at the Manchester International Festival and was revived three years later at the Royal Exchange. On Boxing Day 2014, the show was shown on BBC TV.
In December 2012 BBC One screened ‘Loving Miss Hatto’, a drama written by Wood about the life of concert pianist Joyce Hatto, the centre of a scandal over the authenticity of her recordings and her role in the hoax.
In early 2015, Wood took part in a celebrity version of ‘The Great Comic Relief Bake Off’ and was crowned Star Baker in her episode.
Wood received many awards in her career. In 1997, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Earlier in 1994, she was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Sunderland. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
Wood had married stage magician Geoffrey Durham in March 1980 and they had two children. They separated in October 2002, but continued to live near one another and were on good terms.
In the autumn of 2015 Wood fell ill with terminal cancer and withdrew from public life entirely. She was later hospitalized but she was subsequently released to be allowed to die at home with her ex- husband and two children at her bedside on 20 April 2016 at her Highgate home.