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As seen on TV: Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood
Our summary of the late Victoria Wood’s TV CV…

NEW FACES (ATV 1974)

THE SUMMER SHOW (ATV 1975)
Victoria Wood’s telly debut was, like many of her peers, on a talent show, in her case New Faces which she more or less managed to get on because she had a mate on the production team. Her comic songs were an appealing diversion from the norm and she managed to win, though New Faces was an incredibly labyrinthine format that was more complex than the Europa League (“So, Our Kid will return at a later date to be re-assessed”) and there were shows, winners’ shows, all-winners’ shows and finals. She certainly did very well, in any case, although her appearance on the show now appears only to exist via VHS. Part of her prize was to appear with other New Faces alumni in The Summer Show, where she was part of a motley cast including Lenny Henry and Marti Caine, plus Leslie Crowther to add a bit of glamour to proceedings, and all Victoria can remember from the series is singing a version of Waltzing Matilda with Crowther where every instance of the word “waltzing” was replaced by “Walsall”.

THAT’S LIFE (BBC 1976)
One big difference between today’s talent shows and those of the past was in those days, after you won that was as far as the telly was interested and you had to sort yourself out after that. Hence Victoria was now hunting for more work and was hired by Esther Rantzen to join the rotating line-up of musicians providing comic songs about the week’s news for That’s Life. Unfortunately Victoria soon realised she hated topical comedy and couldn’t find any news stories to write funny songs about, with Esther telling her to fish out Tuesday’s Daily Express from the bin because she remembered reading something amusing in it. After a couple of weeks of that she gave up and tried to find a career that wasn’t just as Richard Stilgoe with breasts.

TALENT (Granada 1979)
NEARLY A HAPPY ENDING (Granada 1980)
HAPPY SINCE I MET YOU (Granada 1981)
After a couple of years performing and writing, Victoria finally found her niche in writing comedy plays, and after her show Talent had proven popular on stage, she was commissioned to do it on the telly, writing and appearing in it alongside her mate Julie Walters. It was shown in August 1979, fortunately for her just 24 hours before ITV started collapsing into chaos and the strike began, and was popular enough to generate a sequel the next year, then she wrote another one which she wasn’t in, but Duncan Preston was, and finally her career seemed to be taking off.

WOOD AND WALTERS (Granada 1981)
Such was her success as a writer, Granada offered Victoria her own show, which she accepted as long as Julie Walters was in it, and also she had her name in the titles. A Christmas special did well enough and a series followed, but in between the producer died, with a replacement arriving just before recording who didn’t really seem to know or like much about Victoria. In addition, when she was commissioned to write six half hours, she did exactly that, failing to realise you were supposed to write loads more so you could throw half of it away. A clueless studio audience who didn’t know what they were watching didn’t help, but there were some interesting bits in it, including a rather out-of-place but amusing monologue from Rik Mayall.

VICTORIA WOOD AS SEEN ON TV (BBC 1985)
After a few years out refining the act, Victoria was back in TV comedy but this time on the Beeb. To coincide with the show she went out on tour, billing herself as “as seen on TV”, only for the series to be put back and make her look stupid. When it finally got on air, though, it was absolutely brilliant, a fabulous mix of sketches and stand-up, the only downside being the horrible suits Victoria wears for those bits. There are loads of great bits across the two series and one special, like the daft documentaries such as Flatmates, Marjorie and Joan and, of course, probably the funniest recurring sketch on telly, Acorn Antiques. That link up there is the last one ever at Christmas 1987. We wonder why they never dropped the audience laughter from the opening titles but you get the original continuity and the Quantel-ified credits we used to love so much. Plus, TVC celebrate another all-time favourite here.

AN AUDIENCE WITH VICTORIA WOOD (LWT 1988)
For many years it used to be Victoria sketches on the Beeb and Victoria stand-up on ITV, with many of her theatre shows being televised on the light channel. This was the only time she did a proper telly show for ITV after Wood and Walters, though, for this highly memorable compendium of all her greatest hits which was then repeated and mined for clips for an eternity (and for a while was one of the few of her shows you could get in full on video). She’s got an excuse for the awful outfit in this one too because she was six months pregnant when she made it.

VICTORIA WOOD (BBC 1989)
Victoria’s first series after As Seen On TV saw her promoted to BBC1. This was a series of six one-off sitcoms which Victoria played “herself”, although the rest of the cast changed in every episode and in some of them Victoria is very much a supporting character. We enjoyed them at the time but some of them seemed a bit too much like sketches dragged out to half an hour and Victoria didn’t enjoy making them because they didn’t film them in front of an audience. The one up there is probably the best, the airport one, and despite a rather lukewarm response the Beeb didn’t seem that bothered as they repeated them a thousand times.

VICTORIA WOOD’S ALL DAY BREAKFAST (BBC 1992)
A bit more like it, this, Victoria was now a big enough star for her new show to get a Christmas Day outing. The whole thing came about when Victoria had just giving birth and spent hours and hours watching daytime telly, which she considered the perfect target for spoofery – and she managed to get in before everyone else parodied This Morning as well. The whole thing was of course just a linking device for more sketches and songs, and there were certainly plenty of nods towards As Seen On TV with the continuity announcements and a new soap, but none the worse for that. Since then Victoria’s telly work for the rest of the Cream era owed more to drama, at which she was equally adept, with great stuff like Pat and Margaret, establishing her as one of the greatest writers of her generation. Don’t forget, it may be Hamlet, but it’s got to be fun, fun, fun!

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Barbersmith

    April 22, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Loved her as a kid, which was when her best stuff was (1980s). Quite liked Dinnerladies apart from Julie Walters ruining it. Sadly, her later comedy stuff was dreadful. Making a fuss about her Mid Life Christmas being broadcast on Christmas Eve only drew attention to how awful it was. It shouldn’t have been broadcast at all.

  2. Palitoy

    April 23, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Wood’s obituaries are mixed in with the “give way to cynicism” critique that she mined working class angst for her comedy (most folk cite Dinnerladies in this instance which, I think, misses the point of that underrated show) and/or that she wasn’t nearly radical or surreal enough. In truth she was maybe the most alternative of comics, an outsider of the mainstream light ent she found fame through but also the behind-the-bikesheds confidence trickery of Ben Elton et al. Why the mirthless gurning of ‘French and Saunders’ is blithely regarded as better or more watchable is beyond me.

  3. Richard16378

    April 24, 2016 at 12:39 am

    Dinnerladies was a real favourite of mine, & a few years ago me & my girlfriend watched it all again over a weekend.

    She seemed to occupy a strange “middle ground” of comedy, not quite radical enough to be in alternative comedy (though she was considered for Not The Nine O’Clock News) & way smarter then the pub circuit style comedians around at the time.

    Jasper Carrot is another who fits into this category.

  4. Glenn Aylett

    April 24, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Victoria Wood had none of the sneering and contempt the alternative comedians had for the mass audience and this is how she became so popular in an era when people like Ben Elton were taking over the com edy industry. As Richard 16378 said, she sort of fell between alternative comedy and the stale old gang like Jimmy Cricket and could appeal to a wide audience. Also might it not be true the Acorn Antiques hastened the demise of Crossroads as it was clearly a send up of the show?

  5. George White

    April 24, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    They were part of the sort of “folkie”tradition alongside Billy Connolly, Max Boyce, John Cooper Clarke, etc, people who told songs, did comedy, poetry, etc.

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