WOOD, VICTORIA

British Comedy Actor/Writer/Singer

Victoria Wood is a talented comedy actress/writer/singer who has built up a national reputation following a string of self-written TV plays, films and sketch shows. Born in 1953 in Lancashire in Northern England she first had small screen exposure in the TV talent search show New Faces when she sang comedy songs of her own composition. Accompanying herself on the piano, she scored heavily with viewing audiences with her jaunty tunes, which often belied her sharp, poignant lyrics. Her regular themes of unrequited love, tedium, mismatched couples, and suburban living as well as her ability to find humour in the minutiae of modern life, stood her in good stead when she moved into writing plays for the stage and later for television.

Talent, her first play adapted for television (Granada, 5 August 1979), reunited her with Julie Walters who she had met at Manchester Polytechnic. Their partnership would launch both their careers. Talent deals with a mismatched couple: the ambitious would-be cabaret singer Julie Stephens (Walters) and the eternally sniffing Maureen, her plump, dull, but loyal friend (played by Wood) who had accompanied Julie to a talent contest. The bitter-sweet comedy explored themes of desperation, dashed hopes, lost ambition and hopeless romances. The fact that it managed to be both funny and truthful demonstrated Wood's skill as a writer and the pair's acting ability. A sequel, Nearly A Happy Ending (Granada, 1 June 1980) appeared the following year. This time the couple were going out for a night on the town, pausing en route at a slimming club. Wood was then quite portly, and occasionally her material dealt with what being overweight meant to oneself and others. Later in her career she slimmed down considerably.

Following Nearly A Happy Ending, Wood and Walters appeared in a one-off special Wood And Walters: Two Creatures Great And Small (Granada, 1 January 1981) which led to the series Wood And Walters (Granada, 1982). It was the series Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV (BBC), however, that truly established Wood as a major TV star. A sketch show introduced by a stand-up routine from Wood, the program also featured a musical interlude. Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge, Susie Blake, Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie provided strong support, and one favourite section of the show was "Acorn Antiques," a spoof of cheaply made soap operas.

As Walters film career blossomed, Wood's comedic talent continued to mature, and by the end of the 1980s she was a big draw on the live circuit. Her stand-up routine relied on observational humour as she drew laughs from finding the idiosyncrasies of normal modern life. She followed a long line of (male) northern comedians and her style of taking her storylines into surreal areas, as well as her character inventions, especially the gormless "Maureen." On television she remained determined to try something new and not merely revamp winning ideas. To this end, she wrote and starred in a number of half-hour comedy playlets under the generic title Victoria Wood (BBC 1989), her first series not to attract universal acclaim. She also appeared in a number of solo stand-up shows, and in a one-off spoof of early morning television news magazine shows, Victoria Wood's All Day Breakfast (BBC, 31 December 1992).

The feature-length TV film Pat And Margaret (BBC, 11 September 1994), Wood's most ambitious project to date, was her most accomplished reworking of her mismatched couple theme. In this context, Pat (Julie Walters) is a successful English actor in a hit U.S. soap (a la Joan Collins) who is reunited with her sister Margaret (Wood) on a TV chat show. The pair hadn't been in touch for 27 years and neither was happy about the meeting. Once again, bitter-sweet themes of escape and despair were explored and once again, despite this tone, Wood's comedic ability triumphed.

-Dick Fiddy


Victoria Wood
Photo courtesy of Victoria Wood

VICTORIA WOOD. Born in Prestwich, Lancashire, England, 19 May 1953. Attended Bury Grammar School for Girls; University of Birmingham, B.A. Drama and Theatre Arts. Married: Geoffrey Durham, 1980; one son and one daughter. Worked on regional television and radio, 1974=-78; theatre writer; formed television comedy partnership with Julie Walters; star of her own series and one-woman stage shows, writing her own material; appeared in numerous television series; author of several books. D.Litt: University of Lancaster, 1989; University of Sunderland, 1994. Recipient: Pye Colour Television Award, 1979; Broadcasting Press Guild Award, 1985; British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award, 1985 (twice), 1986, 1987, 1988 (twice); Variety Club BBC Personality of the Year Award, 1987; Writers' Guild Award, 1992; Broadcasting Press Guild Award, 1994; Monte Carlo Best Single Drama Critics' Award, 1994; Monte Carlo Nymphe d'Or Award, 1994. Address: Richard Stone Partnership, 25 Whitehall, London SW1A 2BS, England.

TELEVISION SERIES

1976 That's Life!
1981-82 Wood and Walters
1984, 1986 Victoria Wood--As Seen on TV
1989 Victoria Wood
1994 Victoria Wood Live in Your Own Home

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIE

1994 Pat and Margaret

TELEVISION SPECIALS

1979 Talent
1988 An Audience with Victoria Wood
1992 Victoria Wood's All Day Breakfast

STAGE (selection)

Talent, 1980; Good Fun, 1980; Funny Turns, 1982; Lucky Bag, 1984; Victoria Wood, 1987; Victoria Wood Way Up West, 1990.

PUBLICATIONS (selection)

Up to You, Porky. London: Methuen, 1985.

Good Fun and Talent. London: Methuen, 1988.

Mens Sana in Thingummy Doodah. London: Methuen, 1990.

 

See also British Programming