Wood brought humour to plain situations

Victoria Wood made Victoria's Empire for TV, about the Queen's empire. Photo / Supplied
Victoria Wood made Victoria's Empire for TV, about the Queen's empire. Photo / Supplied

Victoria Wood, who has died of cancer aged 62, found success in the 1970s as one of Britain's first female stand-up comics and the plump chanteuse of bittersweet songs, often with a social point.

At the heart of her acerbic observations on human frailty lay her mischievous brand of witty musical epigrams that conjured up a lost 1950s world of feeble men, gynaecological afflictions, split ends, corner shops and unsatisfactory sex.

In the days when almost all stand-up comedians were men spouting sexist, racist material, Wood counted herself fortunate that she narrowly predated the wave of alternative comedians. Indeed, seated breezily at the piano, she seemed to frame her essentially Northern, self-deprecating view of life in the old-fashioned cabaret style of Noel Coward.

Having surfaced on talent show New Faces in 1974, Wood soon became a fixture on Esther Rantzen's BBC One That's Life, warbling whimsical takes on stories in the news.

Although Wood cultivated a deliberately frumpy, roly-poly image, her origins were comfortably middle-class.

Her flair was to capture the speech patterns of ordinary folk discussing subjects that were workaday but inherently amusing.

As one television producer put it, "she manages to be extraordinarily ordinary".

While her on-stage persona suggested the matey, if mumsy, girl-next-door, she earned a reputation for being somewhat dour in private.

She disliked publicity, was wary of journalists, and gave interviews only when they served to promote her work.

Her first substantial success on television was with her series Wood and Walters (1982), in which she starred with her close friend from drama school days, Julie Walters. In Victoria Wood - As Seen on TV (1985), she created a cult classic with Acorn Antiques, a soap opera parody in which the cast, featuring Wood and Walters, fluffed their lines on the wobbly set, a throwback to the days of Crossroads. Wood's scripts were clever, quirky and original, and the show won a Bafta for best comedy of the year, cementing her claim to be the funniest woman in Britain.

Wood earned two Baftas in 2007 for the show Housewife, 49. Photo / AP
Wood earned two Baftas in 2007 for the show Housewife, 49. Photo / AP

After a gap of several years, in 1998 she returned to the small screen with a new sitcom, Dinnerladies, about a group of women working in a northern factory canteen.

Untrammelled by political correctness, Wood's scripts fizzed with sexual banter between the women and the canteen manager, Tony (Andrew Dunn).

"Abuse and harassment are disgusting," she conceded, "but when people go to work they talk about sex - it's part of life."

The series was recommissioned the following year, but received mixed reviews and was subsequently dropped.

She turned again to the live stage, touring provincial venues and starring at the London Palladium and at the Royal Albert Hall, where with her stand-up show, Victoria Wood - At It Again, she held the record for the most sell-out shows for a solo performer.

In the last three years she appeared in episodes of QI and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, and in 2015 took part in a celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief, when she was crowned Star Baker in her episode. In December last year she co-starred with Timothy Spall in Sky television's three-part adaptation of Fungus the Bogeyman.

Her work earned her many British Comedy and Bafta awards, including, in 2005, a tribute award and, in 2007, Bafta's award for best actress and best single drama for Housewife, 49. She was the Variety Club's BBC Personality of the Year for 1987.

She was appointed OBE in 1997, advanced to CBE in 2008. She once beat the Queen Mother into second place to top a poll of "People You'd Most Like to Live Next Door To".

In 1980, Wood married Geoffrey Durham, the magician who entertained under the name The Great Soprendo. The marriage was dissolved and she is survived by their son and daughter.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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