Why do we love Victoria Wood?
This week marks 6 years since we lost Victoria Wood to her private (not secret) illness. There aren’t many deaths which have hit me quite as hard; Rik Mayall and Caroline Aherne are certainly up there. We don’t know these people in real life but, through their work, we feel as though they are part of our lives. They have made us laugh, possibly cry, seen us through difficult times, enriched our lives; Victoria in particular made many of us feel “seen” as the youths say. She didn’t just observe behaviour, she lived it, breathed it, absorbed it and turned it into the true masterpieces we still watch today.
Victoria Wood succeeded in breaking into what was predominantly a man’s world, brought women, in particular older ladies, to the fore and produced comedy which not only makes us laugh but makes us feel part of the proceedings.
My love affair with the glorious Ms Wood actually began with Victoria Wood Presents; a series of six 30 minute comedy playlets, one of which is entitled “Staying In” and shows how reluctant she is to go to a party whereupon is informed that she, along with several other guests, is The Entertainment. Her relief at getting home, snuggling up in front of the television and ignoring the telephone is palpable and I sense we see as close to the real Victoria Wood in these six shows as we were ever going to.
I wanted to know what others thought of when asked why they love her work and this turned into the most wonderful Twitter thread; as many said, it must be such a comfort to her family that she remains so fondly remembered and her work still being introduced to new viewers.
Looking through the replies I narrowed them down into a few main areas:
Victoria Wood grew up playing the piano and composed some of the funniest but also most poignant songs. The best remembered is indubitably The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s do It); the tale of a middle-aged couple who are slightly out of sync shenanigans-wise. Every single line is a classic; from:
Let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring
Smear an avocado on my lower portions
Ending with arguably the best penultimate line in any comedy song; Stella Creasy MP apparently “can’t see a Woman’s Weekly without giggling”. And she’s not alone.
Victoria gifted some of her best lines and characters to her ensemble cast of actors. One of her most loved creations was Acorn Antiques; the sublime spoof of the soap opera, Crossroads, complete with missed cues, rickety sets and far-fetched plotlines. By far the most remembered is the role of Mrs Overall, played by her comedy partner, Julie Walters, with her Nora Batty-esque stockings, ever present tea tray and a never ending supply of macaroons. VW not only was gifted in the area of writing, but in ensuring the correct actor played the parts for which they were born. I have lost count of the number of times I have cried laughing at this ridiculous but addictive set of sketches.
Her use of language
It is so easy to spot something written by VW; it has an unmistakeable rhythm, a musicality. As Samuel West commented: “Her command of style, register and pace”.
Her work has often been compared to Alan Bennett, with many people wondering why she hasn’t achieved his writing acclaim. However, I think her legion of fans would argue that what she did achieve was immeasurable in terms of warmth and humour.
Others mentioned her precision, that no words were wasted and that she “mined the conversations of ordinary people for linguistic gems long after other writers would have been listening to nobody but themselves” (@RobOnA Bike).
Her writing was sharp but never cruel; even when she was ridiculing daytime television hosts it was done with an element of homage and never made for uncomfortable viewing.
So many quote her on a daily basis; there is even a Twitter account dedicated to this (@VictoriaQOTD), such is the enduring love for her ability to, as one Twitter reply said “elevate the mundane to an object of comedy gold”.
Her love of middle-aged women
Victoria was one of the first people to properly champion middle-aged women on television; previously only Coronation Street had truly given them a voice. She not only introduced characters but brought in older actors and included them in much of her work. She brought in her carefully curated observations, their patterns of speech, their dry wit and pertinent subjects; all of this made her comedy even more relatable and memorable for having this rich seam running through.
Her most remembered work
So many excellent examples were given but the sketch which most people remember is where VW plays Chrissie, a schoolgirl whose dream is to Swim the Channel. We see her bullied by her trainer, witness her disinterested parents who would rather go shopping than support her, see her perform Double Prayers and then set off all alone, with only her duffel bag and a box of sandwiches for company. We find out that Chrissie has still not been seen, 8 days later, her parents certain she’ll turn up.
Dinnerladies was by far the most mentioned in the thread; the sitcom written about a group of factory canteen workers. VW plays the lead character, Bren, who was left in a children’s home by her errant mother, Petula Gordeno, played by Julie Walters who has now been reunited with her, albeit not always welcomed. The show explores subjects such as cancer, infidelity, emotional breakdown, divorce, unplanned pregnancy and menopause.
Neither the Swim the Channel sketch nor the premise of dinnerladies look particularly amusing on paper. And yet both are probably the funniest and concurrently most moving things I have ever seen on television. VW had the necessary skill to elevate comedy to something we not only laugh at but feel; almost viscerally.
I can’t recall the number of times I have rewatched both of these and can’t imagine a time when I won’t. When my late mum died I didn’t cry. Not at first. But I did sit and rewatch dinnerladies; for comfort, for distraction, for yes, laughter. It gave me the space I needed and judging by the responses on Twitter, it has done the same for countless others.
My good friend’s daughter has just entered her teen years and adores dinnerladies. What a legacy.
The best reply I received on Twitter in response to my question of what people love about her work?