Oh the double-edged sword of the Guardian news alert. Sometimes helpful, sometimes intriguing [recently a night out dancing was enhanced by “Iain Duncan-Smith resigns” flashing up and generating much speculation], and at times just utterly heart breaking.
The latter mostly includes their death announcements – which is how I’ve heard of the passing of several idols and inspirations in recent years: Mandela, Rickman and today, Victoria Wood. Victoria flipping Wood. The woman who categorically shaped comedy in the household in which I grew up. Red cabbage can’t be mentioned without a cry of “how much?” rising up from at least one person. Soup can’t be served without a shaky “one soup…two soup”. And nothing – I repeat nothing – featuring Wood would ever be skipped should it be on TV.
Twitter is ablaze at the moment, obviously; and I have a lot of thoughts, obviously. So I thought I’d get them all down now, cathartic fashion. But can I do Victoria Wood justice, can I buffalo!
1. I saw Victoria Wood in real life once. (That it was only once is probably surprising as she did live locally). It was the early 90s, and I had been taken shoe shopping in the children’s shoe shop in Muswell Hill. The shop was crowded (it sold Start Rite, Muswell Hill mums love Start Rite) and we were reaching the end of the shoe trying-on ordeal when my mum hissed “Don’t look, but Victoria Wood’s just walked in.” As one, my sister and I looked. Come on! She was our comedy idol! We proceeded to watch her child try on sandals. It was thrilling.
2. In the early 1990s, our church’s annual harvest supper had to be rescheduled because a large group of women had booked tickets to see Wood at the Royal Albert Hall. I think if Wood had known that, it could have sowed the seed for an exceptionally brilliant sketch. (I believe my sister and I were rather peeved that we weren’t allowed to go!)
3. There’s the fact that, despite its possibly questionable content, the tape featuring The Ballad of Barry and Freda was regularly played on long car journeys when I was definitely under 11. I didn’t get it, but I knew it was funny. That cassette later came my way via CD and is still an album that I go back to in iTunes. Saturday Night would be a particular favourite.
4. Even her serious (or more serious stuff) caused comedic moments. Over Christmas 2014, when the TV version of her play The Day We Sang aired, barely a few hours would pass before you heard a parent chirp “Nymphs and shepherds ru-un away, run away, run away…” in varying degrees of tunefulness (directly proportional to the amount of prosecco that had been consumed).
5. She was a funny woman who talked about real life. Actual real life, not aspirational real life. True, as a softy southerner not all of it made sense, but a lot of it did. Like the Sacherelle sketch… [Incidentally, I’m convinced that in this clip, you can spot Victoria Coren with her father at 1:16]
6. Very recently, I had the joy of discovering on YouTube a whole series of Victoria Wood programmes I’d never seen before – We’d Like to Apologise – which was a feast of 90’s nostalgia, classic Wood co-stars, and brilliant comedy. Episode three, ‘Over to Pam’, in which Julie Walters plays daytime TV host Pam and where Victoria plays a version of herself, is sheer genius.
7. Everyone loved her. Including the best celebrities, who seemed to be queuing up around the block to be in one of her sketches. I think I got to the series mentioned above thanks to a bit of Rickman YouTubing. Rickman acting Woods’ scripts. Too, too much.
8. She has ensured that I never ever take Ann Widdecombe seriously.
9. She brought Julie Walters into my life. In fact, as a child, I was convinced that Walters was an old woman – I was very confused when I saw her on TV as herself. Mrs Overall and the assortment of other elderly ladies Wood wrote for Walters are utterly fabulous, but I do love the occasions when she was allowed to play her own age, or younger. Like the hairdresser no one would ever want near their hair.
10. When she appeared on Comic Relief Bake Off last year, her showstopper was a beret – a nod to her brilliant sketch in which Kimberley is continually sought by her beret wearing chum. “She’s really really tall and really really wide…” I’ve spent ages hunting for this clip this evening, having discovered a previous sharing of it had been removed by ITV. But thankfully, minutes ago, someone reposted it. It says a huge amount about Wood’s brilliance that her most famous character is someone we never ever see!
Oh goodness. Too, too soon. It says a lot of our love for Victoria Wood that my Dad has emailed from Samoa to check that the women of the family are ok. Like many, we’re mourning all that should have been to come: more plays, more sketches, more catchphrases. But no. At least there’s plenty to re-watch. I’m spending the evening watching her 2010 BAFTA tribute and enjoying the fact that at least it wasn’t an obituary when it was made.