Victoria Wood (Rex)

WOMEN WE LOVE

 Victoria Wood: "No one wrote such quotable lines, such immaculate scripts"

Victoria Wood (Rex)

A brilliant writer and an extraordinary performer who touched the lives of so many women. Sali Hughes remembers Victoria Wood

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By Sali Hughes on

“If you hold hands with a boy, his seeds go up your sleeve and a baby comes out of your cardigan.“

“I was in Marks and Spencers returning… well, let’s call it an item.”

“It’s not everyone that can wear mustard.”

“I'm sorry I've not been a very good mother. Still, you can't be good at everything and I was A1 with a hula hoop.”

"Well, he's not really my husband, but he did rub up against me in a sports coat once so he's as good as.”

“We’d quite like to apologise to our viewers in the North… It must be awful for them.”

These are just a small handful of genius quotes from a woman who wrote them in their thousands. A woman who was to play a huge role in my life, and in the lives of almost every woman I know. Victoria Wood has died surrounded by her family, at her home in London, after “a short but brave battle with cancer”. I’ve rarely been so upset by the passing of someone I didn’t know, rarely seen such a huge slice of my cultural identity fall away. This has been a dreadful year for the loss of our heroes.

When I was a little girl and sitting on my grandad’s lap to watch As Seen On TV, Victoria Wood and Julie Walters were among a tiny number of women starring in their own show, not playing the wife or girlfriend of the main attraction. Victoria Wood (along with Nora Ephron a few years later) showed me that women could be as funny, and funnier, than men. And that writing was a job women could do successfully and make look like such fun. She made it seem possible that an ordinary-looking, socially awkward and working-class girl could infiltrate a male-dominated world and own it, running her own show, paying bills with her brain not her tits. I watched everything she did, played her videotapes on a loop until I knew every sketch, every scene, by heart.

She was always extraordinarily ahead of her time. Wood’s mock-documentaries like Swim The Channel and Acorn Antiques: Behind The Scenes directly influenced Gervais & Merchant when writing The Office, her surreal, warm and sometimes grotesque characters impacted the writers of The League of Gentlemen and Little Britain. She was a gifted songwriter and composer (Acorn Antiques: The Musical is easily the most fun I’ve ever had in a theatre), a wonderful actress (her roles in Housewife, 49 and the brilliant Pat and Margaret will destroy you), a truly gifted, meticulously crafted stand-up (the night I saw her at the Albert Hall, the audience stood for 10 full minutes. Look up An Audience With Victoria Wood to see why). But I’ll always love her first and foremost as a writer. Like the late Ronnie Barker, she had an extraordinary command of the English language – its cadence, eccentricities, absurdities and endless potential for malapropism. She made our inconsequential colloquialisms into pure poetry. No one wrote better sketches (Two Soups, her sketch about an elderly waitress in a provincial restaurant, is every bit as genius and iconic as Four Candles and The Dead Parrot). No one wrote such quotable lines, such immaculate scripts, nor gave such generous gifts to her fellow performers.

It’s no exaggeration to say that some of the most significant friendships in my life are founded on a mutual adoration of arguably the greatest British comedy writer of all time

As a person she was warm, but not sugary and people-pleasing. A childhood of being largely ignored and left to her books, built a young woman of independence and with a strong sense of self. There was neither arrogance nor false modesty. She knew how good she was and had complete faith in her ability to succeed in a 1980s showbusiness where women were mostly there to look pretty while pointing at a canteen of cutlery. People felt she was one of them (she once topped a public opinion poll on "People You'd Most Like To Live Next Door To"), that Victoria Wood was on their side. And she was. Her comedy heroines included a clever dinnerlady obsessed with films and full of love, despite a horrible childhood in and out of care; an eccentric charwoman, an overweight and lonely teenage swimmer, a service station worker who’d been abandoned by her mother and sister. They were human beings – mostly working class, all of them deep, well rounded and full of heart.

Even when spearing bullies, bigots and snobs, Wood did so without sneer or cynicism, often with empathy and great pathos. She poked fun at British archetypes and social mores, but always did it with such great warmth and affection for her country, and particularly for the North West of England. Between Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett and Coronation Street (which she loved but spoofed brilliantly), an entire region was given a voice and mainstream cultural recognition.

My obsession with Victoria Wood never left me, only deepened. It’s no exaggeration to say that some of the most significant friendships in my life are founded on a mutual adoration of arguably the greatest British comedy writer of all time. You know you’ve met a keeper when they can recite every one of Patricia Routledge’s monologues as Kitty, the middle aged know-it-all of Cheadle (“Is it Kitty? Well if it’s not, this cardigan’s a remarkably good fit”), or each of Susie Blake’s continuity announcements. An evening’s “catch up” with my friends so easily ends up as “six straight hours of quoting Victoria Wood” before we all realise we should probably go home. Her language has infiltrated our everyday existence. A wobbly, doddery hangover is a “Mrs Overall”, I call Manchester “Manchesterford” as a matter of course, and if I’m returning from the shop, I’ll often say “"I couldn't get you raspberry yoghurt, so I got you meat and potato pie instead”. She is the furniture of our lives.

Towards the end, Victoria Wood felt marginalised and unappreciated by the BBC, to whom she had given so much. A rare flash of Victoria Wood (most recently in Fungus The Bogeyman) was an eagerly anticipated thrill for the British public. No one ever stopped caring, least of all Victoria Wood. The commissioners let us all down. But I always thought we’d see another Christmas special, or another gut-wrenching drama or perfect one-line observation of British life. She was very the best we had, with so much more still to give. She simply wasn’t someone who was ever supposed to die, unless by choking on a delicious homemade macaroon before some wonky credits rolled.

@salihughes

Victoria Wood (Rex)
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SALI HUGHES

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