2016 has not been kind. Maybe it’s just my age but the last few months have seen a steady stream of familiar faces shuffling off; a roll call of my childhood and teenage years. Bowie, Rickman, Wogan, Corbett. However the death of Victoria Wood today seems particularly cruel and unnecessary.
Her death has saddened me for all sorts of reasons. I must admit Bowie’s death was a blow but he was Bowie for goodness sake; extraordinary and other worldly, completely unique. Victoria Wood the opposite; gloriously ordinary, and very definitely one of us. A celebrity that felt like a mate even though I’ve never met her.
The BBC news bulletin flashed on my phone as I left a meeting. I immediately texted my friend Jo. Over the 30 years that Jo and I have been friends, Victoria Wood has been a constant. As teenagers, in our heads, we were Wood and Walters; not as funny obviously but pretty damn close.
Victoria Wood crafted a language of her own, beautifully and exquisitely, and we have used it as a short hand between us ever since. Months might pass when we don’t see each other but the Facebook comment “did someone poke an eclair through the curtain?” is enough, or maybe the offer of a Meltis Newberry Fruit..
Not to mention my other friends, who went through the same rite of passage – the parallel Victorias and Julies. Or my friend Simon – we’re not close friends, we used to work together many years ago but I believe he once used ‘totally fonybodo’ in a meeting and no more needed to be said.
The press have been littered with her ‘best lines’ but I’m not sure it really worked like that. These weren’t gags, this was an entire universe that you either inhabited or you didn’t – or you didn’t know you did. I have plagiarised and worked her lines into daily conversation for decades.
Last week, I may have used the phrase “I’m borderline hypo-glycemic, diagnosed pastry dependent”
Yesterday, I described a conversation with my son about his sex education class, as very like the tale of the chocolate raisins machine in the toilet.
So here are the things Victoria Wood has taught me.
It’s OK to be kind
I’m a cynical soul most of the time. If you asked who my favourite comedians were, I’d most likely say Stewart Lee, or Bill Hicks, or some other edgy, bitter sort setting the world to rights. Victoria Wood’s comedy is different. It is kind, and generous. It’s a cliche which is closely followed by ‘national treasure’ but true nonetheless. All of her characters, however flawed, are treated with fondness and warmth but resonate all the more because of it.
It’s always the quiet ones
People refer to Victoria Wood as shy, introverted, struggling with self-esteem. That is where her strength lay. She claimed she didn’t really enjoy acting as she “didn’t like wigs and costumes”, so she didn’t do it that often. She didn’t want to be famous for the sake of being famous. She had a talent, and she had something to say, and fame was merely a bi-product of that. Of all the work she did, it is the series of 6 half hours she made in 1989 that are my favourite. In every episode, there is a quiet rage simmering beneath the surface which is dealt with subtle and surgical honesty. Even all these years later, 28 minutes set in a health farm says everything about what is wrong with our self-obsessed, body image paranoia.
Look at Dana, I don’t know what she’s doing in that car but she’s certainly not working out the calories in a chocolate raisin. She is, however, knackering the suspension.
Your friends will serve you well
Tonight Julie Walters said her “heart was too sore to comment,” and you felt her pain. They were not a double act in the Morecambe and Wise, Two Ronnies kind of way. Without resorting to stereotypes it was a far more female version of friendship. They came in and out of each others lives and careers with ease and comfort. Victoria may have been the real writing talent but she gave Julie all the best lines.
In fact, she gave all her friends the best lines. The same cast of characters appeared time and time again, turning up like a family Christmas.
“It was made by disadvantaged oriental widows, you can see here where they were too depressed to stick down the edges”
And she gave Maxine Peake her big break. Enough said.
There is comfort in the ordinary
Victoria Wood was 62 when she died, which is no age at all. It is a year older than my mother when she died, which reminds me that she was no age at all either. My husband used to roll his eyes and leave the room when Dinnerladies came on but it reminded me of my mother like some massive blanket. Not just because the canteen she worked in was remarkably similar to the one she and I worked in. Actually it’s not Victoria Wood that reminds me of my my Mum, but Anne Reid speaking her lines, if my Mum had been funnier.
“Ravel’s Bolero, what a pulsing rhythm, superb for tackling the ironing”
I remember when I moved to London in 1996, Victoria Wood was playing the Albert Hall. I went by myself. I was living by myself, didn’t have many friends on my side of town and was lonely. I can’t think of many comics I would go to alone but this felt like the right thing to do. And indeed it was.
Sadness is funny
All the best writers know that comedy comes hand in hand with sadness. Victoria Wood managed pathos with a delicate touch that I’m not sure has been rivalled. I’ve wept my way through enough episodes to know.
I could go on, but I won’t.
So I shall leave you with this… If I ever get round to standing for Parliament, I’m nicking all of this