Victoria Wood CBE (born 19 May 1953) is an English comedian, actor, singer-songwriter, screenwriter and director. Wood has written and starred in sketches, plays, films and sitcoms, and her live comedy act is interspersed with her own compositions, which she accompanies on piano. Wood also composed and performed the theme music for her award winning BBC sitcom Dinnerladies. Much of her humour is grounded in everyday life, and includes references to popular British media and brand names of quintessentially British products. She is noted for her skills in observing culture, and in satirising social classes.
She started her career in 1974 by winning the ATV talent show New Faces. It wasn't until the 1980s that she began to establish herself as a comedy star, with the award-winning television series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV and became one of Britain's most popular stand-up comics. In 1998, she wrote and starred in the (again, award-winning) sitcom Dinnerladies. In 2006, she won two BAFTA awards for her one-off drama for ITV1, Housewife, 49. Wood frequently works with long-term collaborators Julie Walters, Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie.
Wood is the youngest daughter of Stanley Wood and Nellie Mape. She has three siblings: a brother, Chris, and two sisters, Penny and Rosalind.
Wood was educated at Bury Grammar Girls' School and the University of Birmingham, where she studied drama.
Wood began her show business career while an undergraduate studying drama at the University of Birmingham, appearing on the TV talent show New Faces. This led to her appearance in a sketch show featuring the winners of that series, The Summer Show. Her first big break was as a novelty act on the BBC's consumer affairs programme That's Life! in 1976. Wood had first met long-term collaborator Julie Walters in the early 1970s, when Wood applied for Manchester Polytechnic, and coincidentally met up once more when they appeared together in the same theatre revue, In at the Death, in 1978 (for which Wood wrote a brief sketch). Its success led to the commissioning of Wood's first play, Talent (also 1978), starring Hazel Clyne (in a role written for Walters), which won Wood an award for Most Promising New Writer. Peter Eckersley, the then-head of drama at Granada Television, saw Talent and immediately invited Wood to create a television adaptation. This time Julie Walters took the lead role, which had been written for her, while Wood reprised her stage role.
The success of the television version of Talent led to Wood writing the "follow-up", Nearly A Happy Ending. Shortly afterwards, a third play for Granada was written and made, Happy Since I Met You, again with Walters alongside Duncan Preston as the male lead. During 1980 she also wrote and starred in the stage play Good Fun.
Recognising her talent, Eckersley offered Wood a sketch show, though Wood was unsure of the project; she only agreed to go ahead with the programme if Walters received equal billing. Eckersley came up with the obvious title Wood and Walters, and the dry run of the show (the pilot episode) was filmed. The programme was made into a full series, and went on to co-star Duncan Preston and a cast of other supporting actors. However, in between the filming of the pilot and the series, Eckersley died. Wood cites Eckersley as giving her first big break, and feels that Wood and Walters suffered due to his death. She was not impressed by Brian Armstrong, the emergency fill-in for Eckersley, and was of the opinion that he hired unsuitable supporting actors.
Wood also appeared as a presenter in Yorkshire Television's schools television programme for hearing-impaired children, Insight, alongside Derek Griffiths, between 1980 and 1983. In 1982 and 1983 she appeared in BBC Radio's Just a Minute.
Wood left Granada in 1984 for the BBC, who promised Wood more creative control over projects. Later that year, Wood's sketch show Victoria Wood As Seen on TV went into production. This time, Wood chose actors herself: her friend Julie Walters once again starred, as did Duncan Preston. Wood's friend Celia Imrie was also cast, as well as Susie Blake and Patricia Routledge. As Seen on TV was notable for featuring classic sketches such as Acorn Antiques, a spoof of low-budget soap opera and rumoured to be named after an antiques shop in her birthplace. Acorn Antiques is remembered for characters such as "Mrs Overall" (played by Walters), the deliberately bad camera angles and wobbling sets, as well as Celia Imrie's sarcastic tone as "Miss Babs". The sketches were seen as satirising the production values of the ITV soap opera Crossroads in the 1970s. Wood's most popular comic song, "The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let's Do It)" originated in this show. It tells the story of Freda (a woman eager for sex) and Barry (an introverted man terrified of sex), makes clever use of allusions to a multitude of risqué activities while avoiding all taboo words. There was a second series of Victoria Wood As Seen on TV in 1986, followed by a one-off 'special' in 1987.
In 1988, she appeared in the BAFTA-winning An Audience With Victoria Wood for ITV. At the time of recording the show, Wood was six months pregnant.
During this period Wood began to move away from the sketch show format and into more self-contained works, often with a more bittersweet flavour. Victoria Wood (six parts, 1989) featured Wood in several individual stories such as "We'd Quite Like To Apologise", set in an airport departure lounge, and "Over to Pam", set around a fictional talk show. There was a brief return to sketches with the 1992 Christmas Day special Victoria Wood's All Day Breakfast. The television film Pat and Margaret (1994), starring Wood and Julie Walters as long-lost sisters with very different lifestyles, continued her return to stand-alone plays with a poignant undercurrent to the comedy. In 1998, she wrote her first sitcom, Dinnerladies, which continued her now established milieu of mostly female, mostly middle-aged characters depicted vividly and amusingly, but with a counterpoint of sadder themes.
In 1994 there was also the one off BBC 80-minute programme "Victoria Wood: Live in Your Own Home" featuring Julie Walters and Duncan Preston.
December 2000 saw the Christmas sketch show special Victoria Wood with All The Trimmings, starring her traditional troupe of actors as well as a string of special guest stars. However, it was during this period that Wood tended to move away from comedy, focusing on drama instead. She did continue to produce one-off specials, though, including Victoria Wood's Sketch Show Story (2002) and Victoria Wood's Big Fat Documentary (2005).
Wood wrote her first musical, Acorn Antiques: The Musical!, which opened in 2005 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, for a limited period, directed by Trevor Nunn. It starred most of the original cast, with Sally Ann Triplett playing Miss Berta (played in the series by Wood). Wood played Julie Walters' character Mrs. Overall for matinee performances.
Wood wrote the 2006 one-off ITV serious drama Housewife, 49, an adaptation of the real diaries of Nella Last, and played the eponymous role of an introverted middle-aged character who discovers new confidence and friendships in Lancashire during World War II. Housewife, 49 was critically praised, and Wood won BAFTAs for both her acting and writing for this drama – a rare double.
In November 2006, Wood directed a revival production of Acorn Antiques: The Musical! with a brand new cast. The musical opened at the Lowry in Salford in December and toured the United Kingdom from January to July 2007.
In January 2007, she appeared as herself in a series of new adverts featuring famous people working for supermarket chain Asda. The adverts featured Wood working in the ASDA bakery and introduced a new catchphrase for the supermarket – "there's no place like ASDA". Wood was also the subject of an episode of The South Bank Show in March 2007, and is the only woman to be the subject of two South Bank programmes (the previous occasion was in September 1996).
Wood appeared in her own travel documentary show on BBC One called Victoria's Empire, in which she travelled around the world in search of the history, cultural impact, and customs the British Empire placed on the parts of the world it ruled. She departed Victoria Station, London for:
- Programme One: Calcutta (India), Hong Kong and Borneo
- Programme Two: Ghana, Jamaica and Newfoundland, Canada
- Programme Three: New Zealand, Australia and Zambia, finishing at the Victoria Falls.
In a tribute to Wood, the British television station UKTV Gold celebrated her works with a weekend marathon of programmes between 3 and 4 November 2007. The weekend focused on programmes such as Victoria Wood Live and Dinnerladies in addition to Victoria Wood As Seen on TV – its first screening on British television since its last rerun in 1995.
Wood returned to stand-up comedy with a special performance written for the celebratory show Happy Birthday BAFTA on 28 October 2007, alongside other household names. The programme was transmitted on ITV1 on Wednesday 7 November 2007. On Boxing Day 2007 she appeared as "Nana" in the Granada dramatisation of Noel Streatfeild's novel Ballet Shoes.
In December 2007, while guesting on the radio programme Desert Island Discs, Wood said that she was about to begin writing a film, described as a contemporary comedy about a middle-aged person, marking her first foray into film. On Thursday, 12 June 2008, Wood was part of the celebrity guest panel on the series The Apprentice: You're Fired! on BBC Two.
In June 2009, Wood appeared as a panellist on the first 2 episodes of the new series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.
Wood returned to television comedy for a one-off Christmas comedy sketch-show special, her first in 9 years, titled Victoria Wood's Mid Life Christmas, transmitted on BBC One at 21:00 on Christmas Eve 2009. The special, which reunited Wood with long-time collaborator Julie Walters, included a spoof of BBC period drama (Lark Rise to Candleford, Little Dorrit and Cranford) entitled Lark Pies to Cranchesterford, a spoof documentary following Acorn Antiques star Bo Beaumont (Walters) titled Beyond The Marigolds, highlights from the Mid Life Olympics 2009 (with Wood as the commentator), parodies of personal injury advertisements and a reprise of Wood's most famous song "The Ballad of Barry and Freda" ("Let's Do It"), performed as a musical number with tap-dancers and a band. Victoria Wood: Seen On TV, a 90-minute documentary looking back on Wood's career, was broadcast on BBC Two on 21 December, whilst a behind-the-scenes special programme about Midlife Christmas, Victoria Wood: What Larks!, was broadcast on BBC One on 30 December.
On New Year's Day 2011 Wood appeared in a BBC drama Eric and Ernie as Sadie Bartholomew, mother of Eric Morecambe.
For the 2011 Manchester International Festival, Wood wrote and directed That Day We Sang, a musical set in 1969 with flashbacks to 1929. It tells the story of a middle-aged couple who find love after meeting on a TV programme about a choir they both sang in 40 years previously. Though the characters are imaginary, the choir really did exist, singing with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester's Free Trade Hall on a record that sold over a million copies. Apart from the pieces on the 1929 recording (Purcell's "Nymphs and Shepherds" and the Evening Benediction from Hansel and Gretel) the score for the musical was written by Wood herself.
On 23 December 2012, BBC One screened Loving Miss Hatto, a drama written by Wood. It was her "imagining" of the life of real concert pianist Joyce Hatto, the centre of a scandal over the authenticity of her recordings and her role in the hoax. In April 2013, Wood produced a documentary about the history of tea named Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea. She appeared on an episode of QI, broadcast on 13 December 2013 and around the same time made two return appearances on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue during the show's 60th series. In March 2014, Wood voiced the TV advert for the tour of the old set of Coronation Street. On 26 December 2014, a television adaption of That Day We Sang, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton was shown on BBC 2. In early 2015, she took part in a celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief and was crowned Star Baker in her episode.
Wood is notable for frequently including the same actors in her shows. These actors have appeared in most of her work in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and include – most notably – Julie Walters, Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston. To a lesser extent, other associated actors include: Lill Roughley, Anne Reid, Philip Lowrie and Susie Blake.
Awards and recognition
Wood has received many awards in her long career. In 1997, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. Earlier in 1994, she was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Sunderland. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
Her work has also been laden with awards, both by the public and her professional contemporaries.
In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 Funniest Acts in British Comedy. In the 2005 Channel 4 poll the Comedians' Comedian, she was voted 27th out of the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. She was the highest-ranked woman on the list, beating French & Saunders (who paid tribute to her in their 'Lord of the Rings' spoof, where a map of middle earth shows a forest called 'Victoria Wood'), Joan Rivers and Joyce Grenfell.
Her sketch show Victoria Wood As Seen on TV won BAFTA awards for its two series and Christmas Special. In 2007, she was nominated for and won the BAFTA awards for "Best Actress" and for "Best Single Drama" for her role in the British war-time drama Housewife, 49, in which she plays the part of an ordinary housewife dominated by her moody husband. Wood's character eventually stands up to him and helps the WRVS (Women's Royal Voluntary Service) in their preparations for the British soldiers.
Her popularity with the British public has been confirmed when she won 'Best Stand-Up' and 'Best Sketch Show' by Radio Times readers in 2001. Wood was also voted 'Funniest Comedian' by the readers of Reader's Digest in 2005 and came 8th in ITV's poll of the public's 50 Greatest Stars, four places behind occasional co-star Julie Walters.
Wood is the recipient of six British Comedy Awards: Best stand-up live comedy performer (1990); Best female comedy performer (1995); WGGB Writer of the year (2000); Best live stand-up (2001); Outstanding achievement award (jointly awarded to Julie Walters) (2005); Best female TV comic (2011).
- Wood has four wins from fourteen nominations (she also has a special Bafta that she received at a Bafta tribute evening in 2005, taking her total to five):
|1986||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood As Seen on TV||Won|
|1987||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood As Seen on TV||Nominated|
|1988||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood As Seen on TV||Nominated|
|1989||Best Light Entertainment Performance||An Audience With Victoria Wood||Won|
|1990||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood||Nominated|
|1995||Best Actress||Pat and Margaret||Nominated|
|Best Single Drama||Pat and Margaret||Nominated|
|Best Light Entertainment Performance||Victoria Wood: Live in Your Own Home||Nominated|
|1999||Best Comedy Programme or Series||Dinnerladies||Nominated|
|2000||Best Situation Comedy||Dinnerladies||Nominated|
|2001||Best Comedy Programme or Series||Victoria Wood with All The Trimmings||Nominated|
|2007||Best Actress||Housewife 49||Won|
|Best Single Drama||Housewife 49||Won|
|2011||Best Single Drama||Eric and Ernie||Nominated|
- Victoria Wood As Seen on TV won the BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme in 1986, 1987 and 1988; these awards went to the producer, Geoff Posner.
- An Audience With Victoria Wood won the BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme in 1989; this award went to David G. Hillier.
Wood married magician Geoffrey Durham in March 1980. They separated in October 2002. They have two children, Grace (born 1988) and Henry (born 1992). Although Wood fiercely maintains her privacy and that of her children, even originally refusing to release publicly the name of her son when he was born, Henry Durham appeared in a small cameo in the accompanying 'making of' documentary for her 2010 BBC Christmas Special.
Wood is a Quaker and a vegetarian, once remarking; "I'm all for killing animals and turning them into handbags. I just don't want to have to eat them."
Wood lives in Highgate, North London.
- Sold Out (1991)
- Live in Your Own Home (31 October 1994)
- Live 1997 (27 October 1997)
- At The Albert Hall – Live (25 November 2002)