Females, comedy and pianos: until recently, people said that they don't mix. However, there's an exception to every rule, and Victoria Wood is certainly an exception to this one.
Born in Prestwich, Lancashire (near Manchester in Northern England) in 1953, she went to school at Fairfield Primary and Bury1 Grammar School, where she showed a talent for music, particularly piano. She went on to Birmingham University, where she studied drama.
She appeared on the talent spotting TV show New Faces in 1973 and won, however this did not bring instant stardom. As a singer of funny songs, she could not be classified as a comic or a musician.
In 1976 she met her future husband, Geoffrey Durham2, a magician, who became known to children as the outrageous 'Great Soprendo' on the TV show Crackerjack. They married in 1980 and have two children.
During 1978, Wood met actress Julie Walters, who a little later shot to fame in the film Educating Rita, and they began working together. The first time was in her own play Talent, for which she won three 'most promising playwright' awards and then in their own TV show Wood and Walters in 1980, which lasted one series. They have worked together on and off ever since then.
Wood was developing her own style of stand up comedy, interspersed with comic songs, and based her humour on wry observations of real life. The songs often have jaunty tunes and the lyrics can be bitter-sweet and sometimes quite poignant. She has often drawn on her northern roots for inspiration and developed characters, often wildly exaggerated stereotypes, played with a touch of affection.
Her series Victoria Wood - as Seen on TV turned her into a household name and won her the Broadcasting Press Award, two BAFTA Best Light Entertainment Programme awards and Best Light Entertainment Performance. She went on to win the BBC Personality of the Year from the Variety Club of Great Britain in 1987 and did a special Audience with Victoria Wood in 1990.
In 1998, she wrote and starred in Dinnerladies, a six-part TV sitcom about the lives and loves of a group of women working in a factory canteen. Wood played Bren, who was in charge of the staff and second in command to Tony, with whom she has a rather shy and stumbling relationship. The cast for this was particularly strong and it ran for two series. The programme attracted a large following and could have run to more series, but Wood felt she wanted to leave it on a high.
The text of Wood's sketches on this link include such classics as Acorn Antiques, (a spoof soap) and Young Love (tales of a gormless young couple).
This BBC interview with Victoria Wood gives an insight into her comic style of writing.
Wood has written more songs than you can shake a stick at, however one song that stands out more than others is the 'Ballad of Barry and Freda', also known as 'Lets do it!'. She says that it was 'a joy to write, a sod to learn and I daren't finish a show without it'. She also says that the first time she performed it on-stage a woman at the stage door asked if she had always been cross-eyed!
The lyrics of Wood's songs are here however it is worth quoting a couple of lines from 'Barry and Freda' as they encapsulate one of her themes of mismatched couples. Freda is exuberantly and unashamedly wanting a night of passion and Barry would prefer to be lagging the pipes or reading a catalogue on vinyl flooring!
Freda and Barry sat one night.
The sky was clear. The stars were bright.
The wind was soft. The moon was up.
Freda drained her cocoa cup.
She licked her lips. She felt sublime.
She switched off Gardeners' Question Time3.
Barry cringed in fear and dread
As Freda grabbed his tie, and said:
Let's do it!
Let's do it,
Do it while the mood is right!
I've really got an appetite!
I'm on fire
I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir.
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!
The song carries on in this vein, with memorable lines such as:
Wear your baggy Y-fronts with the loose elastic!
Come and melt the buttons on my flameproof nightie!
Long may she continue to entertain us both as a writer and performer!