Victoria Wood

Dateline: February 6, 2000

One of the best-loved and famous comediennes in Britain is Victoria Wood, a stand-up comic, musician, and writer and star of the recent dinnerladies on the BBC. Though incredibly talented and blessed with many early breaks, success was not immediate for her.

Born in 1953 in Lancashire, the woman who would be Britain's first female stand-up comic and the biggest live draw in the country, began life as the daughter of a failed entertainer living in isolation near Ramsbottom. In a 1996 Southbank Show documentary she described her childhood: "We all lived in separate rooms in this big house on a windswept hill on the moors. And I had a room with a piano and television in it. And I either watched the television or played the piano or read or ate sweets, and I just did those four things, usually all at the same time. And I've based my career on at least three of them."

At 15 she joined a Youth Theatre Group in Rochdale which encouraged her talent, particularly her affinity for the piano. In 1971 she studied drama at Birmingham University, but intimidated and shy, she preferred to stick with music rather than straight acting. In 1974 she competed on the popular TV talent show New Faces, singing songs at the piano, and made it to the finals only to lose to up-and-coming Lenny Henry. But even national exposure didn't help her career as nobody knew how to employ her talents, saying she did "sophisticated cabaret" which there was no market for at the time. She did sing songs on That's Life in 1976, at the time one of the most popular shows in Britain, but again, it didn't lead to any offers, and Wood couldn't even get an agent.

She met her husband, Geoffrey Durham, a comic and magician, and they made the career-dampening move of settling in Morecambe, a small resort town in the North. Appearing in a West End revue, she wrote a short play, Sex, that she got to perform with Julie Walters, her most frequent collaborator. Good notices got her commissioned for a full play, Talent, again with Walters, which toured in 1978 and filmed for Granada television the following year. Granada, knowing they had a good thing, signed her up for a sketch series, Wood & Walters, but poor regional studio audiences couldn't understand her humor and the show failed.

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