Victoria Wood was one of those people who made the world a less lonely place. Her comedy had this unerring ability to reach out to the audience, take them by the hand and say, “See? I look at Judith Chalmers, eiderdowns and spam in the same way as you do.” Only we could never articulate it like she did. Nobody else really could. And that’s just one of the reasons why her death is so hard to bear.
“Tony Blair? Stick two poems up in a bus shelter and call it a university,” railed snobby Dolly Bellfield in dinnerladies, encapsulating everything we loved about Wood’s writing. No one captured our faults and eccentricities quite like she did. That pricking of pomposity, wicked wordplay, precise social satire and melancholy tenderness that she found in the everyday. Irreplaceable.
Like Tony Warren, whose dialogue she elegantly pastiched in a brilliant Coronation Street spoof, Wood was also a fine advocate for the north-west. She often put the bigotries of her middle-aged Lancashire heroines front and centre (“I don’t say gay, I still say queer, I think that Mussolini had the right idea,” she sang as unlucky-in-love Pam), but her characters were always painted with a crucial undercurrent of pathos. It was as though she was looking at the north, noting its failings, but loving it still.
Wood’s friend, fellow comic Ted Robbins, once described her as a “shy show-off” and you can see what he meant. Hers was humour born both of observation and introspection and it made for a powerful combination. Just look at the way she strips away the vanity of soap star Patricia Bedford in Pat and Margaret. Opting not to slay this egomaniacal dragon, Wood instead reveals the kernel of humanity in a character desperate to escape a tragic past. It was hilarious and sad. Bittersweet, yet scalpel sharp.
Her death at 62 robs us of a true champion of the working class and the ordinary. From the naïve schoolgirl attempting to swim the channel to the sexually voracious Freda (of “Let’s Do It” fame), she was able to ridicule with real affection and make our hearts ache at the same time. The term ‘national treasure’ gets bandied about far too easily these days, but in Wood, we had someone who captured the nation’s vernacular, preoccupations and neuroses – and made them truly funny. Nobody reflected us back at ourselves with such skill and perception. What a duller life it will be without her.