Julie Walters and Maxine Peake reflect on their friend Victoria Wood

A year after her death, Wood's contemporaries pay tribute to the comedy legend in Our Friend Victoria

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Julie Walters: “I’ve never met or worked with anyone who is remotely like her”

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I felt that we were soul mates when I first met Victoria. But the longer we worked together, the more I realised we weren’t alike at all, and that’s why we got on in so many ways. She approached stuff almost like a scientist. She was terribly organised – completely the opposite of me.

She loved watching people and listening to their conversations. She had a little book that she’d get out, and if she heard something that she thought was hilarious, it would go in the book and often be used in some form or other in her scripts, plays or screenplays.

Chrissie the swimmer is my very favourite of all of her work. It’s a brilliant little gem [from Victoria Wood – as Seen on TV, BBC 1985]. She’s wonderful in it. Victoria was the first person to do the fly-on-the-wall documentary. I mean, she did those before everybody else and they were extraordinary little films.

I’ve never met or worked with anyone who is remotely like her. I don’t think there’s anybody who can do what she did. To have all of those talents – musicality, scriptwriting and to be a stand-up comic. There just isn’t anybody like her, on any level.

She was actually quite shy in many ways, but she wanted her work recognised. She wanted to be seen doing her work, but she wasn’t somebody who wanted to be, say, photographed at the Ivy. She just wasn’t like that. She wasn’t interested in it at all. And she was never nervous. That was the difference between her and absolutely everyone else I know in the business. She didn’t have those destructive nerves. She wasn’t even daunted by performing in the Albert Hall. I remember asking her, “Are you nervous?” She said, “Oh no, I’m excited!”

Julie Walters & Maxine Peake speak to Sarah Doran at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival

Maxine Peake: “She showed me that you can do anything”

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Victoria and I first met when I was still at drama school and I’d signed with an agent. Not long after I got this phone call: “You’ve got an audition.” And I thought, “My God, I’ve got an audition. How exciting. I didn’t think that would happen!” And they said, “And it’s for this new sitcom [Dinnerladies] by Victoria Wood.” I couldn’t believe it.

They sent me the script, and I read it and it was fantastic. They said, “She wants you to go in.” I didn’t expect anything from the meeting. I thought I’d just go and sit in the same room as Victoria Wood, and that was sort of enough.

The thing about Vic was that she was always really generous. She didn’t keep the best lines for herself. She was quite happy to let everyone else have them. And that’s really admirable and shows what a great person she was.

Victoria’s writing is like music; if a line’s out, it’s like you hit a bum note. If you throw a word in there that shouldn’t be in, or you change a word, your ear goes to it. And that was a real lesson for me to learn, as a young actor.

She had an amazing effect on my career. I mean, to work with Victoria Wood on my first job after leaving drama school – I don’t think I could have had a better start.

She also showed me that you can do anything. It’s about just rolling up your sleeves and having a go and committing to it. And so I do a bit of writing now, because somebody like Vic made it seem possible.

Victoria was extremely funny but what was unique, was her observation, her eye and her humanity; her characters were funny, but they also felt like your friends.

If I was to sum up Victoria in a few words it would be: perfectionist, inspiring, funny, genius, unique.

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Our Friend Victoria is on Tuesday 11th April at 9:30pm on BBC1