Stars of the British comedy scene have been paying their respects to Mel Smith who died on Friday after suffering a heart attack.
The comedian, who passed away aged 60 at his home in north-west London, was best known for his work on sketch shows Alas Smith and Jones and Not The Nine O’Clock News. He was also renowned for his skills as a director and producer and in 1981 formed Talkback Productions with friend and colleague Griff Rhys Jones, going on to make a string of much-loved comedies including Da Ali G Show, I’m Alan Partridge and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. The pair sold the company in 2000 for £62m.
Jones and his fellow Not The Nine O’Clock News co-star, Rowan Atkinson, were among those paying tribute to their friend and colleague, the latter saying he was “truly sad” at the news of his death.
“Mel Smith – a lovely man of whom I saw too little in his later years. I loved the sketches that we did together on Not the Nine O’Clock News. He was the cast member with whom I felt the most natural performing empathy. He had a wonderfully generous and sympathetic presence both on and off screen.
“He was also an excellent theatre and movie director, doing a wonderful job on the first Mr Bean movie. If you direct a comedy movie that takes $245 million at the box office you’ve done something pretty special, and I never thought he was given enough credit for this success.”
Jones also paid his respects to his friend and business partner, stating he had lost “a gentleman and a scholar, a gambler and a wit.”
“I still can’t believe this has happened,” he added. “To everybody who ever met him, Mel was a force for life. He had a relish for it that seemed utterly inexhaustible.
“He inspired love and utter loyalty and he gave it in return. I will look back on the days working with him as some of the funniest times that I have ever spent. We probably enjoyed ourselves far too much, but we had a rollercoaster of a ride along the way.”
Born and raised in Chiswick, Smith attended Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith before studying experimental pscyhology at New College, Oxford where he performed with the Oxford University Dramatic Society. After completing his degree, he joined the Royal Court Theatre production team and later the Bristol Old Vic, before starring in Not The Nine O’Clock News from 1979 alongside Jones, Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson and Chris Langham.
In 1984 he and Jones formed a double act to appear in Alas Smith and Jones until 1998, with Smith simultaneously dabbling in the movie business. He will remain best known in Hollywood for starring in Brain Donors, a 1992 update on the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera, as well as directing Richard Curtis’ British comedy The Tall Guy, starring Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson and 1997’s lucrative Bean with Atkinson.
Smith’s final role was earlier this year in Stephen Poliakoff’s BBC2 drama, Dancing on the Edge, after suffering from ill health for some time.
A number of famous faces including Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Clarkson have also paid tribute to the comedian’s talent on Twitter:
Sad to hear about Mel Smith. His influence on contemporary British comedy both as a performer and producer is impossible to calculate.
— Pegg News (@simonpegg) July 20, 2013
Terrible news about my old friend Mel Smith, dead today from a heart attack. Mel lived a full life, but was kind, funny & wonderful to know.
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) July 20, 2013
Young people. Watch Mel Smith in the darts sketch. Then you will be sad too.
— Jeremy Clarkson (@JeremyClarkson) July 20, 2013
Happy memories of Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree with the late, great Mel Smith.Proud to have been your Christmas Cracker Melvyn. X
— Kim Wilde (@kimwilde) July 20, 2013
Very sad to hear news of Mel Smith's death has been confirmed. He and Griff gave Arthur and I our break. Was always so kind & generous to us
— Graham Linehan (@Glinner) July 20, 2013
Very sad to hear about Mel Smith. He did something very kind for me early in my career even though he hardly knew me. Such a funny man.
— Peter Serafinowicz (@serafinowicz) July 20, 2013