AN AUDIENCE WITHOUT VICTORIA WOOD
An evening of very funny songs and sketches, in aid of Victoria’s chosen charities.
Widcombe Social Club, Bath Saturday 28th May, 8pm
“If there’s a noisy party going on in the block, I don’t complain, I just zip up me cocktail slacks & get over there & get frigging. Or whatever the current dance craze may be.”
My early comedy memories can be hazy – I have half-remembered infancy nightmares about three strange men being chased by a giant Dougal from The Magic Roundabout, and distinctly recall as a tiny tot blowing up balloons for one Christmas with Benny Hill on the telly – even at that very ignorant age, there was something about the way he slapped the little bald bloke and ripped off women’s clothing that I found distinctly unfunny. I also remember the first time I switched on what seemed to be a Tudor costume drama, and something about the rubber face of the man in black kept me glued to the screen.
But I only have one memory of my entire family all sitting around the television equally laughing until the tears rolled down our faces, as the cliché would have it. My parents generally preferred Are You Being Served? or Jim Davidson, and the anarchy of The Young Ones I’d discovered on friends’ parents’ VHS tapes when I was only six were clearly anathema to them. But An Audience With Victoria Wood was obviously for all of us. Her incredible achievement in the solo writing of As Seen On TV had passed us all by, but this time she was on ITV – Central – the channel to which the family TV was pretty much perma-tuned – and so all five of us could discover her natural charm, her unparalleled skill with turning everyday language into a stream of jokes, and above all, her musical comedy mastery, which was what really had us all in uniquely synchronised hysterics, The Ballad of Barry and Freda reaching as great a crescendo as any hour of comedy has ever achieved.
It’s a song which closed my band’s Folk N Funny show last summer, and just a month ago I was performing It Would Never Have Worked as a duet on stage at Moles. I’ve performed in or directed versions of Wood’s sketches a few times in my life – Spaghetti, Medical Student, Hamlet Notes – and never had any doubt about her place as one of the all-time great comedians, totally irrespective of gender. If anyone proved how pointless the word ‘comedienne’ was, it was Wood. Fry & Laurie’s writing of all of their work together is an incredible achievement, but they were two men. French & Saunders similarly had no ‘Addition Material’ credits on their shows, but again, there were two of them. Victoria Wood did it all, on her own, and her output was mind-boggling both in terms of quantity and quality. Dave Allen could be called a ‘genius’ and I’d not demur, but he had a whole team driving his show. Victoria had one of the best ensemble casts to work with of all time, and Geoff Posner was a catch for any comedian to be steering the ship – but when it came to the writing, the stand-up, the songs at the piano… it was all her. So much funny from one mind, and now we’ve had our lot.
Just under a month ago we presented Peter Richardson with the second ever Bath Plug Award for achievement in comedy, and I had zero doubt in my mind about who I wanted to be the winner of The Bath Plug 2017. I’d already talked to the Festival boss Nick Steel about my plans to approach Victoria Wood’s ‘people’ in the hope that she’d see the gig as a fun day out in a beautiful city next April. One of the tricks of The Bath Plug is that we also show some of their work up on the big screen at the Little Theatre, and I thought nothing could be more perfect than an hour’s chat with Victoria, and then we would show her faultless Morecambe & Wise biopic Eric & Ernie, in which she starred as Eric’s Mother Sadie. That was the plan, and what an evening it was going to be.
And so, plans have had to change. But I’m left with this strong desire to do SOMETHING to mark the insanely early loss of one of the finest comedians Britain has ever produced, and so a group of us are arranging a special evening of live performances of her sketches, jokes, monologues and songs. We already have a date and a venue, the brand new Widcombe Social Club in Bath, on the evening of Saturday 28th May. Originally the plan was to raise money for charities that attempt to kick cancer in its stupid face – but it’s since been pointed out that supporting the charity of which Victoria was already a committed patron, www.jessiesfund.co.uk, may mean the money raised has more instant value, and we can be sure it’s supporting something Victoria was passionate about.
Hours and hours have been spent quoting Victoria Wood’s oeuvre in the last 24 hours, not least by me, but I’ll close with this. It’s not my favourite piece of her work by a long chalk – sometimes I think her self-penned 1989 sitcom one-offs gave me the most pleasure, particularly Val-De-Ree – but it’s a perfect example of how much British Comedy owes to Victoria Wood. This is what inspired Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris, and in turn Ricky Gervais and Peter Kay – this is the roots of naturalistic real-life mockumentary, of The Office, Parks & Rec, and so on.
Thank you, Victoria.
‘”What’s that awful smell?” She said, “It’s my grief.” I said, “Well, it wants washing.”‘