Victoria Wood

· culture ·

Watching a recording of the BAFTA tribute to Victoria Wood last night, I suddenly realised that I have never written about her here, despite the fact that she is one of my favourite comedians/comedy writers. People often compare her material to that of Alan Bennett, which seems apt to me. They both have an acute ear for the subtleties of everyday conversation, an affectionate warmth for their subjects (while still being biting at times), and genuine pathos and sadness in with the laughs.

She has turns of phrases that wedge themselves in your mind, only to pop up again unexpectedly and make you laugh. I love the title of one of her mini plays: 'Mens Sana in Thingummy Doodah', set in a health farm. From 'Pat and Margaret', I still cherish Thora Hird's line (trying to warn her beloved son off his girlfriend), "She's taken you for a giddy kipper, my lad." Thora always got the best lines. And who can forget the immortal phrase "Beat me on the bottom with a Woman's Weekly" from the song The Ballad of Freda and Barry (Let's Fall in Love).

I think the show which displayed her talents to the fullest was Dinnerladies. For some inexplicable reason, it was never wildly popular, despite having brilliant characters, fantastic one-liners and more acting talent in one show than most serious dramas (Julie Walters, Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie etc.). It was set in the works canteen of a Manchester factory, and perhaps one of the reasons I liked it so much was that it reminded me of an old people's day centre kitchen I worked in when I was at school. The banter between Dolly and Jean (they are very fond of one another, but can't help making really catty remarks about each other within earshot) was spot on. There was a Dolly and Jean in the kitchen I worked in too, and I loved listening to them having a gentle go at one another. Dolly's prim catchphrase ("It was in the Daily Mail") — which precedes every wildly inaccurate fact she's got hold of — has become a kind of code in our house for badly-researched, right-wing rubbish.

She caught the kind of mental gymnastics that you have to go through when talking to people who are slightly absent-minded. There's a fantastic scene when Dolly is saying that she hates people crying on films. She's trying to give a particularly obnoxious example, but can't remember the title of the film. I don't have the script (unfortunately) so I'm paraphrasing, but she said something like "It had that man in it... who was in that film with the chap in the dirty vest, you know!" Frowning with concentration and working on this extremely scanty set of clues, Bren goes from Bruce Willis in Die Hard to Alan Rickman to Truly Madly Deeply. I've had those kinds of conversations a lot.