The Friday Song
Victoria Wood and I were the same age. The ‘female Alan Bennett’ sadly died two years ago. She became a friend very early on in both our careers. I went to the first play she had staged and remained a pen-pal for a long time (I kept her hilarious letters).
Some performers are naturally nervous; Victoria could be spiky and uncomfortable before audiences, which is odd when you think of the career she chose in the public limelight. The difference between Wood and Bennett is that Bennett was Oxbridge and acted, and his plays ran from literary to overtly political. He and Wood both mined Northern language for comic effect, but Wood’s humour was a celebration (and gentle send-up) of working class life. When she wrote more seriously, she still wrote about people rather than ideas.
I often felt she was held back from development by some of her television work, and once urged her to write a big West End show, which she eventually did (too big, really; the National produced it and turned ‘Acorn Antiques’ into a vast, bloated but intermittently hilarious show).
Although she wrote songs with the kind of lyrics not seen in the UK since Flanders & Swan or even Noel Coward, she wasn’t much of a performer, and it took her director years to get her to stop looking directly into the camera. In other times she would have been better served by being a behind-the-scenes writer and allowing others to perform her plays and songs. On rare occasions she stayed in the background, and the results were funnier. Here’s an early song, ‘Shopping All Day Long’.