"Beat me on the bottom with a Woman's Weekly": All things Victoria Wood

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Victoria was a very generous writer. She would create the stand out characters for others, like Julie, and settle for playing more muted characters herself. Takes a lot to do that in my opinion :)
 

Mel O'Drama

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Wood & Walters: Two Creatures Great And Small
(1st January 1981)






According to the spoken introductions, the Pilot's alternative subtitle was Wood Is Thicker Than Walters. Apparently the fat joke subtitles were dropped for the series proper as Vic was understandably fed up with the comments she was getting about her size in the press (was she even that heavy at this point? She doesn't look it to me).

Anyway, as a thirty minute interlude between two more serious films, this Pilot episode is a mildly enjoyable stop. Despite the very different tone, there is at least some commonality in the women having their Nearly A Happy Ending hairdos.

These two actress-comediennes are value for money in anything. But that’s kind of the problem. Most of sketches do feel like just anything. Some don’t seem to go anywhere, and even in the ones that do the payoff or punchlines feel like damp squibs. Like the couple who are having marriage guidance in order to ask about the curtain track.

Some of the better lines come in an early sketch with Victoria and Robert Longden as a couple on a blind date in a restaurant:

Miss Harper said:
I’m waiting for Bill Smith.
Bill said:
I’m he.
Miss Harper said:
Well you can sit down till he comes. Is that a Persian name?



Bill said:
I’m surprised I haven’t read about you in the papers.
Miss Harper said:
I’ve had my fair share of publicity… Been a bridesmaid twice… and I’ve been mugged.
Bill said:
Really. Badly?
Miss Harper said:
Oh no. I think he did his best.



There’s a venture into some kind of surreal alternative comedy with the sketch about the woman asking the rude hairstylist for red streaks and getting stabbed on the top of the head with scissors until she bleeds. It’s the kind of thing that might have been hilarious if Victoria had described it in one of her monologues but actually seeing it just ends up feeling silly and dull. It might have worked for Kenny Everett or someone, but it's didn't fly for me with Wood and Walters.

There’s Dotty’s Slot, of course, which gave the opportunity for many Woodisms about woks and whatnot. But even that didn’t raise as many smiles as it could have done and was really more about the song at the end of the sketch.

Which leads me on to the point: really, the sketches felt very much like filler in between the songs, which I suppose is the opposite of most show so this kind. It’s almost like the sketches were the equivalent of the bad banter a cabaret singer does in between songs.

There are no less than four musical numbers in the space of twenty five minutes. All good in their own way. The two duets between Vic and Julie in particular - the first and third songs respectively - were great. Both felt of the tone and quality of the two films that preceded this Pilot.

The less than glowing way I view this episode is no doubt coloured by knowing the kind of quality that Victoria’s series would reach with As Seen On TV a few years later. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. Perhaps I’m in for disappointment there as well.
 

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Happy Since I Met You

(9th August 1981)




This one took me by surprise. I loved it and yet I wouldn’t be in a hurry to watch it again. Which is one of many contradictions of this film. It feels open and spacious while being oppressive. It’s charming and brutal. Plodding but sure-footedly direct.

Above all, it’s tangibly human.

Though I must have watched it before at least once, I remembered nothing about this film going in. And nothing came back or felt even a little familiar as it went along. Which was great, because I went into it knowing next to nothing about who’s in it or what it’s about.


The first minor surprise: no Victoria Wood. On-screen at least. Her voice can be heard metaphorically through the attention to detail with the dialogue, and literally through the songs played on the soundtrack throughout.


I loved Baz Taylor’s choice for that first shot: Julie Walters framed through the distorted porthole of an open washing machine door as she sits in a launderette (or is it a laundrette? I never know the difference) reading the newspaper. Once the door is closed, prosaic reality snaps into sharp focus, but the hint that things aren’t necessarily all they appear resonated.


Everything about that first scene felt real and right: Julie with her permed hair and chunky waffle-knit jumper over jeans reminded me of my Mum’s style of the time. She sits in the window of the laundrette and the backdrop is a very established-looking residential street.


As she walks home, coat on and quirky uptempo music playing over the opening credits, I can almost smell the Manchester air and taste the pollutants from the four star petrol of the cars. It’s winter. Trees are bare and she seems to live in a cosy Victorian suburb. I’m not terribly familiar with Manchester, but I’m reminded of Didsbury, a pleasant little suburb in which I once Airbnb’d on one of my visits to the city.

She arrives home, is accosted by nosy neighbour, Corrie’s Sheila Birtles, goes to unlock the front door and then there’s the first of many brutal cuts as we find ourselves in her classroom. The no-frills editing adds to the documentary-like realism of the tone. It reminds me very much of Verna Fields’s editing in Jaws, which served much the same purpose.

There’s some lovely banter with her drama class who buy her some mascara:

Frances said:
Posh, i’n’t it? Must o’ cost you all of thirty eight pence… I’ll slap some on over Christmas. See if I strike lucky.
Girl said:
Miss, don’t get pregnant. We can’t afford any more presents.
Frances said:
That’s about as likely as you passing your O-levels.

Even a few minutes in, it’s established that this is a very different kind of story to the one told in Talent and its follow-up. Frances is also quite a different character to Julie Stephens. And yet not, because Julie Walters is always recognisably Julie Walters. Comfortingly so. Frances is the kind of teacher whose classes I’d have looked forward to attending. There are no airs and graces. Just connection with the kids. By virtue of the fact that she’s a teacher, this is a more middle-class world. But Frances isn’t someone who seems to be bothered about that. Not like her loudly upwardly mobile colleague, Mags from EastEnders, who shows off her ring:
Judith said:
I’ve got ‘im now. And my three bedroomed executive bungalow with Georgian portico, thank you.

Already, there are statements about relationships and the motives behind them. And Frances looks on it with something resembling pity.





(continued)
 

Mel O'Drama

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Happy Since I Met You

(continued)




The next cut has Frances with four other women of various ages, painting fir cones. I remain unsure how they all connect. They appear to be family, but some might be friends or even colleagues. Is Tracy Ullman meant to be Frances’s niece? Cousin? Daughter of a friend? Pass.

The cast is a headily wonderful hotchpotch of familiar faces. In addition to the already-mentioned Walters, Ullman, Kathryn Apanowicz and Eileen Mayers other recognisable faces belong to Maggie Steed, Play School’s Carol Leader, even Jim “BFH” Bowen. Auntie is played by that actress that I thought was Carry On’s Amelia Bayntun but turned out not to be.

And then there’s Duncan Preston, making his first of many Victoria Wood-penned appearances. Like Julie Walters he’s billed above the title here. We first meet actor Jim at an enjoyably stiff and awkward dinner party which Frances reluctantly attends and at which they slowly bond over their shared contempt for middle class pretension in general and their hosts’ parties in particular. The montage of the different stages is really funny and makes their inevitable mutual decision to cut and run entirely understandable.

We sharply cut to a vegetarian cafe where the two are meeting and there’s a sense this is far from their first subsequent meeting. It’s such an effective way of moving the story forwards. Frances is clearly worried that things are becoming serious and makes an impassioned speech about her independence and not wanting a relationship or one-night stand. In response, Jim turns to the people listening on the next table and asks if everyone got that, and immediately it’s funny to everyone, including Frances.

There are meetings in a town centre and a park where they talk quibbles with ex-partners. The way in which information is given feels incredibly real. Even revelations about true feelings are done in a delightfully round the houses way:

Frances said:
If you came to mine and I ‘ad those cups with little feet on and a Snoopy carrier bag me sister’d given me, an’ exercise handles you’d go “bleeeugh”, wouldn’t ya?
Jim said:
No. I’d still be bonkers about you.
Frances said:
Would ya?
Jim said:
Frances said:
Jim said:
Frances said:
Bonkers? About me?
Jim said:
Frances said:
Jim? I really ‘ave got all those things I said.

Preston, at this point in time, makes quite a dashing romantic lead. He’s tall, blonde, with good teeth and he wears a polo neck well. All the same round about the halfway mark, I started to fear that the second half might be a gooey loved-up romantic piece. Something I would ordinarily avoid.

Fortunately, this film takes a less romantic view of things. At times it’s almost cynical, but it feels incredibly truthful at the same time. The second act focusses on the deterioration of the relationship after the honeymoon period, and I’m incredibly impressed at how much information was given in such a short space of time through a number of montages. It could have been too much, but actually worked perfectly.

A couple of montages were accompanied by Victoria Wood singing, and her gift for capturing everyday human emotion in a song with incredibly brevity really came into its own here. In particular, the song lamenting the downsides of Living Together, accompanied by visuals of snippets of Frances and Jim’s life together condensed hours’ worth of story into a few minutes.

What makes this film stand out is that it’s ultimately a study of a relationship between two flawed and fragile human beings whose relationship is toxic and damaging. Something which arguably gives it common ground with the two preceding plays. There’s no extreme. No infidelity. No good person/bad person. They’re just two people trying to get by.






(continued)

 

Mel O'Drama

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Happy Since I Met You

(continued)




When we do stop for some dialogue between montages, it’s tedium. Everyday stuff that’s as far removed from romance as it’s possible to be. Awkwardly quiet moments almost a silent scream over how boring thing are.

There’s also a blindingly good scene with Frances returning home to find Jim entertaining three actor friends in their smoke-filled home. And one can immediately taste her anger at his thoughtlessness. Maggie Steed is wonderfully dismissive and belittling, speaking to her in a sing-song voice then turning and continuing to speak to her friends about people Frances doesn’t know. Though she makes time to belittle Frances’s career:

Virginia said:
God, you brave thing. All those terrible kids and dreary teachers and things.
They turn and continue their conversation and laughter.
Fran said:
I’m twenty nine and I teach drama.

They continue talking, ignoring her, and Julie gives a killer look to Maggie Steed, tears of anger visible. The other woman asks:

Beverley said:
Will you be down on the first night, Fran?
Fran said:
Oh no. I think girlfriends should stay at home. Because basically women are inferior. And if they’re not actors they’re also extremely boring and shouldn’t be allowed out of the house.
Ted said:
Oh, I think you’re being a bit ‘ard on yourself, Fran…. I think a girlfriend can be a lot of help to an actor, as long as she knows when to stay in the background. I know my lady was invaluable to me on my last telly. Did you see it? Terrifying.
Fran said:
Must o’ been terrifying, yeah. Standing behind all those other actors waiting to say “I agree with you, Harry.” Tiny part, yet somehow you blew it. So don’t bloody patronise me just because I haven’t got an Equity card, a mouthful of tax deductible crockery and what is laughingly known as a widgie. And next time you feel like being condescending pick on someone whose brain is equivalent in power to yours. Which, I admit does narrow it down to a baboon, a budgie or an egg and cress sandwich.


Inevitable as it may have been, things taking a violent turn in the relationship still felt shocking to me. They’re writing Christmas cards; she accuses him of self-pity; he tells her she looks ugly; she slaps him; he pushes her; they wrestle; she goes to the bedroom; he follows; she returns to the living room, unwraps the Christmas present she’s bought him (a radio) and breaks it; they tussle; the Christmas tree is knocked over. And all to the poignantly ironically cheerful soundtrack of Vic singing Happy Since I Met You.

Then comes flight. Frances gets on the train to escape and meet a friend. But Jim intercepts her at a railway cafe where she’s got off the train:

Fran said:
Jim, look. I love ya, but I just make you sad, don’t I? Shoutin’ at you. I’m mental…
Jim said:
I love you. I don’t want anybody else.
Fran said:
Me neither. What’re we gonna do?
Jim said:
Have a cup o’ tea.

He goes to the counter, chooses a pack of sandwiches and walks to pay. She spots his pyjama top is sticking out from beneath his jumper and signals to him. He tucks it in. The end.

The downbeat ending feels perfectly in tune with that of Nearly A Happy Ending. It’s heart-achingly sad, pitifully dysfunctional, and doesn’t bode well for either of them. But I’m left wanting the best for them. It’s perfect.



It's by no means an easy watch - which is why I won't hurry to re-watch it. But it's beautifully written, perfectly cast and wonderfully acted and with gorgeous location work. Not to mention enough misdirection to make it a very satisfying experience.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Wood & Walters



(January-February 1982)




Although technically I haven't quite finished the entire series, the only episode left for me to watch is the final one which is a compilation. I must confess crossed my mind that I could have skipped all the episodes bar the final clip show and skipped a lot of the drab stuff. But I'm a completist. Besides, drab can make for an interesting journey.

Credit where it's due: the series has become more watchable. The first couple of regular episodes were something of a trial, but as the episodes have gone by I've found myself giving chuckles which have become less half-hearted.

There is something quite stiff and awkward about the series, and Wikipedia says this:

The studio audience was generally filled with pensioners who often had difficulty understanding Wood's refined humour. Before one sketch, the warm up man had to explain to them what a boutique was. Wood said she heard one disgusted audience member say to her friend: "You realise we’re missing Brideshead for this".

I'd agree that the audience doesn't help. The very small audience in the Pilot was noticeably quite mixed in its demographic, but far less so in early episodes of the regular series. In one early episode, the biggest laughs were reserved for Jill Summers in her solo piece while everything else got polite little titters. It's all very reserved and at times feels like the audience are there to tolerate Vic and Julie. I could really feel them having to work really hard to get the audience on side and found myself feeling quite protective towards them and willing the audience to get it. They engaged the audience so charmingly, but I can't help wondering if some of the post-credits cold endings that took humorous swipes at the producer, the audience or the critics were borne out of a frustrating reality. There was even a meta sketch about two men waiting to audition to appear on the show who got chatting about how terrible it was and pulled Victoria's writing apart.

I do feel the content is a bit of a Curate's egg. Most of the sketches are too random and both Vic and Julie seem unusually self-conscious in some of the sketches. It's as though Vic was trying to write for what she thought the audience wanted rather than doing her thing. As the episodes have gone along, it's felt like they've relaxed into it, making for a more enjoyable experience all round. But six episodes, plus Pilot, plus compilation feels like plenty of this particular format.

There's surprisingly little of Vic in here. I've been watching some clips from her later live shows which have popped up in my suggestions, and just boggling that the series features none of those hilarious monologues she'd become known for. The sketches haven't done it for me.

At this point, Vic's strength is in her songs, and the series has featured a number: some funny, some very poignant. She's even cleverly squeezed in some more to her solo speaking sections by simply reciting song lyrics, Pam Ayres style. The lyrical stuff has been the highlight of the series for me. It's also been nice to have "reprises" from Talent and Nearly A Happy Ending. Notably, Julie sang Fourteen Again (again), and there's also this song which was previously sung at the end of Nearly A Happy Ending:


Northern Song is another classic to come from the series:

While far from the pinnacle of Vic’s work, the series has certainly whetted my appetite for what’s to come.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Wikipedia says this:

I'd agree that the audience doesn't help. The very small audience in the Pilot was noticeably quite mixed in its demographic, but far less so in early episodes of the regular series. In one early episode, the biggest laughs were reserved for Jill Summers in her solo piece while everything else got polite little titters. It's all very reserved and at times feels like the audience are there to tolerate Vic and Julie. I could really feel them having to work really hard to get the audience on side and found myself feeling quite protective towards them and willing the audience to get it.

Well, I had to read what Julie said about this in her autobiography, didn't I? In fact she has an entire chapter called "We're Missin' Brideshead For This!"

Here's what she says about Wood & Walters:

Even though Victoria was doing all the writing, she insisted on the use of both our names in the title of the show. Sadly Peter Eckersley died suddenly in between the recording of the pilot and the making of the series, and we missed him hugely, not just as a producer but also as a man. It was never the same and we felt that the series, which was his baby, suffered enormously without him.

We recorded it up at the Granada Studios in Manchester every week on a Friday afternoon. The television studio audiences turned up with a ticket to see a show but had no idea which one it would be. As this took place in the middle of the day, it was mainly elderly people who were wheeled in and we would invariably go on set to be met by a bank of white heads, with comments that could only be attributed to the aged or the hard of hearing pinging out into the often deafening silence. ‘Who are these girls?’ and ‘What did she say?’ ‘What’s a boutique?’ ‘Is it a comedy?’ and once, ‘We’re missin’ Brideshead for this!’ This last became a private catchphrase for Victoria and me. At my BA FTA tribute in 2003 Victoria was sitting next to me and just before she got up to make her speech, she handed me a scrap of paper on which she had written: ‘We’re missin’ Brideshead for this!’

Getting through the show was often like wading through cold porridge and to whip the oldies into a frenzy of mirth a warm-up man was employed at the top of the show. Most of his jokes failed miserably, and Vic and I would wait backstage, hearts sinking as we listened to the wind blowing the tumbleweed across the vast empty space in between each gag. On one occasion when the audience was particularly ancient, with the sound of beeping hearing aids and the clack of false teeth filling the air, the warm-up man, after straining to get a laugh out of them and not succeeding, resorted, in a fit of frustration, to dropping his trousers and showing them his arse. You could have heard a pin drop.



She immediately goes on to recall As Seen On TV:

This could not have been a more different experience to the one at Granada. It was expertly and slickly produced by Geoff Posner, and was recorded on a Saturday night as if it were a live show. There was a sketch set in a shoe shop where I played a rather batty sales assistant and Vic played a customer. She had said beforehand that she wasn’t sure whether it would work because it was so off the wall, and I wasn’t sure how I should play it, but because the whole evening had a live-theatre feel to it, it put a creative edge on everything. Just as the lights went up for the sketch to begin, I decided on the spur of the moment to stumble about in the shop window, creating havoc and knocking shoes everywhere, and we were off; it was like the old Everyman days. The sketch was brilliantly written and would have worked anyway, without my cavorting about, but what was so gratifying for me was finding the character there and then, during the show itself. The studio audience had a ball. In one sketch, involving a very old waitress taking ages to serve soup to a couple, I thought we might have to stop the sketch, as the laughter went on and on and on, with people doubled up, and I could see Celia and Duncan, who were also in it, twitching with suppressed laughter.

As far as sketch writing is concerned, Victoria is in a league of her own. Her sketches are intelligent, brilliantly observed and, without exception, immensely funny. The soup sketch came out of the two of us ordering soup from an ancient waitress in a restaurant on Morecambe sea front. This small incident was the launchpad for an iconic sketch which, knowing her speed at writing both sketches and songs, probably took her a matter of minutes. Often when we were rehearsing As Seen on TV, Geoff Posner, who also directed, would ask her to write some extra material. She would go off to the corner of the rehearsal room and ten minutes later would be back with something utterly hilarious.

It was in this series that my favourite character of all time was born: Mrs Overall. ‘Acorn Antiques’ was a sketch based on a badly made soap, inspired by the early Crossroads, in which, much to our amusement, Duncan Preston had played the part of a character called Ginger Parsons very early on in his career. It was set in an antiques shop situated in a fictional town called Manchesterford, run by the snobbish and imperious Miss Babs (no relation), played brilliantly by Celia Imrie. Mrs O was the cleaner and what a gem of a part she was. We always filmed that particular sketch the day before the show, without an audience and thus without the consequent nerves and pressure. It was heaven. I can remember the first time, as I waited to make my entrance, realising that I could see the monitor and therefore I could make sure that my tray, upon which I had tea and macaroons for Miss Babs, could poke out into shot before I was due on. The whole crew joined in, making their own similar cock-ups: the boom being in shot; Mr Clifford (played by Duncan who is six-foot five) jumping up suddenly and banging his head on it; shots being slightly out of focus and clumsily positioned. People would come from all over the BBC to watch when we were recording.

The very first time we were to record, all the elements of Mrs Overall came together at once. I was being made up, which consisted of a bit of base and a bit of lipstick making a tiny, pinched, dark-red cupid’s bow; I was also meant to be wearing a wig from the BBC wig department. Victoria and I had gone up there to sort through and see whether there was anything we wanted for the show. In the process we tried on everything in our path, including beards, once discovering that the small goatee I was trying to stick to my chin was what was known as a merkin.

‘A what?’ I asked innocently.

‘A pubic wig.’

‘Oh blimey! I wondered what the hole was for! Oh, eugh!’ Finally we came across a quite severe-looking grey bun and thought that this would do fine. So there I was, sitting in front of the make-up mirror with the wig on, a wig stand next to me and my hair flattened down in preparation, restrained by a hairnet that made my head look rather small and pealike. I looked at myself in the mirror and then looked at Victoria. We both laughed, having the same thought at the same time: ‘I don’t need a wig, do I?’ And so she was born. The public loved ‘Acorn Antiques’, a fan club was formed and twenty years later people are still coming up to me in the street and firing Mrs Overall quotes at me. ‘What was it, muesli?’ or ‘Oh, I am pleased’. So when in 2004 Vic decided to set it to music for a production to be directed by Trevor Nunn in the West End, ‘Oh, I was pleased.’

The fact that I was laughing out loud just reading about the ASOTV sketches is a very good sign. It's going to be a good weekend.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Incidentally, here's what Julie had to say about Talent and the other two Screenplays:

It was here at Bristol... that I read Victoria’s wonderful new play Talent, which she had, indeed, written for me. My character was called Julie and my character’s boyfriend was called Dave Walters. The play centred around a talent contest in a seedy Northern nightclub. Julie was entering the contest and Maureen, her best friend, played by Victoria, had come along for support. It fitted me like a glove, the extreme opposite of the experience I was having with Phoebe [in Shakespeare’s As You Like It]. I knew this girl exactly, what she would wear, how she would speak, how she would smoke, cry, laugh, and when she would breathe. And I wasn’t free! It had to go ahead without me and I was mortified. The part was played by Hazel Clyne, but the show was seen by Peter Eckersley, a Granada Television producer, who picked it up to be adapted for television. This meant I had a chance to audition for the part.

It was a play with songs, two of which I was required to sing, one of my own choosing (Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’) plus one of the numbers from the show. The latter was a gorgeous, sardonically nostalgic song titled ‘I Want to Be Fourteen Again’. When it came to my turn to sing, Victoria played it in my key, a privilege I’m not entirely sure the rest of the auditionees enjoyed. In fact at the end of the audition, just as I was leaving the room, she said, under her breath, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to play it in a really high key for everyone else!’ I took it as a joke, but I’m not certain to this day whether it was.

Anyway, as history will confirm I got the part and there began a working friendship where Victoria gave me brilliant gift after brilliant gift. We followed Talent with a sequel the following year titled Nearly a Happy Ending. This featured the same two characters, Julie and Maureen, who had appeared in Talent and involved Maureen’s attempts at losing her virginity at some awful sales conference in a dreary hotel. Again it was both hilarious and touching, and an amazingly generous vehicle for me. It was followed fairly quickly by another one-off comedy drama titled Happy Since I Met You, in which Victoria didn’t star, and I played opposite Duncan Preston, my character being a drama teacher and his a struggling actor. It was a gorgeously bitter-sweet comedy.
 

Barbara Fan

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the series has become more watchable. The first couple of regular episodes were something of a trial, but as the episodes have gone by I've found myself giving chuckles which have become less half-hearted.
When i went back and rewatched my DVD set I had forgotten that not all of it is funny, and some of it falls flat on its face. There are sketches and scenes I will happily whizz by, and same went for dinnerladies, (Anita/Sunita from Corrie, the daft baby is one example)
Jill Summers
thats a name i recognise - Did she say Percy in a deep gruff voice ie Phylis Pearce??

It was expertly and slickly produced by Geoff Posner
So synonymous with Victoria Wood and a name i will always remember from my school days due to his involvment in Not the Nine O clock news
 

Mel O'Drama

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I'm still dipping into Victoria interviews, including this one to promote Acorn Antiques: The Musical (but covering much of their histories together):

It's great to see Duncan and Celia discussing their work with Vic. Duncan was a lot chattier than I'd expected. Julie seemed almost reserved in comparison.

I'm now very curious about The Cedar Tree, since Vic mentions it as one of the inspirations for Acorn Antiques:

The hosting and research, though, is abysmal.

Des calls Celia "Cecilia" and calls Miss Berta "Mrs Butler" (Mel "corrects" him with "Mrs Berta") and they also refer to "Miss Overall". Worst of all, Mel asks Vic about her cancer scare (she hadn't had one).

Midway through, Vic charmingly puts them in their place with a gentle humorous rant:
Mel said:
You're gonna be performing for us later, aren't you?
Victoria said:
Oh, for God's sake, no! Do you know which one I am?
Des said:
This is our last but one show.
Victoria said:
Good! I haven't even got my cup of tea.


Julie got a couple of brilliant parries in as well, asking Des if he was trained, and making a really funny comment about his singing career.

I can imagine the experience only reinforced Vic's abhorrence for vacuous daytime TV shows, and perhaps gave her more fodder for satire.

She talks about her inspiration for the daytime TV spoofs at 3:10 here:
 

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Reading her bio - the late Peter Eckersley had a huge influence on her career and he happened to be married to Anne Reid of Corrie and dinnerladies amongst others fame

From Wiki - was a British television producer. His television career began on Granada's Scene at 6.30 programme where he worked with his friend Michael Parkinson. He went on to become Head of Drama at Granada Television in the 1960s and '70s. In the 1960s, he was also a writer and producer on Coronation Street.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Reading her bio - the late Peter Eckersley had a huge influence on her career and he happened to be married to Anne Reid of Corrie and dinnerladies amongst others fame

From Wiki - was a British television producer. His television career began on Granada's Scene at 6.30 programme where he worked with his friend Michael Parkinson. He went on to become Head of Drama at Granada Television in the 1960s and '70s. In the 1960s, he was also a writer and producer on Coronation Street.

Yes. He produced the first three films Vic wrote: Talent, Nearly A Happy Ending and Happy Since I Met You, all of which I've watched in the last week and are outstanding. Happy Since I Met You was the last thing he worked on.

He'd also done the Pilot for Wood & Walters, and it seems Vic felt the series was sub-standard because he'd died before it went into production, so she had to work with another producer who didn't believe in her vision the way Peter did.


This show is really interesting on that level as it covers her career with ITV, mostly the stuff she did with Peter. Both Vic and Anne Reid talk about Peter discovering her and their work together from 5:30:

She speaks about him with such fondness. It's lovely.
 

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Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV



Series One

(January-February 1985)








In many ways, As Seen On TV is more of the same as Wood & Walters. The formula is very similar: the spoof commercials and voiceovers; the satirical fly-on-the-wall documentaries; the advice column; the sketches; the songs; the two lead actresses.

The themes, too, are familiar territory. Many sketches revolve around bad service. Wood & Walters had Julie as the machine gun toting clothes store assistant who mocked Vic for being over a size eight; or as the self esteem shredding cosmetics counter assistant suggesting a needle and pink thread would be the best thing to close Vic’s gaping pores. As Seen On TV has Julie’s barmy shoe shop assistant who snaps the heels off shoes because Vic wanted a flatter pair; or Vic as the unhygienic checkout girl, coughing over Celia Imrie’s cauliflower.

Despite the similarities between the two series, there’s something more vibrant and polished about As Seen On TV. In a way it’s as though Vic has taken the best aspects of Wood & Walters and used them was a foundation, but it’s so much more than that. On paper they sound like much the same animal, but they’re really not. Time has passed - three years, in fact - and while things have been quiet on the television front, there’s been much ado in other areas.

Julie is now a celebrated actor with a BAFTA and a Golden Globe as well as a nomination for an Oscar. Not that you’d realise this to watch the show. She’s the same woman we’ve watched from Talent to Wood & Walters, throwing herself into the new series’ material with gusto. No matter how unflattering or small the role might be, she mucks in and does what the writing asks. It all ties in with what @Ukdallasfan said about Victoria's generosity when writing roles. It's the right person for the right role, and there's no ego at all.

Meanwhile, Vic has performed her first solo stand-up show, Lucky Bag. This aspect of her act has made its way onto the TV show with each episode’s opening monologue. I think of these moments as an intrinsic and essential part of her repertoire (An Audience With…; the live shows) and, with the benefit of hindsight, their absence can really be felt in Wood & Walters. When Vic’s name is mentioned, it’s her stand-up moments that spring to mind. How close they are to her as a person is debatable, but it’s this image that I think of as pure Victoria Wood and it feels as though this is the real Vic putting herself forwards with a confident focus, which is such an improvement on the sometimes awkward banter with Julie or the moments where they played themselves in the earlier series.

I can imagine some actors might have felt it a step down to no longer be named in the title, but it comes across strongly that Vic and Julie’s relationship is one of friendship and mutual admiration, and it’s always about how the material works best. It was the case when Vic wrote Talent as a vehicle for Julie, and it’s the case now where each member of the ensemble have their shining moment while others play a more supporting role.

Speaking of the ensemble, As Seen On TV’s regular cast is pure quality. After a couple of small roles in an episode of Wood & Walters, in comes Julie’s Happy Since I Met You co-star Duncan Preston as the main ensemble’s leading man. There’s Celia Imrie who will forever be associated with Vic’s vehicles. Susie Blake’s seething ice queen of an announcer is there, of course, and she’s been spotted in another small role or two.

In place of Dotty’s Slot comes Kitty, with Patricia Routledge effortlessly stepping in as the no-nonsense agony aunt who forcefully dispenses blunt and opinions left, right and centre. It seems a slightly surprising move, given that Julie’s Dotty was one of the highlights of the earlier series, but it also proves to be the right choice as Patricia’s Kitty is a force of nature and hugely memorable from the moment she first looks into camera. It’s impossible now not to see the similarities with her Hyacinth Bucket character that Roy Clarke would later write for her. There’s no doubting that he was familiar with Kitty.






(continued)
 

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Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV


Series One
(continued)





The non-regular casting is perhaps even more impressive, and this is never more true than with each episode’s “documentary”. Impressively, each of the documentaries are played for truth. The laughs mostly come from the lines or the situation, but it takes a really good actor to be able to work with this kind of material and make it funny without being obviously so. And so good actors are cast. Maureen Lipman talks about her strained marriage to Denis Lawson, for example. These documentaries led with strength as Jim Broadbent earnestly spoke about being A Fairly Ordinary Man.


I love the balance in this. The self-consciousness that Broadbent puts across is perfect. This is a time where documenting the ordinary was anything but that, and so his character is trying to behave normally while being very aware of the film crew. It’s all very subtle and mostly not on the page. And it does feel ordinary. Or at the very least 100% authentic and convincing. Frances Cox as Jim's mother is wonderful. She has that Northern matriarch thing going on where she can everyone down to size with a pithy line without sugar coating or putting on any airs and graces. My favourite line in the piece comes when she bitterly complains about the extra work of having to put a nice crease in Jim’s overalls (the implication being that this isn't usual, subtly telling the audience that Jim is going to extra trouble to look his best on camera). The final straw comes for her when she realises Jim’s brother is going out to work with him:
So - Phillip’s to ‘ave a crease also.
She then scowls and stomps back into the kitchen. It’s a tiny moment in among a lot of other wonderful moments, but her displeasure is hilarious. Especially when combined with the awareness that she’s showing Jim up on camera.

Just as funny is Meg Johnson as Marion, owner of The Elbow Cafe in Abattoir Road (“We used to go to The Hairnet Restaurant” deadpans Jim in the voiceover “But let’s just say we weren’t too happy about the consistency of the custard. Let’s just leave it there”). Nothing’s said, but it just comes across that she’s pulled out all the stops for her TV appearance. The hair is coiffed, she’s made up and wearing her best striped roll neck under her pink dinner lady overall. She takes time to make conversation about the weather while standing in her most ladylike pose and and speaks in a low voice as she runs through a menu that is hilariously extensive and pretentious for a greasy spoon:
Marion said:
Faggots in rum sauce, which is quite nice. Liver aux pois. Got a sweet’n’sour haddock. Or mixed grill.
.
Naturally, both order the mixed grill (as no doubt did every customer. It's doubtful whether the rest of the menu was even offered to customers who weren't appearing on TV). She then turns and loudly barks the order to her unseen assistant, before turning back to seductively offer them cocoa. Every detail is so incredibly perfect.


Perhaps the best remembered of these documentaries is Swim The Channel, with Vic as the neglected over-achiever. As with a number of these it perfectly strikes the balance between comedy and heartbreaking poignancy. They go to some daringly dark places, the tone and themes of which have echoes of the three films which preceded Vic’s TV shows. Her character in Swim The Channel is lost at sea while trying to impress her ambivalent parents who’ve spent the day shopping in London. While her character in Just An Ordinary School attempts suicide after being bullied. In both, there are echoes of Talent’s Maureen, who keeps smiling timidly through while being crapped upon and comparing herself unfavourably with her peers. One can’t help wondering how much is drawn from Victoria’s own experiences.

The songs, too, can have a similar message. They’re frequently upbeat - but there’s often an undercurrent of sadness and regret. At times it feels uncomfortably truthful, but it always touches the heart in some way.

It goes without saying that there are gems like Acorn Antiques, but this time round I’m appreciating the songs and the documentaries more than every before, which I feel has to do with viewing Vic’s work chronologically and seeing how this work ties in with what’s come before it.
 

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I somehow missed this post, @Barbara Fan, so apologies for the delayed reply:



When i went back and rewatched my DVD set I had forgotten that not all of it is funny, and some of it falls flat on its face.

Yes. It's funny, but now I've started watching As Seen On TV I have mixed feelings about Wood & Walters. There's part of me that can appreciate even more what the series was trying to be, and to recognise that some scenes were actually really good. But there's part of me that sees ASOTV where almost everything works and can't get over the difference in quality to the point I'm already questioning if Wood & Walters was as mediocre as I remember.

I think a great deal of it has to do with the balance. Wood & Walters was a lot of random sketches with a little bit of familiarity each week (Dotty's Slot and the songs). With As Seen On TV it's the other way round. The random, off the wall stuff is the exception and it works better because everything around it is familiar so there's something to keep the audience invested. It's a small detail, but it makes a big difference.


thats a name i recognise - Did she say Percy in a deep gruff voice ie Phylis Pearce??
Ha ha. She'd previously appeared in the sequel to Talent, while Percy himself was in the original film.

I immediately associate them with Corrie, but of course before that they'd had very long careers in music hall and the Northern entertainment circuit, which is presumably what got them onto Granada's radar and their material with Vic and then Corrie.

It's really interesting to see this side to them.

I remember being quite shocked when Bill Waddington was so animated and lively when he appeared on a Corrie actor's This Is Your Life because I so associate him with stuffy Percy.


So synonymous with Victoria Wood and a name i will always remember from my school days

Oh yes. Same here. It makes me immediately nostalgic, even though I know next to nothing about who Geoff Posner is.
 

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There is something very poignant about this and it raises a few laughs as well

Ive always wanted to swim the channel ... and meet Bonnie Tyler

Ive always been big, i never slept in a cot but went straight to a bunk!

The parents You'll be the back up? no Joan and I are popping up to London for the day, day out shopping or take in a show!!

I dont talk french very well, I do woodwork!

No body seems to know where she is! Sure she will turn up, slow but sure thats our Chrissie as her parents sit on the settee

Id forgotten we had other children!!

Class!!!!

 

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Last night I watched the first episode of As Seen On TV's second series.

While I'll comment on the series as a whole when I've got a few more under my belt, I did want to comment what a terrific energy it has. It's more of the same, with no change to the formula, but it just feels that everyone involved is having even more fun than before. Perhaps based on the fact that they now know the first series has been so well-received.

Acorn Antiques had that "new season" feel, with Miss Babs's slightly smaller wig and the resolution (such as it was) to Mrs Overall poisoning her. But, most importantly, it also had an even more meta feel. In hindsight it's looking like Vic already had the behind-the-scenes stuff planned with that hilarious post box location shot and the moment where "Bo Beaumont" briefly broke character as Mrs Overall to speak in her cut glass RADA accent ("Yes. This is important. I said that, didn't I"). It feels more expansive, and just as funny. But also arguably a little less subtle. None of which matters with a spoof like this.

Great to see Anne Reid for the first episode's documentary. And with Dora Bryan as her mother. It makes me laugh that Dora Bryan is essentially the same character in everything. And she does the old tart thing so well, even in a wheelchair (I loved Anne's line about her kerb crawling in her scooter).

The final song was great. The Ballad Of Barry And Freda is an absolute classic and probably the first one most people think of when asked to think of a Victoria Wood song. I have the version from An Audience With... on CD and so that one's really familiar to me. It's great to revisit its debut outing where it's much more brassy with the backing of the full band rather than Vic alone on piano. And she's so full of sparkle and energy Even though she's seated it's a really physical performance with lots of bounces and knowing looks. She knows it's a great song and she's clearly really feeding from the audience reaction. It's an absolute joy to watch.




This has really cemented the series as a true classic.
 

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Great to see Anne Reid for the first episode's documentary. And with Dora Bryan as her mother. It makes me laugh that Dora Bryan is essentially the same character in everything. And she does the old tart thing so well, even in a wheelchair (I loved Anne's line about her kerb crawling in her scooter).
I loved how she had her group of actors and actresses all through the years and the likes of Dora Bryan and Thora Hird must have loved it when they got the phone call
great synopsis x
 

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I loved how she had her group of actors and actresses all through the years and the likes of Dora Bryan and Thora Hird must have loved it when they got the phone call
great synopsis x
I loved that aspect too. How she kept the little group. They could have appeared in other situations. A lot like American horror story but comedy based obviously.
 

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I loved how she had her group of actors and actresses all through the years
I loved that aspect too. How she kept the little group. They could have appeared in other situations.

Yes. They're essentially a little rep company, aren't they? And looking at the different actors even in small roles, you can tell that Vic has remembered an actor from a previous encounter and they've been approached because they're who she wants. It's not just random casting through auditions. She actually has relationships with them. Some we may not see for some time, and then they're back. Like Anne Reid. Or Peter Ellis who plays cousin Jerez on Acorn Antiques. He goes back to her first film Talent, and even the stage version before that.




the likes of Dora Bryan and Thora Hird must have loved it when they got the phone call

Definitely. She wrote quality material and so was able to get quality actors to play it.
 
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