Honest Victoria Wood opened up on what made her tick during Ipswich visit
Victoria Wood was frequently described as a national treasure, one of the great performers who seemingly could turn her hand to anything. Arts editor Andrew Clarke remembers a frank interview he had with the star in 2007.
Victoria Wood was repeatedly voted one of television’s funniest performers. She went from stand-up to comedian, to singer-songwriter, to playwright, actress and finally theatre director.
Famed for the creation of her Victoria Wood as Seen on TV series and her sit-com Dinnerladies, she created a sensation with Acorn Antiques, a long-running sketch based on cheap soap-operas, which eventually became a fully-fledged stage show which Wood directed.
It was when the Acorn Antiques stage show came to the Ipswich Regent that I had an opportunity to meet this one woman showbusiness whirlwind. We met in early 2007, during a time of reinvention for her. She had grown tired of the confines of television and the endless repetition of life on the road with a stand-up show, she wanted to spread her creative wings.
She said that she was having fun going back to her first love writing and then trying something new which, at the time, was theatre direction.
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Victoria Wood was a very friendly, chatty interviewee and not afraid to be completely honest about herself. I told her that I was intrigued by what made her tick. Was she a driven individual? Did she regard herself as a writer, a musician, a stand-up comedienne or an actress?
Thankfully she took the question seriously. “I suppose I’m all those things. I started out on New Faces and That’s Life as a singer of comic songs – songs with a bit of truth and observation in them. That then led into me becoming a stand-up comedian which I did through most of the 1980s but at the same time I did a television play with Julie Walters called Talent which was very successful which I then followed a year later with a another one called Nearly A Happy Ending. So I was starting to diversify that early.”
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She said that her TV sketch series Wood and Walters and Victoria Wood As Seen on TV were logical extensions of both strands of her work. This was followed with a series of one-off playlets about everyday situations called simply Victoria Wood.
The films made good use of the bitter-sweet quality that runs through a lot of Wood’s work.
Wood agreed that she liked to base her characters on people she sees on the street rather than constructing caricatures. “I do like my work to be based on reality or a version of reality. They are people who I like to think are only one stage removed from someone you could meet at work or in the local supermarket. If people can recognise them then they are much more likely to find them funny. Dinnerladies, for example, came from my own memories of going into a canteen. It was all there. Again the script was about people and their relationship with the world rather than sit-com jokes.”
She said that ideas for projects just appear from no-where. “The idea for the film I was in last year Housewife, 49, came from a book I was given by a friend. It was the diaries of a woman who found herself during the Second World War – it was a true story and I loved the woman in those pages and wanted to bring her to life on screen.”
Emboldened by her full, frank answers, I swallowed hard before offering the big crunch question: “So would you say, in the nicest possible way of course, that you were something of a control freak.” There was silence for a split second before she answered with a smile: “No, not at all. It’s just as a writer I know what I am aiming to achieve. Also I enjoy acting. I love performing. It’s part of me. I couldn’t just be a writer - in the same way I couldn’t just be an actor performing someone else’s words. I love being part of the whole process.”
Victoria Wood was a brilliant, insightful performer. Her love of people shone through in her work. She made us laugh at our human foibles but she was never cruel and I found her an open and honest interviewee. Our interview happened shortly after the Ipswich red light killings and after the interview was over we spent about ten minutes talking about how the murders had affected the people of Ipswich. It was illuminating discussion. She didn’t want to know about the gory details, instead she was curious about how the people coped. This, I think, said a lot about someone who was genuinely interested in the ordinary person in the street.