Victoria Wood visits Preston
For the past two decades, her home has been in London. But, as she prepares to address an eager audience in Preston, Victoria Wood makes it clear where her heart still lies.
“I always will be from the North. That’s just part of who I am. I live in London because that’s how it worked out for work,” she says.
Before making the move down south in the early ‘90s, Wood lived in Morecambe for many years. Her agent was based in Preston and she would make frequent visits to the town.
Her greatest creations – all of her creations, in fact – speak in gloriously-observed Lancashire dialect. But it’s not just the northern idioms that make the characters funny.
“There’s also something in the quality of northern people, in their attitude, that is innately suited to writing comedy. It’s not just that we talk funny – which obviously we do,” she says.
“This is a huge generalisation but I would say Lancashire people – I can only speak for Lancashire people, not Yorkshire people or Cumbrian people – is that we have a sort of sideways look at things and a disregard for authority, I would say.
“Which is very useful when you’re trying to debunk something,” she adds.
Last year, she played Eric Morecambe’s mother in Eric and Ernie, a BBC drama filmed in Stockport about the early days of the northern double-act. The initial idea came from Wood herself.
So it is a surprise when, asked if she has been particularly influenced by comedians from the region, the answer is a resounding no. The one comic who most inspired her stand-up, she says, was Woody Allen.
“I think the reason I had such a slow start was because I wasn’t copying anybody. I was sort of struggling along like a lone voyager trying to work things out for myself and probably if I’d copied somebody I would have got better quicker. But I was just floundering about, basically.”
Born in Prestwich and educated in Bury, Wood found her forte as a member of a youth theatre group in Rochdale. She studied drama at the University of Birmingham but, by her own account, did not work hard and received a poor degree.
Wood now has student-aged children – a son, 18, and daughter, 22. She admits to some worries about the state of the job market they may soon have to enter, but points out that she faced a similar situation in the 1970s.
“I thought I’d never have a job, I’d never have a mortgage, I’d never have an income. You know, I was on the dole for ages, for about three years, £12 or £15 a week. And I couldn’t see any way to get my foot on any proper ladder because things were so rocky.
“There were no jobs, there were no comedians, there were no comedy clubs. There were a lot of things mitigating against me, I felt at the time. So I think there’s always chances. There’s always opportunities.”
And in some ways, she says, the explosion of digital media has made it easier for those starting out today: “In the mid-70s there were less outlets and it all seemed very bleak.”
“Don’t be stupid”
Asked what single piece of advice she would give to the many soon-to-be graduates attending the conference, Wood does not hesitate: “I’d say don’t be so stupid.
“I was really stupid, stupid for many years. I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t concentrate. I didn’t seize my opportunities.
“I was really lucky. I had a few good breaks and I’m not sure without those breaks I would have broken through, because I was really dim,” she says.
It is a surprising revelation from a comedian who has since been nominated for an International Emmy, won more television BAFTAs than anyone else and received a string of British Comedy Awards.
Her advice to students hoping to work in TV is simple: don’t be afraid to start at the very bottom.
“Get the tiniest job you can and do it really, really well,” she says.
“When I’m in television and we have runners getting coffee or whatever they’re doing, there are always people who really stand out and you think, ‘They’re going somewhere. I’d like to work with them again because they’re focused and they’re intelligent and they’re committed, even though they’re doing the tiniest, most boring job.’”
She adds: “I understand that people are scared now that employment is going to be so difficult for students, but I think they’ll always get through things and people will always adapt to the world that they are in.”
She has often poked fun at the London-centric BBC. As Seen on TV’s haughty continuity announcer once quipped: “I’d like to apologise to viewers in the North. It must be awful for them.”
It is this perceived attitude that the BBC hopes to combat with its move to Salford’s MediaCityUK.
Wood admits she knows little about the relocation, but says: “Anything which makes a region feel totally in the loop and have a very important presence – I think that’s really good.”
A cameo on the cobbles of another Salford landmark has been much mooted ever since Wood’s masterful send-up of Ena Sharples on As Seen on TV. She would, after all, be following in the footsteps of fellow Lancastrians Peter Kay and Ian McKellan.
“I haven’t watched it for a very long time. I’ve sort of drifted away from it and drifted back,” says Wood.
“But then I did the voiceover for the 50 Greatest Moments of Coronation Street when they had their anniversary and I couldn’t look at my script, I was so busy watching the 50 greatest moments. So I might start watching it again.
“I don’t know. Acting’s not my favourite thing, you know. I do love the theme music though – it’s lovely.”
Current projects include writing a script about the classical pianist Joyce Hatto, who caused a scandal after releasing recordings by other musicians under her own name.
Wood will also be directing That Day We Sang, the story of some of the children who sang on a 1929 recording of Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds by Manchester Children’s Choir. The play will form part of the Manchester International Festival line-up.
Listen to The Hotpot’s interview below.
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