Victoria behind the scenes at the Ambassadors Theater in 1984
Victoria Wood will always be unique.
Unlike almost everyone else, she can do everything: do drawings, songs, stand up. She can write, act, compose, direct and much more.
Once, at the beginning of her career, she even performed magic tricks. I’ve interviewed Victoria many times over the years, and after her death from cancer, five years ago at just 62, she was given the great privilege of writing her licensed autobiography.
While researching Let’s Do It, published last year, I was granted access to the Victoria Archives and was stunned to discover a huge cache of never-before-seen drawings and ideas. To her imagination, there was simply no room for all of them.
This gorgeous gem is featured in a new book called Victoria Wood Unseen on TV.
I can safely describe it as the funniest new joke book on sale this Christmas because it was written by the greatest gagsmith of them all. Likewise, the book also contains some hundreds of photos that she has found in her private albums.
They showed how much she loves her work, and how easily she could overcome her great shyness if there was a camera.
- Victoria Wood Unseen on TV – Drawings, songs, stand ups and other rare rarities, edited by Jasper Reese, (Trapeze, £20) now featured. To get a free P&P in the UK, call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832 or visit expressbookshop.com
I loved the Victoria photo booth. In the days of the camera before taking selfies, it was the cheapest way to rob the camera with your mates, and there are a lot of these shots in her albums, this one from 1974, with Chrissy Poulter, who she studied drama with at the University of Birmingham. Victoria didn’t get many acting opportunities as a student, but she took the opportunity to write screenplays for friends to perform, and that year she wrote one for Chrissy, a cheeky portrait of their friendship. One of the friends, based on Victoria, is sarcastic and full of jokes, while the boyfriend is naive, frustrated, and stumbles on jokes. Victoria even wrote a wonderful love song called “Photo Booth”. It was about her first boyfriend. The first verse contains a sweet sting in the tail: “I found your picture that day / The memories took my breath away / You made me smile, You made me cry a little / What a stupid idiot you were.”
behind the scenes
Taken backstage at the Ambassadors Theater in London’s West End in 1984, this shot captures Victoria near the start of her career. At that time, there was no female attitude, so she had to come up with a costume, and she had nothing to do. With the advice of her husband Jeffrey Durham she went for an androgynous look. “The audience expected the jokes to come out of a male frame,” he told me. “So in a way there must be something masculine about her.” With the help of cutting feathers, she was often assumed to be a lesbian. Long before she had a huge gay following, she had a huge lesbian fan base. Thanks to her penchant for wearing neckties in the early 1980s, she was nominated for Man of the Year by the British Garment Industry Association (though Trevor MacDonald won).
Her garden in silver
Victoria and Jeffrey moved to Morecambe in 1977, but as their fame grew, small-town living became an issue. In 1980, the morning after her appearance on Granada TV, her newspaper seller shouted through the store: “You weren’t very good last night, Victoria!” The couple went straight to the nearest real estate agent and picked up a house in Silverdale, a pretty village in Morecambe Bay where they lived for the next decade. Victoria was a better gardener than she let me in. “The garden is so crazy,” she wrote to her boyfriend Jane Wymark. “V. untidy but looks good. Geoff’s geranium is massive but may be the only strain of non-flowering one.”
Victoria moved to Morecambe in 1977
This was captured at the next party at the Everyday Breakfast taped for Victoria Woods in 1992. Victoria and Duncan Preston played married day presenters Sally Cumbernauld and Martin Crossthwaite, who appeared with each other on screen (Richard and Judy were reported to Love Them). One of their guests is Alan Rickman, whom Victoria has known since 1976 when they were on a show together. Sally puts on a great show when you pronounce “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” correctly, then introduces him as “Alan Dickman.” Victoria wrote it before she knew it would. As the shot indicates, he was very athletic about it.
When Victoria toured her live shows, she knew the second half would start with a bang if she came dressed as one of her characters. In 1993, she created a fitness trainer named Madge, but it didn’t make sense for her to do an exercise routine herself with half of the show still performing. So, in 1996, she created Hayley Bailey and took her to the appearing slot at the end of the show. Victoria designed a phased step routine that includes thigh thrusts and hip rotations. Hailey’s Big Blond Wig.
This picture was taken from a party after recording Victoria’s Breakfast All Day in 1992
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Victoria will always say she found wandering alone. In 2001, on her last tour, she stopped playing the grand piano by herself and took an accompanist with her. Found Nick Skilbeck via the Royal Academy of Music. Victoria’s marriage was on the rocks at this point, and she appreciated having someone to confide in. And as the photo suggests, they got along very well. In the afternoons they played duets together. And thus he is the only person who, on stage with her, has felt the extent of the audience’s love for her, especially on one night shortly after 9/11. “The most unanimous instant applause was like a burst of energy coming toward you,” he told me. “She turned towards me and went, whoa!”
This was captured after Victoria’s last performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2001. She sold out 40 nights, but didn’t think she would come back because she decided to retire from standing. The management team conducted chair races around the building’s basement circuit. Victoria, who has always been very competitive, pulls her agent Lucy Ansbro. “We let her win,” tour promoter Paul Roberts told me. “The first rule of promotion: Action always wins. I think this might be the happiest I’ve ever seen.”
Victoria as fitness trainer Madge
Victoria was a huge fan of her. At the Christmas Show in 2009, she invited Anton de Beek to appear in what turned out to be her last appearance with Julie Walters. “Beyond the marigolds: what did the lady generally do next??” It was a satirical documentary mocking all the talent shows where celebrities learn to dance/cook/skate. Victoria played the all-encompassing Boadicea companion who lives in the house
Wendy, but away from the camera, hugs her guest. Another shot on the album features Victoria and Julie with ice dancers Torvill and Dean. The show she was really obsessed with was MasterChef. She watched it with friends and was delighted to crack the jokes on Greg Wallace. This was the last show she saw when she was sick. Until the end, she was taking Mickey from what she saw on TV.
Victoria was a huge fan (pictured here with Anton de Beek in 2009)
Victoria Wood Unseen is now on TV