Victoria Wood Comedy Genius - her life and work by Chris Foote Wood is published by The Memoir Club at £12 + £2.75 P & P. Copies can be ordered via
‘Britain’s funniest woman’ - hugely popular stand-up comedian who paved the way for other women comics; multi-BAFTA award-winner; singer-songwriter, playwright, actor, producer, director and inspired scriptwriter who gave many of her best lines to her fellow actors. Stories behind
Wood and Walters
Victoria Wood As Seen On TV
Acorn Antiques’ ‘dinnerladies
Pat and Margaret’ Housewife, 49’ ‘Eric and Ernie
That Day We Sang An Audience With…
The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s Do It!)
How an overweight, lonely and unhappy girl overcame early difficulties to build a hugely successful career, cut short by her early death at 62. How Victoria Wood became a true
‘National Treasure’ with her own unique brand of humour.
Victoria’s story told in depth by her brother Chris
A fascinating account: new material includes extracts from her father’s daily Journal, family stories and original cartoons by ‘Rog’
Our great consolation is the legacy Victoria left us: forty years of hugely entertaining comedy, song and drama which we can still enjoy. I hope this book reminds you of your particular favourites, as well as telling you things you might not have known about my famous sister.
Chris Foote Wood should be congratulated heartily for writing the biography of his sister so soon after hearing the sad news of her death in April 2016. She was just sixty-two and in this unique piece of writing her admiring brother mirrors the star's total dedication to her art. He completed this 'warts and all' 250 page, beautifully illustrated, plainly told, story in less than two months and his youngest sister would have been quietly proud of her brother's abilities. Away from her stage productions, Victoria was a very private person and, like her two elder sisters, did not take kindly to publicity - especially if it was negative. Amongst a thousand other tiny gems of information, the author tells us that she did not read 'reviews' of her shows, be they good, bad or indifferent. But let us be clear on this. If, in thirty years time some historian of Comedy Genius did not have this volume to consult, they would be screaming: ‘Do you mean to say that Victoria Wood had an older brother who was a trained journalist, who, at 75 had all his abilities and faculties and did not even attempt to record something of her life? Shame on him.’ But no one can ever say that. With that grit, passion, determination, dedication, commitment of any one of the family, Chris has buckled down and completed the task that no one else could have achieved.
As an avid reader, I have consumed some magnificent biographies in my seventy-five years. But I specially recall reading of one of my heroes, one of the great orators of the 20th Century, as he lay dying from throat cancer at the tender age of sixty. He had received many requests to tell his story but did not have the strength to do it himself. Unable to speak, he beckoned to his son and requested that he write the story: ‘But’, wrote the dying father on a bit of paper, ‘tell it warts and all.’ Chris has done that for his sister and the world of literature will be forever grateful. Mind you, if you are looking for a literary classic you will be terribly disappointed. CFW does not claim to be an Evelyn Waugh or James Boswell, still less a more modern Ian Kershaw or even Sheila Hancock. With the dedication of their father or mother which formed the basis of Victoria's work rate, Foote Wood has told it as it is and, I believe, as Victoria would have wanted it told. So in addition to factual shows on stage and screen, we have miniscule details of a comedian's struggles and dilemmas. 250 pages of it! With pictures t'boot! And clearly readable. Congratulations to writer and publisher: in a world of instant news they have stepped up to the plate and delivered.
Revd Dr Alan Powers
Monday, November 28, 2016 www.lep.co.uk Lancashire Evening Post
Entertainer Victoria Wood loved Lancashire and settled in
the county after finding fame. Her brother Chris Foote-Wood has written a new book about
his sister’s life and times and offers a fascinating insight into her years in
the Red Rose county.
‘A national treasure – but to me she was my sister’
Living in Morecambe was a crucial time for my youngest sister Victoria Wood.
Living with her partner, the magician Geoffrey Durham, later her husband, Victoria began to develop the unique comedy style that brought her huge success.
Geoffrey played his part by advising, encouraging and teaching Vic card tricks. In an early self-promoted show “Tickling My Ivories”, Vic offered “an evening of singing, talking, sketches, standing up, sitting down again and possible one card trick. All inquiries to 12 Oxford Street, Morecambe”.
In 1977 Geoff, as the “Spanish” magician The Great Soprendo, played the Silver Jubilee Victorian Music Hall on Morecambe’s Central Pier, put on by the Dukes’ Theatre three times a week, June 20 to September 3. Vic and Geoff decided to stay in Morecambe and rented the first-floor flat in Oxford Street, overlooking the bus station, at £13 a week.
At the time that was the only work they had between them. As things improved, they moved to a better flat overlooking the sea, and then to their own home with an orchard in Silverdale across Morecambe Bay. When Vic and Geoff first became a couple living in a Morecambe flat, our mum Nellie Wood was a bit worried and sent our dad Stanley to check up on them.
As Stan told it, he went up the fire escape and found the back door unlocked. It was early on a Saturday morning, and he crept inside to find two figures fast asleep on the floor in two separate sleeping bags. Eventually one stirred. “Are you all right, love?” said one. “I’m all right, are you all right?” came the reply. “Yes, I’m all right” was the rejoinder, and with that, both went back to sleep. Without announcing his presence, Stan crept out. He reported back to Nellie that there was nothing to worry about: “they’re just like an old married couple”, he said.
After four years together, Geoffrey eventually persuaded Vic to marry him. They had planned to marry in Morecambe on February 29, 1980 so their wedding anniversaries would be only every four years, but the local register office only issued death certificates. So they married in Lancaster on March 1. No family was present: Vic informed our parents by postcard later that month.
The Morecambe flat, packed with books, was a hive of creativity. Vic wrote her first play “Talent” there, writing longhand all day with Geoff typing it up at night. Victoria’s long-term friend and collaborator Julie Walters rehearsed there on Vic’s follow-up play “Nearly a Happy Ending.” It is widely believed that the inspiration for Vic’s best-known comedy sketch “Two Soups” came from her regular visits to Lubin’s café in Morecambe.
Looking for a family home, the Durhams moved to Silverdale. This was a happy time for Vic and Geoff and their two children Grace (born 1988) and Henry (born 1992). While still pursuing their careers, Vic and Geoff spent as much time as possible with the children. As they both had to be in London a lot, they made the decision to move to the capital. They set up home in Highgate, where Victoria sadly died in April this year.
Living in London, primarily because of her career, Victoria never became a ‘luvvie.’ Brought up in Bury and spending those crucial early years of her career in Morecambe. Vic was always the Lancashire Lass.’ She never forgot her roots, and she remained the same down-to earth, unfussy, unspoiled sister I had the privilege of knowing, loving and admiring throughout her remarkable life and hugely successful career. As well as being a top comedy writer and performer, Vic also showed her talent as a dramatic actor. She won a best actress Bafta in the TV film ‘Housewife, 49’, and memorably played Eric Morecambe’s mother Sadie Bartholomew in ‘Eric and Ernie.’ The success of the Eric Morecambe statue in Morecambe inspired me to sponsor a similar statue of Victoria in our home town of Bury.
REVIEW - DAILY MAIL Saturday 8 October
Stanley Wood was a handsome ex-naval officer whose diverse gifts as a scriptwriter, author, producer and pianist foreshadowed his youngest daughter Victoria’s supreme talents as an entertainer.
He also had a northerner’s predisposition towards bluntness. A caustic entry in his journal for September 7, 1969 records, ‘V (Victoria) fatter than ever and has more spots. For breakfast Vicky had toast thickly spread with jam and two pieces? Then lunch 30 minutes later. I calculate she watches the telly for eight hours.’
He also comments unfavourably on an early boyfriend of Victoria’s and observes that any children they have will be like ‘balloons.’
Should such censorious private musings about the 16-year-old Victoria Wood, who went on to become one of the nation’s best loved and most garlanded comedians — embracing singing, song writing and acting with equal deftness — and who died six months ago, ever have been made public? Should we be privy to her father’s barbed remarks about her teenage over-eating; her insular, sedentary lifestyle; her over-weight boyfriends?
The eldest of Victoria’s three siblings, her only brother Chris Foote Wood, 75, has this week defended his decision to publish excerpts from their father’s private diaries in a soon-to-be published book, Victoria Wood Comedy Genius: Her Life And Work.
He has written a biography which offers extraordinary insights into the bizarre upbringing of his famous sister, who died aged 62, from cancer; a woman who guarded her personal privacy so closely that only a tiny coterie of her immediate family — Chris was not among them — even knew she was ill.
Chris, a journalist, broadcaster, author and former politician, says: ‘I’ve been castigated for saying Victoria was an unhappy teenager, that she spent her time in her room eating; that she got overweight and depressed. But I’m just repeating what she’s said publicly herself. She said in an interview for Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2007 that she was overweight and miserable in her teens.’
Actually, Victoria went further, revealing the depth of her desolation and isolation when she was at the fee-paying Bury Grammar School for Girls: ‘I went under. I was a mess, a misfit. I didn’t have any friends, let alone try to be funny. I didn’t do any work, didn’t have clean clothes and didn’t wash.
‘If I didn’t have any money, I’d steal from people and if I hadn’t done my homework I’d steal someone else’s. I was envious of all the groups: the horsey group, the girls who went out with boys, the clever ones. Looking back, I feel really sorry for that little girl.’ Chris comments that father Stanley did not confine his scathing remarks to Victoria: ‘My father wrote cruel things about all four of his children; also amusing and kind comments. He made fun of us all.
‘I hope Victoria’s story will inspire other young people who might feel lonely and unhappy as she did, to make a success of their lives.
‘She left the most fantastic legacy of work and the tragedy is, she had so much more to give. I’m one of her biggest fans.’
Indeed, Victoria Wood left a dazzling comic bequest to the nation. She still holds the record for the most sell-out shows for a solo performer.
She also combined this prodigious creative output with motherhood, and was married for 20 years to Geoffrey Durham, the magician The Great Soprendo, with whom she had two children, Henry, 23 and Grace, 27, whose privacy she strenuously guarded.
Responding to criticism that he has disregarded their feelings, Chris says: ‘It’s totally untrue. I wrote twice to them, said I’d been asked to write a book and offered them the chance to be involved. I asked them to get in touch if they had any concerns. They didn’t respond.
‘I’ve been asked: “Did you get permission?” But when was a law passed decreeing you had to have permission to write about your sister?’
He’s also keen to point out that he is not doing it for the money: all proceeds will be donated to ‘charities close to Victoria’s heart’, although he hasn’t decided which ones yet.
It cannot be denied that the insight Chris gives into the eccentric upbringing of the Wood family is tantalising. Stan and Nellie Wood had four children: Chris, born in 1940, Penelope, who arrived five years later, Rosalind, born in 1950, and Victoria, born in 1953.
Because of the relatively large age gaps between them, the children became self-contained and self-reliant. ‘We weren’t a convivial family who gathered together for evenings in the sitting room. We all retreated to our own bedrooms,’ says Chris. Chris, 13 years older than Victoria, only spent five years living with her in the family home before he left for university.
He insists that there was a sharp disparity between Victoria’s down-to-earth northern girl image and her affluent middle class upbringing.
‘She was very conscious of the “Victoria Wood Brand”, which was that of a working-class girl — which she never was,’ he says.
‘By the time she was four our parents could afford to live in a very big house in the country, overlooking a golf course and the Irwell Valley near Bury.
‘Victoria used to refer to it as a bungalow, which strictly speaking it was. But it had been a convalescent holiday home for 24 boys and eight staff. Each of us had our own huge bedroom, father had a study and dressing room; mother had her sewing room. There was a vast entrance hall, big enough to hold a dance in, with a baby grand piano in it, and later Victoria had her own piano in her bedroom.’
It seems, too, that while Victoria lacked pretension, her mother Nellie — a complex and difficult character — was, according to Chris, a remorseless social climber who made strenuous efforts to cut off from her roots in working-class Manchester.
Nellie — bright and frustrated by the constraints of motherhood — was one of eight children born to a father invalided in the First World War and a mother who worked in a cotton mill. Nellie had left school at 14 to work in a steel works.
That she resumed her studies aged 49, and gained a BA and a Masters degree before beginning a new career as a lecturer in English literature, is well documented.
Only her immediate family, however, knew about the multifarious complexities of her ‘dark character,’ says Chris.
‘Nellie had been a vivacious, outgoing woman in the younger days, and when she met my father Stan it was a love match,’ he says.
His diary records that in 1950, three years before Victoria was born, he received £100 in one month for a sales bonus alone, and almost £700 for a radio play. (The national average wage at the time was £400 a year.)Meanwhile, Stan was supplementing his healthy income as an insurance underwriter by writing radio plays and songs, and producing stage musicals.
‘Often she’d only speak to me through my father. She’d say: “Tell the boy this . . .” when I was standing right by her. I’d call it mental cruelty.
‘When we were small I remember her rubbing our faces so hard with a flannel she nearly scoured the skin off them.’
Nellie also dissociated herself from her working-class family, to the astonishing extent that she pretended to Chris that his maternal grandmother was dead when she was still very much alive.
He recalls: ‘One day when I was 14 — Vic was still a baby — I got my bike out to cycle over to my granny’s. Mum said: “You can’t go. She’s dead.”
‘I asked when she’d died and mother said: “Three weeks since.” Then I asked why I hadn’t been allowed to go to the funeral, and she said dismissively she didn’t think I’d want to. I never saw my granny again even though I later learned she lived for another eight years.’
Chris finds it hard to fathom why his mother so brutally truncated his relationship with his grandmother — and in so doing, also severed links with his many cousins, aunts and uncles still living in Manchester.
The kindest interpretation he has is this: ‘When I was 13, at about the same time as Victoria was born, I’d caught tuberculosis (TB) — a disease associated with overcrowding and poverty — from one of my cousins. I can only assume she was worried I’d go back and get ill again, and bring the infection home. But our mother’s behaviour certainly wasn’t natural.’
He remembers, however, that his mother’s public face was a gregarious one. Nellie pursued a path of upward mobility, joining the Ladies’ Circle and Costume Society.
‘She’d decided her own family were beneath her socially and she started to mix with prosperous middle-class women,’ he remembers.
He wrote scripts for the actor and broadcaster Wilfred Pickles and later for Coronation Street. By the time Victoria was born they were a prosperous family.
‘As a small child she had blue eyes and mass of golden curls,’ says Chris. ‘She was a lovely baby; always smiling and she grew into a cheeky toddler who made us laugh.’
It was from Stan, of course, that the prodigiously talented Victoria inherited her love of theatre, comedy and performance.
Touchingly, her father’s diary also records her first joke: a seven-year-old Victoria was listening as her dad told her a story about the Three Musketeers, when she asked: ‘Were they deaf? You just said they “must get ears”!’
Nellie and Stan were polar opposites. ‘Nellie was very severe,’ says Chris. ‘Like Victoria, she waged a lifelong battle against her weight and although she cooked for us all when I was a child, she used to pass food through a hatch into the dining room and never ate with us.
‘Stan was tall, good looking and an outrageous flirt.
‘I believe he was monogamous, but he was a terrific ladies’ man. He played the piano for the Ladies’ Circle and when they were considering putting on a Costume Through The Ages show, he suggested, “Why don’t you do underwear?” They agreed and he orchestrated it for them.’
It was Stan who gave Victoria her first piano lessons teaching her to play Polly Wolly Doodle on their baby grand by marking the names of the notes on the keys. Much later her brilliant comic songs, played at a white grand piano, became her hallmark; her homage to suburban lust, Let’s Do It, earning its rightful place among comedy classics. That her parents were each, in their own way, exceptional is undisputed and it is evident that she inherited traits from both. But while she has only hinted at the darkness of her childhood — the solitary meals eaten in her room; the addiction to sugar; the diet pills she took from the age of 12 — her brother confirms it.
Nellie, he says, was prey to arbitrary, black moods. She developed an antipathy to her only son — according to Chris, it was never explained why — and when he left home to go to Newcastle University aged 18, she severed links with him completely, refusing ever to speak to him again.
Indeed, she remained alienated from him for the ensuing 40 years until her death, aged 81, in 2000.
According to Chris, Nellie also tried to ban him from his father’s funeral in 1993. But it was Victoria’s then husband, Geoffrey, who stepped in.
‘He told Nellie: “Not only will Chris be there, but he will also help carry the coffin and read during the service”, which I did,’ he says, adding, ‘Geoffrey has been a very good friend to me, the very best of brothers-in-law.’
The conundrum of Nellie’s unkindness has never been resolved.
‘My sisters all said to me: “We don’t know why she was like she was”,’ Chris says now. ‘They encouraged me to go into therapy, because of the way she treated me — she didn’t disown her daughters, of course, only me. But I didn’t see a psychiatrist.’
Instead, his catharsis was to write a book about his mother ten years ago. Called Nellie’s Book, it drew on her journals and memoranda as source material – and through it, he says he learned ‘to love and admire her’.
Chris, a widower whose second wife Frances Foote died three years ago from cancer, clearly also admires his famous sibling. The sitting room of his modest terrace house in Darlington, County Durham, is cluttered with memorabilia: photos of Victoria are interspersed with those of his late wife.
Despite her busy and hugely successful career, Victoria always found time to meet her brother once or twice a year – the four siblings would gather at Christmas or New Year – and Chris would regularly go to see her shows.
‘We used to play parlour games at Christmas and Vic was always incredibly competitive,’ he recalls. ‘She had to win. And when her children were on the same side as her, they’d wipe the floor with everyone.’
It was the same talent, tenacity and determination that had always burned in Victoria.
Far from finding fault with his overweight, awkward, youngest daughter, one entry in Stanley’s journals shows just how proud he was of her.
New Victoria Wood biography - publication postponed
Family was told about it in June
The publication of a new, in-depth biography of comedian Victoria Wood by her brother Chris has been postponed for a month while the text is revised.
Originally planned for the end of this month, the new publication date is November 25th. This follows criticism of the book Victoria Wood Comedy Genius - her life and work (*) which describes the teenage Victoria as “fat and unhappy”.
The hugely talented, multi-Bafta award winning comic, writer, actor, singer-songwriter, producer and director died in April this year aged 62.
Author Chris Foote Wood said: “I have discussed this with my publisher at the Memoir Club and we both agree that I have given too much emphasis to Victoria’s early problems with her weight. I am revising the book to ensure that this aspect of her life is reduced and put in its proper context. However:
“I cannot and will not leave it out altogether as it is an essential part of Victoria’s story. She wanted the public to know about her early problems with her weight, and she spoke of them at length in some very candid press interviews.
“I am a huge fan of Victoria. I admire her all the more for overcoming her early problems to build her hugely successful career. She also had many disappointments at the start of her career, and it was years before she finally made her breakthrough. She succeeded against the odds through her force of character and sheer determination.
“I make no apology for writing this book. It tells Victoria’s story, her full story, from unpromising beginnings to national treasure. It cannot be a ‘betrayal’ to tell the full, true story, especially as Vic herself has made public her early problems.
“And I must put the record straight. To say the rest of our family did not know about my book is totally untrue. Back in May and June, I wrote to my two remaining sisters, and both of Vic’s children, telling them of my intention to write a biography of Victoria, and asking them if they had any concerns to let me know. None of them responded. In other words, they left me to it.
“It has now been announced that Victoria’s children, Grace and Henry Durham, have authorised another biography of their mother, written by a ghost writer, to be published next year. This is fine by me: the more books about Victoria, the better. I hope both of our books do well”.
Foote Wood - who added the name Foote when he married his late wife Frances Foote in 1977 - includes extracts from his father’s diaries, his own reminiscences as well as many from Victoria’s fellow actors, directors and other professionals. Chris has agreed to donate all his royalties from the book to charities supported by Victoria.
Chris Foote Wood has also set up a Crowdfunding appeal to pay for a life-size, lifelike statue of Victoria in her home town of Bury, where a site has been agreed. Bury Council is supporting the scheme and will maintain the statue once erected. Donate via www.tinyurl.com/letsdoitforvictoria
(*) Victoria Wood Comedy Genius - her life and work by Chris Foote Wood is published by The Memoir Club at £12. It will be available through bookshops and Amazon etc. Advance copies can be ordered via email email@example.com or telephone 0191 419 2288.
For further comment and book signing events contact the Author: Chris Foote Wood (Northern Writers/Three Kings Productions) “Prestbury” 30 Brook Terrace Darlington Co. Durham DL3 6PJ Tel: 01325 483 660 Mob: 07984 060615 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org web: www.writersinc.biz