Queen of Comedy

By Louis Barfe

Following on from the two-parter featuring previously unheard interview recordings of Spike Milligan, radio 4 has decided to spoil us with Victoria Wood: From soup to nuts (18 may, 11.30am), a delve into the much-missed comedian’s private tapes, presented by Rebecca Front. Victoria Wood wasn’t really one for interviews, but she used tape recorders as notepads, capturing ideas that would later find their way into her scripts and stand-up routines.

What was fascinating was hearing how many of the ideas seemed to spring fully formed from her brain. There was no hesitation. The tapes show that, while shy in conversation, Victoria had absolute confidence when it came to her work. When on tour, she’d describe every town as ‘classy and yet somehow seedy at the same time’, a line that never failed, and here we heard the tape where she came up with it. it even got a round of applause in Derby. An observation about meeting Norman Wisdom on the isle of man ferry made it into Dinnerladies. Victoria had a perfect grasp of the minutiae of comedy and why a particular thing was funny. Why a bilberry yoghurt got a bigger laugh than a strawberry. Why women going to the gym ‘trying to lose two eclairs and a Welsh rarebit’ was funnier than ‘a Welsh rarebit and an eclair’.

The shows were produced by David Tyler at Pozzitive, the company that made Dinnerladies for the BBC. Gloriously, his colleague, the great producer/ director Geoff Posner, had the presence of mind to record all of Victoria Wood’s studio warm-ups. so we heard her sending up the young Maxine Peake. ‘She’s never done any acting,’ Victoria told the punters, ‘not even this afternoon. She’s been to rada, though. Didn’t get in. Just looked through the window.’ listening was a mixture of joy and sadness. She went far, far too soon.