Sunday Watch: Victoria Wood – As Seen On TV s02 e04-06


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This time it’s more like nine months since I last watched Victoria Wood – As Seen On TV and, barring one Xmas Special, the last time. Victoria Wood knew to a nicety when to stop doing one thing and do something else. Like John Cleese and Connie Booth with Fawlty Towers, two series, each of six episodes was the limit: Wood knew what so many other people in comedy didn’t understand, which is not to run an idea into the ground.

What can I say about these last three episodes that I haven’t said about other visits to the series? Though they date from 1986, and some of the cultural references would now go over the heads of any audience that wasn’t there at the time – Terrence Conran, Miriam Stoppard – the comedy is grounded very firmly in the ordinary lives of people, on top of which Wood ladles a generous helping of surrealism and absurdity that always maintains its internal logic and convinces you that this is what people really do, think and say.

All the usual features are there. The perennially awful ‘Acorn Antiques’ and Susie Blake’s condescending announcer feature each time but there is sadly only one glorious Kitty – Patricia Routledge making the hilarious look effortless – and one Kelly-Marie Tunstall with a classic punch-line. Belinda Lang, of whom I was quite enamoured in those days on 2.4 Children, pops up for a black and white sketch parodying stiff-upper-lip War movies that’s played totally seriously until the stinger in the last line.

It makes you laugh and it makes you sad at the same time, that Victoria Wood isn’t still here with us. I miss her so much. Thankfully, it’s a big box-set, even if one disc is just all the ‘Acorn Antiques’ collected into one run, so there’s still much more to come.

I don’t usually comment about the songs but the one in episode 4, ‘I Saw You Today’, was somethingspecial. Wood’s songs are comedy in themselves. Musically, they don’t do much for me, a bit too cabaret/TV light entertainment fare for my liking, the focus being on the words, so a simply, lightly backed song with a sweet melody was out of the ordinary to begin with. But the words…

The lyrics had all the trappings of Victoria Wood’s style, a love song, an unrequited love song full of commonplace details, her extraordinary gift for not only the recollection of the minutiae of life but a northern life that I respond to because everything in it is so familiar, brought back to life in the catalogue of all the things we do each day.

The song’s structure suggests that you might be meant to laugh about it, genty, in recognition of the emotions involved, but I couldn’t and didn’t and from the way Wood sung it, I don’t think she meant it to be funny, not even in the way that Clive James’ poem ‘Occupation: Housewife’ steers you from hysterical laughter to a depth of loss that has you weeping.

Because whilst the song begins, and is all about seeing someone you love, hoping to catch their eye and have them smile at you on the bus slowly it unfolds into a song about an impossible, an undeliverable crush on someone at school who only sees you as a girl in a blazer, and then it runs deeper as we understand that this is an eleven year oldgirl with a crush on a sixteen year old boy, and Wood brings out the depth of feeling, improbable but nevertheless real and crushing, in someone that young whose desperate and unfulfillable desire fills her with hope and hopelessness all mixed into the same crush of feelings that you can neither control nor understand.

The song is available on YouTube under the title ‘Crush’ but it’s a different arrangement, played on piano and sung faster. It may be more like we expect from Wood, musically, but it is a cr ushing disappointment (pun intended) when set against the show’s rearrangement of it. The recording is meant to mix poignancy and comedy in a more even balance. I’d call it a rare mistake.

Episode 6 ended with a classic sketch, featuring Julie Walters as an aged waitress and Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie as a married couple trying to order lunch – typical of Wood to leave herself out of the ending of her own series. It was funny as all get out, but what stood out for me was the recollection of Preston and Imrie, after Wood’s death, discussing the filming of it, and how difficult it was to play their parts with the seriousness the sketch demanded whilst Julie Waters was performing as she did, and they just wanting to collapse in tears of laughter, just like us.

Victoria Wood. Could always be relied upon to make you laugh until you cried.

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