Victoria Wood Collection – Review
By Rachael Popow
I’ve been a Victoria Wood fan since I was in junior school and my friend Angela and I watched An Audience With until we could more or less recite it. I’m sure some of the jokes went over our heads – especially ‘The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s Do It)’ – but even now, we can’t ask each other what we want from the bar without saying: “Get us a raspberry yoghurt. If they haven’t got a raspberry yoghurt, get us summat else.”
That show was made by ITV, so sadly, it’s not included in the BBC’s Victoria Wood Collection, but if you’re looking for other quotable lines, there’s plenty to choose from, especially when it comes to her sketch show, As Seen On TV.
The series is probably most famous for giving us Acorn Antiques, the spoof of soap operas in general and Crossroads in particular, complete with wobbly sets, missed cues, unfortunate camera angles and, of course, Julie Walters’ peerless Mrs Overall. If you just want to binge on that, there is a separate Acorn Antiques DVD, but you’re missing a treat if you don’t watch the rest of As Seen On TV, which is one of those rare sketch shows that is almost all killer and no filler.
And, unlike some other programmes I loved as a child in the 1980s, it has aged remarkably well. Admittedly, some of the TV conventions the series takes aim at – such as on-screen continuity announcers (embodied here by the brilliant Susie Blake) and plugs for the plays the actors are currently appearing in over the end credits – may now seem a little quaint, but the spoof documentaries that crop up in each episode are, if anything, ahead of their time. ‘Swim The Channel’, the story of 12-year-old Chrissie, is hilarious and heartbreaking in less than five minutes, and proves that Wood’s comedy could be darker than her cosy image suggests.
It was a hard act to follow, and Victoria Wood Presents, a series of playlets also included in the box set, doesn’t quite manage it. Each episode has its inspired moments, whether it’s Jim Broadbent as a professionally northern writer or Liza Tarbuck as a slovenly health spa worker. It shows Wood’s generosity as a writer and performer that she’s often the straight woman, but the fact that she’s also usually the voice of calm common sense among a sea of eccentrics means it can feel less warm than her best work, especially over the course of six episodes.
“A reminder of her versatility”
There’s no such problem with ‘Pat and Margaret’, the bittersweet, feature-length comedy drama that would point the way to some of Wood’s later projects. As in Present’s ‘Over To Pam’, Julie Walters is cast as a demanding showbiz diva. This time she’s Pat, the British star of a Dynasty-style US soap who appears on a live TV show to plug her book, and instead finds herself reunited with her equally shocked long-lost lost sister, motorway service station worker Margaret (Wood). Walters has fun being monstrous, but she also gets to show her character’s vulnerable side. And, as an added bonus, there’s a scene-stealing supporting role for the wonderful Thora Hird.
Wood’s stand-up is showcased in the one-off ‘In Your Own Home’, some of which is understandably very of its time – the jokes about John Major should probably come with footnotes for younger viewers. However, her bit about celebrity mums’ take on motherhood versus the day-to-day realities of parenthood could probably slot into a routine today.
Rounding out the box set is the travelogue ‘Victoria’s Empire’, which the comedian explains started out as a plan to visit places named after Queen Victoria. However, fearing that wasn’t a strong enough hook for a series, it became more of an exploration of the impact of the British Empire. To be honest, some of that vagueness lingers in the series, but Wood makes for an engaging travel companion. Taken with the rest of the box set, it’s a reminder of her versatility – and why she’s such a loss to British TV. And if you haven’t already spent the last 30 years quoting her, this collection makes a great introduction.
‘Victoria Wood Collection’ from the BBC is out now from Amazon and major supermarkets