TV: Our Friend Victoria, BBC1

Let’s make one thing crystal clear. The death of Victoria Wood last year was a tragedy. Not just for her family but for comedy. She was only 62 years old and was still at her creative peak. The only consolation was that she left behind an enormous body of phenomenal work. And it’s that body of work that dominates this six-part series paying homage to a bona fide comedy legend. 

Now I watch a lot of television comedy but I don’t make television comedy. So don't ask me how I would have done it differently, but all I can say is that despite the fact that this programme is presented by Julie Walters and features pretty much all of Wood’s key performers over the years, it doesn’t quite work for me.

Maybe it’s because the anecdotes break up the clips. Maybe it’s because there have been so many superlatives said about Wood already - both before and after her death – that there is not much more to add. Basically we get a succession of famous faces saying how marvellously insightful, perceptive and hilarious Wood was.

I’ve got no argument with that. It’s just that it has been said before. The series is divided into themes and the first one is Age. So we get clips of Wood’s work playing gobby teenagers at bus stops and lots of great stuff featuring Julie Walters playing old ladies. Walters does have a lovely comical whinge about always being cast as characters much older than she was. And Aisling Bea chips in to say how fantastic Walters was at this - although this is more of a compliment about Walters’ talent and not much do with Wood.

The most interesting comment comes from Shobna Gulati from dinnerladies, who notes how brilliant it was to be given lines about having piles rather than lines about race. Elsewhere Anne Reid, Thelma Barlow, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston are among those singing Wood’s praises.

And of course the programme is very funny. How can it not be when it shows classics such as Wood doing stand-up, the iconic Two Soups sketch – actually called “Waitress” – and the pathos-soaked piece featuring Wood as a twelve-year-old Channel swimmer. As I said, I don't know how I could have made a better tribute to Wood except by showing uninterrupted clips and the BBC did that when she died. Maybe they should simply do that every year on the anniversary of her death. Any other suggestions appreciated. 

Our Friend Victoria, BBC1, Tuesdays from April 11 at 9.30pm.


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