Victoria Wood was the youngest child of Stanley Wood, an insurance salesman, who also wrote songs for his company's Christmas parties, and Nellie Wood (née Mape). She had three siblings: a brother, Chris, and two sisters, Penny and Rosalind.
Wood was born in Prestwich and brought up in Bury - both then in Lancashire. She was educated at Fairfield County Primary school and Bury Grammar School for Girls, where she immediately found herself out of her depth. She recalled in an interview for Desert Island Discs in 2007:
I was always top of the class, and when I went to grammar school I could not deal with everyone being as clever... I went under. I was a mess, a bit of 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.
Wood developed eating disorders, but in 1968, her father gave her a piano for her 15th birthday. She later said of this unhappy time "The good thing about being isolated is you get a good look at what goes on. I was reading, writing and working at the piano all the time. I was doing a lot of other things that helped me to perform". Later that year she joined the Rochdale Youth Theatre Workshop, where she felt she was "in the right place and knew what I was doing" and she made an impression with her comic skill and skill in writing. She went on to study drama at the University of Birmingham.
Wood began her show business career while an undergraduate, appearing on the TV talent show New Faces in 1974. It led to an appearance in a sketch show featuring the series' winners The Summer Show. A further break came as a novelty act on the BBC's consumer affairs programme That's Life! in 1976. She met long-term collaborator Julie Walters in the early 1970s when Wood applied for Manchester Polytechnic, and coincidentally met again when they appeared in the same theatre revue In at the Death in 1978 (for which Wood wrote a brief sketch). Its success led to the commissioning of Wood's first play Talent (in 1978), starring Hazel Clyne (in a role originally written for Walters), for which Wood won an award for the Most Promising New Writer. Peter Eckersley, the head of drama at Granada Television, saw Talent and invited Wood to create a television adaptation. This time Julie Walters took the lead role, while Wood reprised her stage role.
The success of the television version of Talent led to Wood writing the follow-up, Nearly a Happy Ending. Shortly afterwards she wrote a third play for Granada, Happy Since I Met You, again with Walters alongside Duncan Preston as the male lead. In 1980, she wrote and starred in the stage play Good Fun.
Recognising her talent, Eckersley offered Wood a sketch show, although she was unsure of the project; she only agreed to go ahead if Walters received equal billing. Eckersley came up with an obvious title - Wood and Walters, and the pilot episode was recorded. It led to a full series, featuring Duncan Preston and a supporting cast. In the period between the completion of the pilot and the shooting of the series, Eckersley died. Wood credited him with giving her her first big break, and felt that Wood and Walters suffered due to his death. She was not impressed by Brian Armstrong, his fill-in, and was of the opinion that he hired unsuitable supporting actors.
Wood appeared as a presenter in Yorkshire Television's 1984 schools television programme for hearing-impaired children, Insight, in a remake of the series originally presented by Derek Griffiths. In 1982 and 1983 she appeared as a panellist on BBC Radio 4's Just a Minute.
In October 1983 Wood performed her first solo stand up show, Lucky Bag in a five week run at the King's Head Theatre in Islington. The show transferred to the Ambassadors Theatre for a twelve night run in February 1984. Lucky Bag went on a short UK tour in November and December 1984 and was also released as a live album recorded at the Edinburgh Festival in 1983.
Wood left Granada in 1984 for the BBC, who promised her more creative control over projects. Later that year, her sketch show Victoria Wood as Seen on TV went into production. Wood chose the actors: her friend Julie Walters once again starred, as did Duncan Preston. Wood's friend Celia Imrie and Susie Blake and Patricia Routledge were in the cast. As Seen on TV had the Acorn Antiques sketch, a parody of a low-budget soap opera, Crossroads, and rumoured to be named after an antiques shop in her birthplace. Acorn Antiques is remembered for characters such as "Mrs Overall" (played by Walters), the deliberately bad camera angles and wobbling sets, and Celia Imrie's sarcastic tone as "Miss Babs". Wood's most popular comic song, "The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let's Do It)", originated in this show. It tells the story of Freda (a woman eager for sex) and Barry (an introverted man terrified of sex), and makes clever use of allusions to a multitude of risqué activities while avoiding all taboo words. A second series of Victoria Wood as Seen on TV was made in 1986, followed by a one-off 'special' in 1987.
In October 1987 Wood went on the road with her one woman show. The tour included a sell out run at the London Palladium and had a second leg in April 1988. The end of 1988 saw the release of her second live album Victoria Wood Live recorded at the Brighton Dome.
In 1988 she appeared in the BAFTA-winning An Audience with Victoria Wood for ITV. At the time of recording the show, she was six months pregnant.
During this period Wood moved away from the sketch show format and into more self-contained works, often with a bittersweet flavour. Victoria Wood (six parts, 1989) featured Wood in several individual stories such as "We'd Quite Like To Apologise", set in an airport departure lounge, and "Over to Pam", set around a fictional talk show.
In May 1990 Wood went on a 60-date tour of the United Kingdom which was followed by a ten-week run at the Strand Theatre in London titled Victoria Wood Up West. Wood took the show on the road again during March 1991 where it was recorded at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, and later released as Victoria Wood Sold Out in 1991.
She briefly returned to sketches for the 1992 Christmas Day special Victoria Wood's All Day Breakfast.
In March 1993 Wood began a seven month tour of the UK. The 104-date tour broke box office records, including 15 sell out shows at London's Royal Albert Hall, and played to residencies in Sheffield, Birmingham, Plymouth, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester, Leicester, Liverpool, Bournemouth, Oxford, Southampton, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds and Hull.
The television film Pat and Margaret (1994), starring Wood and Julie Walters as long-lost sisters with very different lifestyles, continued her return to stand-alone plays with a poignant undercurrent to the comedy.
In 1994 Wood starred in the one-off BBC 80-minute programme based on her 1993/94 stage show Victoria Wood: Live in Your Own Home. The special featured stand-up routines, character monologues and songs.
Wood set out on a 68-date tour of the UK in May 1996 which played at venues in Leicester, Sheffield, Ipswich, Blackpool, Bradford, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Brighton, Nottingham, Oxford, Southend, Manchester and Cambridge. The tour culminated with another 15 sell out shows at London's Royal Albert Hall in the autumn. The tour recommenced in April 1997 in Liverpool and then travelled to Australia and New Zealand during the Summer. It was later released as Victoria Wood Live 1997.
In October 1997 Wood released a compilation of 14 of her songs titled Victoria Wood, Real Life The Songs.
Her first sitcom Dinnerladies (1998), continued her now established milieu of mostly female, mostly middle-aged characters depicted vividly and amusingly, but with a counterpoint of sadder themes.
December 2000 saw the Christmas sketch show special Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings, featuring her regular troupe of actors and a string of special guest stars.
2001 saw Wood embark on her last ever stand up tour. The tour was titled Victoria Wood At It Again but was postponed slightly by Wood having to have an emergency hysterectomy shortly before the tour was due to begin. She re-wrote the entire first half of the show and incorporated the operation into her act. The 62-date tour included twelve night's at the Royal Albert Hall and had a further 23-dates in 2002.
During this period Wood tended to move away from comedy to focus on drama. She continued to produce one-off specials including Victoria Wood's Sketch Show Story (2002) and Victoria Wood's Big Fat Documentary (2005).
Wood wrote her first musical, Acorn Antiques: The Musical!, which opened in 2005 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, for a limited period, directed by Trevor Nunn. It starred most of the original cast, with Sally Ann Triplett playing Miss Berta (played in the series by Wood). Wood played Julie Walters' character Mrs Overall for matinee performances.
Wood wrote the one-off ITV serious drama Housewife, 49 (2006), an adaptation of the diaries of Nella Last, and played the eponymous role of an introverted middle-aged character who discovers new confidence and friendships in Lancashire during the Second World War. Housewife, 49 was critically acclaimed, and Wood won BAFTAs for both her acting and writing for this drama – a rare double.
In November 2006, Wood directed a revival production of Acorn Antiques: The Musical! with a new cast. The musical opened at the Lowry in Salford in December and toured the United Kingdom from January to July 2007.
In January 2007, she appeared as herself in a series of advertisements featuring famous people working for the supermarket chain Asda. They featured Wood working in the bakery and introduced a catchphrase – "there's no place like ASDA". Wood was the subject of an episode of The South Bank Show in March 2007, and is the only woman to be the subject of two South Bank programmes (the previous occasion was in September 1996).
Wood appeared in a three-part travel documentary on BBC One called Victoria's Empire, in which she travelled around the world in search of the history, cultural impact and customs the British Empire placed on the parts of the world it ruled. She departed Victoria Station, London, for Calcutta, Hong Kong and Borneo in the first programme. In programme two she visited Ghana, Jamaica and Newfoundland and in the final programme, New Zealand, Australia and Zambia, finishing at the Victoria Falls.
In a tribute to Wood, the British television station UKTV Gold celebrated her work with a weekend marathon of programmes between 3 and 4 November 2007 featuring programmes such as Victoria Wood Live and Dinnerladies and Victoria Wood as Seen on TV – its first screening on British television since 1995.
Wood returned to stand-up comedy with a special performance for the celebratory show Happy Birthday BAFTA on 28 October 2007, alongside other household names. The programme was transmitted on ITV1 on Wednesday 7 November 2007. On Boxing Day 2007 she appeared as "Nana" in the Granada dramatisation of Noel Streatfeild's novel Ballet Shoes.
In December 2007, when a guest on the radio programme Desert Island Discs, Wood said she was about to make her first foray into film, writing a script described as a contemporary comedy about a middle-aged person. On Thursday, 12 June 2008, Wood was a member of the celebrity guest panel on the series The Apprentice: You're Fired! on BBC Two. In June 2009, she appeared as a panellist on the first two episodes of a series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.
Wood returned to television comedy for a one-off Christmas sketch-show special, her first in nine years, Victoria Wood's Mid Life Christmas, transmitted on BBC One at 21:00 on Christmas Eve 2009. It reunited Wood with Julie Walters in Lark Pies to Cranchesterford, a spoof of BBC period dramas Lark Rise to Candleford, Little Dorrit and Cranford; a spoof documentary, Beyond the Marigolds, following Acorn Antiques star Bo Beaumont (Walters); highlights from the Mid Life Olympics 2009 with Wood as the commentator; parodies of personal injury advertisements; and a reprise of Wood's most famous song "The Ballad of Barry and Freda" ("Let's Do It"), performed as a musical number with tap-dancers and a band. Victoria Wood: Seen On TV, a 90-minute documentary looking back on her career, was broadcast on BBC Two on 21 December, whilst a behind-the-scenes special programme about Midlife Christmas, Victoria Wood: What Larks!, was broadcast on BBC One on 30 December.
On New Year's Day 2011 Wood appeared in a BBC drama Eric and Ernie as Eric Morecambe's mother, Sadie Bartholomew.
For the 2011 Manchester International Festival, Wood wrote and directed That Day We Sang, a musical set in 1969 with flashbacks to 1929. It tells the story of a middle-aged couple who find love after meeting on a TV programme about a choir they both sang in 40 years previously. Although the characters are imaginary, the choir sang with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester's Free Trade Hall on a record that sold more than a million copies. Apart from the pieces on the 1929 recording (Purcell's "Nymphs and Shepherds" and the Evening Benediction from Hansel and Gretel) the score for the musical was written by Wood.
On 22 December 2012 Wood was a guest on BBC Radio Two's Saturday morning Graham Norton Show. On 23 December BBC One screened Loving Miss Hatto, a drama written by Wood about the life of concert pianist Joyce Hatto, the centre of a scandal over the authenticity of her recordings and her role in the hoax. In April 2013, Wood produced a documentary about the history of tea named Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea. In 2013 she played retired constable-turned-security-guard Tracy in BBC Scotland's Case Histories starring Jason Isaacs. She appeared in an episode of QI, broadcast on 13 December 2013, and around the same time made two return appearances on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue during the show's 60th series. In March 2014, Wood voiced the TV advertisement for the tour of the old set of Coronation Street. On 5 December 2014 Wood was a guest on BBC's The Graham Norton Show. On 26 December 2014, a television adaptation of That Day We Sang, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, was shown on BBC Two.
In early 2015, Wood took part in a celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief and was crowned Star Baker in her episode. She co-starred with Timothy Spall in Sky television's three-part television adaptation of Fungus the Bogeyman, which was first shown on 27, 28 & 29 December 2015, her last acting project and final role.
Wood received many awards in her career. In 1997, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. Earlier in 1994, she was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Sunderland. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 Funniest Acts in British Comedy. In the 2005 Channel 4 poll the Comedians' Comedian, she was voted 27th out of the top 50 comedy acts by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. She was the highest-ranked woman on the list, above French and Saunders (who paid tribute to her in their Lord of the Rings spoof, where a map of Middle-Earth shows a forest called 'Victoria Wood'), Joan Rivers and Joyce Grenfell.
Her sketch show Victoria Wood as Seen on TV won BAFTA awards for its two series and Christmas Special. In 2007, she was nominated for and won the BAFTA awards for "Best Actress" and for "Best Single Drama" for her role in the British war-time drama Housewife, 49, in which she played the part of a housewife dominated by her moody husband. Wood's character eventually stands up to him and helps the WRVS (Women's Royal Voluntary Service) in their preparations for British soldiers.
Her popularity with the British public was confirmed when she won 'Best Stand-Up' and 'Best Sketch Show' by Radio Times readers in 2001. Wood was also voted 'Funniest Comedian' by the readers of Reader's Digest in 2005 and came eighth in ITV's poll of the public's 50 Greatest Stars, four places behind occasional co-star Julie Walters.
Wood was the recipient of six British Comedy Awards: Best stand-up live comedy performer (1990); Best female comedy performer (1995); WGGB Writer of the year (2000); Best live stand-up (2001); Outstanding achievement award (jointly awarded to Julie Walters) (2005); Best female TV comic (2011). Wood was nominated for the 1991 Olivier Award for Best Entertainment for Victoria Wood Up West.
Wood was a 14-time BAFTA TV Award nominee, winning four. She received a special BAFTA at a tribute evening in 2005.Victoria Wood as Seen on TV won the BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme in 1986, 1987 and 1988; these awards went to the producer, Geoff Posner.
An Audience With Victoria Wood won the BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme in 1989; this award went to David G. Hillier.
Wood married stage magician Geoffrey Durham in March 1980 and they had two children. They separated in October 2002, but continued to live near one another and were on good terms. Her son Henry made a cameo appearance as a teenager in Victoria Wood's Mid Life Christmas, listed in the show's closing credits between Jennie Dale and Steve Elias on the rolling credits. He also appeared in the accompanying 'behind the scenes' programme Victoria Wood: What Larks! where his credit was placed over a still photo of himself, taken from the video footage of the recording.
Wood attended Quaker meetings with her husband and was a vegetarian, once remarking, "I'm all for killing animals and turning them into handbags. I just don't want to have to eat them."
Wood was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late 2015, but kept her illness private. She died on 20 April 2016 at her Highgate home, in the presence of her children and former husband. Her family celebrated her life with a humanist funeral.An Audience with Victoria Wood (1988)
Sold Out (1991)
Live in Your Own Home (31 October 1994)
Live 1997 (27 October 1997)
At the Albert Hall – Live (25 November 2002)