The campaign to erect a statue of Victoria Wood in her hometown of Bury
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 October 2016
A statue immortalising one of Lancashire's best-loved entertainers is a fitting tribute, writes Victoria Wood's biographer Neil Brandwood.
WHAT would the teenaged Victoria Wood have made of plans to erect a statue of her in her home town of Bury? As her biographer I think it’s safe to say that she would have been highly amused and incredulous but very, very proud.
Victoria once told me how she used to spend her school lunch hours mooching around Bury town centre, looking in shop windows, wishing she had money and was famous. So, the idea that the town would one day honour her in this way would leave her chuffed beyond words.
The proposal for the statue has come from Victoria’s brother, Chris Foote-Wood. He is hoping to raise the required £30,000 through a crowdfunding campaign entitled Let’s Do It – Victoria Wood Memorial Appeal. As we went to press, the fund had passed the £22,500 mark and was closing rapidly on the total required.
Supported by Bury Council, he believes the statue could prove to be as big a tourist attraction as the statue to Eric Morecambe in his hometown. It will show the comedian in either the role of Bren from the sitcom Dinnerladies, or in a beret as the gormless Kimberley’s Friend character. The final decision will be made by fans in an online vote.
I favour the suggestion for a statue of Victoria sitting at the piano, though. That instrument was her love, her passion and her passport to the career she always wanted. It’s what got her started in showbusiness and, of course, most people’s favourite memory of Victoria is of her at the piano singing The Ballad of Barry and Freda, better known as Let’s Do It.
The proposed site for the statue is Library Gardens in Bury town centre, which is particularly apt as the young Victoria spent a lot of time in the library. She loved reading but was too shy to ask how she could join the library. Instead, she used to smuggle books out in her satchel. She made up for this when she sent £100 and a letter of apology to the library in 1999.
Victoria, who died of cancer in April at the age of just 62, was always proud of her northern roots. She lived in Bury for her first 18 years and in 1976 moved into a Morecambe flat with her boyfriend, and later husband, Geoffrey Durham. Up until 1991 she lived in the village of Silverdale.
In one of my interviews with her, she spoke at length about how much she owed to Lancashire. The linguistic phrasing and the determinedly unimpressed world view of her fellow Lancastrians was all clearly evident in her work across the decades.
In fact, Mrs Overall, one of Victoria’s most popular comic creations, may well have been inspired by her immediate next-door-neighbour on Bury’s Tottington Road; Mary Park was a little old lady with a hunched back and a bun whose family had an antiques business. And for the famous “Two Soups” sketch she wrote for Julie Walters, Victoria drew on her experiences of a cafe in Morecambe.
Even when she was living in London she returned to her native north and spent time working in the canteen of the Halstead’s factory in Radcliffe as part of her research for dinnerladies. And Victoria described That Day We Sang, her last television film, as “a love letter to the north”.
Researching Victoria’s life for the biography, a process that took six years, revealed just how much her formative years spent in Bury informed both her career and her life.
Overlooked by her family, and shy and withdrawn, Victoria was an observer rather than a participant. This proved to be extremely valuable because Victoria stored up all that she witnessed and used it as inspiration for characters, plays and films.
It was a lonely life for the teenaged Victoria. When she was five the family moved to Birtle Edge House, a huge, isolated, former children’s home on the moors above Bury. She said she grew up feeling “not needed” but again, this helped drive her to achieve success and become someone of significance.
As my biography demonstrates, she came up against disappointments time and time again. But it was her self-belief, determination and sheer hard work that allowed her to eventually triumph.
‘There’s still so much I want to do,’ Victoria said when she turned 60. She felt, she said, like she was in her full stride. She had not ruled out a return to stand-up and, in the last year of her life, she began writing a film.
As well as the loss of Victoria herself, it was the loss of all this potential that was mourned. Future years might have seen her reach even greater heights of creativity, brilliance and success, delighting theatre, television and cinema audiences with her unique gifts.
Loved and admired in equal measure, Victoria has left an unfillable void. But who knows? There might be another lonely Bury schoolgirl out there who draws inspiration from the statue of the town’s greatest daughter and, like the dozens of female comedians who followed in Victoria’s pioneering trail, goes on to amuse the nation by making us laugh at ourselves.
Victoria Wood: The Biography, by Neil Brandwood, is published by Virgin Books, priced £8.99.
Instead of a fee for this feature, Neil has asked for a donation to be made to the Victoria Wood Memorial Appeal.
To donate to the appeal, go to justgiving.com/crowdfunding/chris-footewood