Life and Everything

The Ballad of Barry and Freda

When my dear friend Jack broke the news in my Facebook timeline yesterday that Victoria Wood had died, I thought he was joking.  For maybe five glorious seconds I thought I’d misread his post.  Then I cried.  Jack and I have been known to converse in Wood-isms,  we’re the uncool to the think-they’re-cool-but-actually-uncool Python quoters.  I don’t care.  I love Victoria Wood.

2016 is turning out to be a bad year for people’s heroes.  One friend wept for days over David Bowie, another for Lemmy.  Most of my straight female friends were rather devastated by the death of Alan Rickman.  I was still getting over Lou Reed.  But yesterday, I actually cried.

Victoria Wood was one of those people in the 1980s who, whether she intended to or not, was saying there is more than one way to be a woman.  Strange as it might seem now, her cropped hair and flat shoes and dreadful 1980s trouser suits, and her funniness were kind of revolutionary.  I discovered yesterday, that she was also something of a beacon in the lives of 50+ year old gay men – her humour helping them through their early years of coming out.  I didn’t really know that.  I love her wit – she is, was, the Queen of One Liners.  And her generosity in giving those lines to other people.  My go-to pickmeup is her wonderful 1990s sitcom Dinnerladies.  She amassed a fabulous cast and then gave them all the best lines.  It doesn’t matter how many times I watch those 16 episodes, (and I watch them a lot), I still laugh out loud at Thelma Barlow “men can’t whisk”.  I truly am devastated by her loss and know I will cry the next time I watch Bren mix up her words.

I was once invited by a Mad Avid Fan as her plus-one, to Victoria’s show at Leeds Grand Theatre.  I was a bit cagey about it, because at the time, it wasn’t terribly cool to like Victoria Wood.  This was the time of “edgy” satirical comedy, and I was young enough to still care about being cool (oh god, what a waste of time!).  It turns out that all the really cool people love her too, and I was and am so glad I accepted the invitation.  Except for one thing.  The mad avid fan – and when I say fan, I mean fanatical – wanted Victoria’s autograph.  I was all for going home, I’m not good at being a fan.  But I felt obliged to the provider of my ticket and we had to spend an hour outside the stage door waiting for her. She somehow gave us the slip, but Mad Avid Fan ran her down in the carpark and Victoria, clearly very exhausted and a bit peeved at being tracked down was gracious and friendly and produced a scribble on the back of a ticket.  I was tired and embarrassed and blurted out some crack about her signature being a bit under par, and I would like to say, too late of course, Sorry Victoria for being so rude, because you were marvellous, and your humour and humanity will always stay with me.

1 thought on “The Ballad of Barry and Freda”

  1. I had seen online at work that she had died, but driving home listening to clips of her and comments from celebs, I have to say I burst into tears and had to pull over. I have always liked her, and so she has always been part of my comedy life, and im so chuffed to have seen her live. She was a pioneer, a female comedian but not an alternative comedian, but a very clever and funny traditional one. The sketch of her as the fitness instructor is a brave one for a woman, performed in a horrible tight lycra outfit, but also very funny and observant. Gonna miss her loads.


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