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Monday, 25 December, 2000, 00:35 GMT
Christmas TV's first ladies
Victoria Wood...With All the Trimmings and The Royle Family take pride of place in BBC One's Christmas Day schedules. BBC News Online spoke to Ms Wood and Liz Smith, alias Nana Royle.

Comedy star and writer Victoria Wood returns to television with a sketch show that is the centrepiece of BBC One's Christmas Day schedules.

But, as she told BBC News Online, she is far from complacent about being given the most high profile spot of the season.

"It's a very strange feeling - but it's got to be someone, hasn't it?"

Victoria Wood... With All the Trimmings marks a return from sitcom to sketch comedy that she has been planning throughout the year.

"It's been a funny year, really," she says. "I was worn out from doing Dinnerladies and it took me a long time to recover.

Victoria Wood
Wood in character for Christmas 2000
"It was great to do but it was very draining. I did as many episodes as I thought I could do well. It's always better to leave things before the audience leaves you.

"And I wouldn't want to do another sitcom just at the moment.

"The last 10 Dinnerladies I did in a really, really short time and I was ill at one point. This Christmas special was much easier to write because it was in bits."

The bits are a slew of sketches that all feature some of television and film's best known celebrities, from Derek Jacobi, Richard E Grant and Julie Walters to Alan Rickman, Delia Smith, James Bolam and very many more.

"I had a great long list of all the people I really liked," Wood explained. "I wrote to the first 14 or so - and they all said yes. So I thought, 'oh, bloody hell - I've got to write it now."

Not that she is so confident of her writing that she assumes the show will be a success.

"We're still editing it and it hasn't been shown to an audience, so I'm a bit unsure as to what the show is like."

Now a mother of two, she admits to discussing her fears with her two children.

Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman: One of Wood's many Christmas guests
"I said to one of them this morning that I didn't know if the show was any good and he said 'Oh, Mummy, it is.' He hasn't even seen it!"

With the sketch show done, Victoria Wood is planning to bring her children with her on tour.

She is planning a marathon series of dates across the UK and Australia from May onwards.

"It's a big tour," she admits. "What's extremely gruelling, though, is coming home at 2am and getting up with the children at 6am and doing things with them.

"It's hard for anyone who works and has children. They're 12 and eight now and they seem to need more and different sorts of attention as they get older.

"But I don't mind as long as they're getting enough of their mother."

There is every chance that they will get more of her after 2001, though, because she's considering changes.

"I just want to do one more big tour before I finish," she said. "And I might not tour any more after this one.

"I'm not saying definitely, but I might not because I just think that there is always a good time to stop doing something. And this may be it."

The Royle Family have made a comic virtue of bonding in front of the TV screen.

When first screened on BBC Two the unheralded sitcom made instant waves.

Liz Smith
Liz Smith plays Nana Royle, the butt of Jim Royle's jokes
Based around one family's viewing habits, and their resulting, grotesque family life, the comedy began to win awards as fast as it gained viewers.

Now firmly established on BBC One, a Christmas special on 25 December is recognition of the appeal it now enjoys.

"I think it has become the nation's favourite and I'm very delighted to say that," said Liz Smith, who plays the batty grandmother of the Royle Family

"I think it has been absolutely astonishing what has happened to it since it came out. And it came out without much trumpet blowing, I have to say."

The trumpets can certainly be blown now. The programme has won Bafta awards and the cast have had their talents recognised also, most recently at the National Comedy Awards.

"Everybody seems to find something within it that echoes themselves or their own family.

"I think a lot of families are bit like the Royle family. It applies to an awful lot of families - either a bit her or there."

We don't mind being squashed together on one sofa

Liz Smith
Few of us would admit publicly that we have anything in common with the Royles, but there is a delicious irony in sitting at home watching a fictional family sitting at home watching television.

This Christmas the family will gather once more around the centrepiece of their lives, the TV, settling down to an evening's viewing of an Animal Hospital Christmas Special.

Liz promises Christmas will bring "a little surprise".

"And maybe some new characters and I think you are going to love them," she added.

"I hope it is a return to sitting around the TV screen," she said of the Christmas episode.

"That's what it is all about - it really is about being in one spot. That has been one of its greatest moments - being rooted to the spot."

The sitcom is one of the best examples of ensemble acting on British television for many years. The success of the programme stems from the actors' relationships off-screen, said Liz.

Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston, who played Jim and Barbara Royle, were an on-screen couple also in Brookside, while Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who play Denise and Dave, have a natural rapport.

Liz said: "We do get on well. It doesn't matter how much Jim annoys me or I him as soon as the dialogue stops we are great friends.

"We do like each other all very much and we don't mind being squashed together on one sofa."

Victoria Wood... With All the Trimmings is on BBC One on Christmas Day at 2120 GMT.

The Royle Family is on BBC One on Christmas Day at 2210 GMT.

See also:

06 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Victoria Wood's festive treat
17 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Aherne in awards heckling row
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