Page last updated at 00:33 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Profile: Liz Smith

Liz Smith as Nana
Smith gave an award-winning turn as Nana in The Royle Family

Royle Family star Liz Smith - who has been made an MBE for services to drama - found fame at an age when most actresses are giving up, becoming a household name in her 70s.

Born Betty Smith, her early love of acting sprung from regular trips to her local cinema in Scunthorpe with her grandfather.

By the age of nine she had already found her speciality, frequently playing eccentric old ladies in amateur dramatic productions.

It paved the way for her best-loved roles - as the haphazard home cook Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley and ailing Nana in The Royle Family.

But fame did not come easily.

After a failed marriage, which left her bringing up two young children alone, she worked in repertory theatre.

To make ends meet, she worked in shops and factories, as well as a stint as an entertainer in Butlins holiday camps.

Liz Smith in 2 Point 4 Children
Smith also starred in the popular sitcom 2 Point 4 Children

Her first, uncredited, TV appearance was in Leo the Last in 1970, before she was approached by the director Mike Leigh.

Roles in Leigh's TV plays Bleak Moments and Hard Labour followed - and the TV work began to flourish.

By now, Smith was becoming a regular face on television with roles in long-running shows such as Last of the Summer Wine, The Sweeney and The Gentle Touch.

In 1984 she received a Bafta for best supporting actress when she played Maggie Smith's mother in the film A Private Function.

Two years later she appeared as Patricia Hodge's alcoholic mother in the BBC drama The Life and Loves of a She Devil.

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But it was the hit BBC series The Vicar of Dibley, which first aired in 1994, that was to transform the fortunes of Smith.

Despite only appearing on the show for two years, her portrayal of Letitia Cropley - famous for her recipes for parsnip brownies and tripe salad - found its way into the public's affection.

Autobiography

But perhaps her crowning moment came in 2000 as Nana in The Royle Family, the nagging mother-in-law with bowel issues.

She returned in 2006 for a tragic special edition in which Nana died, picking up a British Comedy Award for her performance.

In the same year, she published her autobiography Our Betty.

Subsequent film roles have included Grandma Georgina in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the voice of Mrs Mulch in Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were Rabbit.

Most recently Smith graced our screens as housekeeper Zillah in Lark Rise to Candleford.



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