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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are VICTORIA WOOD (main picture), with EMINEM, MADONNA, KEN DODD and BROTHER ROGER.

VICTORIA WOOD

The comedian Victoria Wood, she of Dinnerladies and Acorn Antiques fame, has been voted Britain's funniest woman in a Reader's Digest poll. Her brand of humour, though, springs from a "miserable" childhood.

Although she currently lives in London, Victoria Wood is a Lancashire lass thoroughly imbued with northern ways, not least of which is the deep desire to be funny.

Her comedy stems from her acute and witty observations of the minutiae of ordinary life, in the way that Alan Bennett does for the northern bourgeoisie, and Peter Kay does for the northern working class.

Wood is nosey about people; loves to mock their airs and graces as well as to celebrate their quirkiness.

Marriage, the menopause, hysterectomies, gussets, fabric conditioners, you name it, she jokes about it.

Victoria Wood in curlers from her Sketch Show
Victoria Wood in her Sketch Show
What's more, she has assembled around her a virtual repertory company in the shape of actor friends like Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston, Thelma Barlow and Anne Reid.

Throw in her prowess at performing often hilarious songs at the piano, and it's not difficult to see why Victoria Wood is so accessible and so popular.

Victoria Wood grew up near Bury with an insurance salesman of a father and a depressive housewife as a mother.

Her mother, who died four years ago, was a ferocious, domineering woman who had little domestic expertise. The young Victoria was left to do her own washing and cleaning, which, she says, she didn't get round to very often.

New Faces

She would spend many a lonely day with just a bag of sweets, a television and a piano for company.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and Victoria Wood became hooked on cheap soap operas like Crossroads which she was able to mine ruthlessly for her later stage and TV acts.

"I found that second-rateness quite inspiring," she says.

Her showbiz career began when she gained a place on a drama course at Birmingham University. And then, in 1973, she won the ITV talent show, New Faces, at the age of 20, singing her comic songs.

Victoria Wood and her comedy partner Julie Walters
Victoria Wood and her comedy partner Julie Walters
Nevertheless, her career was slow to take off until she met actor Geoffrey Durham at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester where he was playing Buffalo Bill.

He proved greatly supportive in a way her parents, particularly her mother, had failed to be. He gave up acting and reinvented himself as a magician called The Great Soprendo.

Victoria Wood's confidence grew and she began writing again. In her stand-up routine, she would invariably end with her song celebrating the joys of unabashed sex, Barry and Freda, with the refrain "Let's do it."

"Not bleakly, not meekly, Beat me on the botty with the Woman's Weekly."

Victoria Wood went on to form a highly successful partnership with Julie Walters which led to their own BBC TV series, Wood and Walters.

Musical

There followed, in 1985, the soap opera parody, Acorn Antiques, in which Wood, Walters, Imrie and co. worked in a shop in which murders, illicit love affairs, unwanted pregnancies and the like take place amid the flimsy sets and bad-acting that typified the soaps she'd watched in her youth.

Wood nurtured the idea of turning the series into a musical, and realised her dream this year with the opening in the West End of Acorn Antiques - the Musical. Trevor Nunn, no less, agreed to direct it.

Victoria and her Dinnerladies
Victoria and her Dinnerladies
The parody of television became the parody of the theatre.

"Victoria is a clever satirist," says Nunn. "She understands the awfulness that's at the heart of a lot of modern culture."

There are other "awful" things about modern culture that Victoria Wood has inveigled herself against, though not, so far, in satire.

Reality TV programmes, she has said publicly, make stars out of ordinary people who don't deserve their success, and, by clogging up the TV schedules, deprive genuinely talented people of work.

She has also dismissed the type of humour practised by such characters as Ali G as "horrible, like laughing at lunatics".

And, as one who has tried every faddist slimming aid going, she has lambasted the dieting business in a TV documentary. "If you overeat, you should begin by examining why. It's more important to look at what's inside your head than at your waistline."

Though her marriage to Geoffrey ended in 2002 after more than 20 years, Victoria Wood's professional career continues to thrive with her musical packing them in.

She has said that her next dream project would be to write a film. With her quirky take on life, you can be assured it'll be less Titanic, more Full Monty.


Eminem
EMINEM

Rapper Eminem has cancelled his forthcoming European tour owing to exhaustion "and other medical matters". This was later revealed to be an addiction to sleeping pills. His "Anger Management Tour" was due to run for the first half of September, including four dates in Britain and Ireland. Lord Henry Mountcharles, owner of the Slane Castle estate that was to stage Eminem's Irish gig, said he was "not very happy about the situation."

Madonna
MADONNA

Madonna's reinvention as a lady of the manor, took a tumble this week when she fell off her horse. The accident occurred at her and her husband Guy Ritchie's Wiltshire estate. The riding outing was a 47th birthday present from Ritchie. The singer and sometime children's author was briefly knocked out and suffered three cracked ribs, a broken collar bone and a fractured hand. The horse is in a stable condition.

Ken Dodd
KEN DODD

The comedian Ken Dodd attended the unveiling of a portrait of himself at the National Portrait Gallery in London this week. The artist, David Cobley, has painted Doddy backstage, complete with his trademark tickling stick, looking exhausted after completing one of his famously long shows. He has captured something of the vulnerability of the comedian in what Cobley describes as "an affectionate tribute". Dodd's response was "I've been hung, the next thing, I'll be quartered."

Brother Roger
BROTHER ROGER

One of Europe's leading religious figures, Brother Roger Schultz, was stabbed to death this week at the age of 90. He was attacked by a woman during a service. Brother Roger, a Protestant pastor, founded a monastic community in the eastern French town of Taize in 1940. He welcomed refugees here fleeing World War II. Today the community comprises more than one hundred brothers including Catholics and Protestants from 25 nations.

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy


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