as seen by Sue Teddern
J B PRIESTLEY may have described his troupe of performers as The Good Companions, but the name would fit Victoria Wood and Co equally well. The banter begins as soon as she, Julie Walters, Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie and Susie Blake assemble for our cover photo session.
They’ll be reunited in a pre-Christmas special on Friday, but sadly this is the last time we’ll watch them As Seen on TV as Victoria Wood wants more time to concentrate on new projects. Is it mere coincidence that each has turned up wearing something blue, we observers ponder, or is this further proof of their close affinity with each other?
Wood has known and/or worked with them for years, which explains the relaxed insults and raucous laughter, especially from Walters, and it doesn’t take a professor of human relationships to sense rapidly that they’re all good friends. That’s confirmed when each of them is taken to one side and pressed to reveal all about the others…
Wood on Walters: ‘I think it’s extraordinary to go through what Julie’s been through, to keep living the way she wants to live and to keep doing the jobs she wants to do. I’ve only had a tiny bit of the exposure she’s had and I’ve seen the pressure it puts on you. Julie’s come out of it with flying colours. I see ours as a long-term working relationship because even though we do things on our own, whenever we come together we have such a good time.’
Wood on Imrie: ‘I’ve known Celia for years. She always said she was a terrible actress and I took her at her word. Then I was in bed one night watching a New Year’s Eve show from Scotland and Celia was in it and I thought she was really good and what on earth had she been going on about? She’s a great person to have around because she’s always so jolly, and she always has mints in her handbag, which is very useful!’
Wood on Preston: ‘He hasn’t been exploited properly in the show because I tend to write parts for women, which is fair enough, but it does mean that Duncan plays the bank manager or the man in the hotel. O don’t like men’s men. Duncan’s mainly the sort of man who likes women, so you can talk to him about your ovaries and it causes no embarrassment.’
Wood on Blake: ‘I’d seen Susie in a musical at the King’s Head Theatre in London while we were casting for the first series. I didn’t think of her particularly for the continuity announcer but she came in and could do it, just like that. I’d love to cast her in a song-and-dance number – I feel so sorry for her always having to wear those terrible blouses.’
Walters on Wood: ‘She knows I like playing old women. Why? Because I am one! I love the shape of them. Doing telly with Vic is great – not like working at all. Fame hasn’t changed her. She’s too down-to-earth to be starry or anything like that.’
Walters on Imrie: ‘Celia’s one of the very worst gigglers, especially in Acorn Antiques. If you look at her, you can see it starting. She’s very witty, Celia, and she does like a sweet. She brings bags of them along to rehearsals for everybody.’
Walters on Preston: ‘I don’t think he suffers from being the only man in the team. We’re all friends so it doesn’t really make any difference. Three women and one man is probably more relaxed than three men and one woman.’
Walters on Blake: ‘She’s perfect as the continuity announcer. She looks just right. She gets that air of condescension so well. The part is a gift for an actress, but then all the scripts are good.’
Imrie on Wood: ‘I first met Vic in Birmingham about ten years ago. I used to lend her dresses to wear on That’s Life! Because we’ve both got the same size bust, or "la-las", as we call them. What’s glorious is that her sense of humour has remained very individual over the years. She hasn’t compromised and has adapted to success brilliantly well.’
Imrie on Walters: ‘I’ve got to the stage when I can’t look her in the eye when we’re working because she makes me giggle. When she appeared in Acorn Antiques as Mrs Overall in a lime green leotard, the inside of my mouth was bleeding from biting it so hard to stop laughing.’
Imrie on Preston: ‘He’s told us that when he was in EastEnders, if something went wrong, they’d say, "Oh, that’s an Acorn Antique!" I’m afraid he is teased, but what can he do as the only man on the team?’
Imrie on Blake: ‘She’s very sad that this is our last show together. We all are. But Vic’s quite right to stop now, while it’s on an up.’
Preston on Wood and Walters: ‘The first time I met them was when they were casting for a show. They came to see me after they’d had a long lunch and they were in very high spirits. They totally overwhelmed me with this torrent of good-natured banter, but they decided to give me the part because I was so tall!’
Preston on Imrie: ‘We keep each other going as the "straight" actors. Celia’s really blossomed since the first series, she’s so much more confident. She’s got a very sweet tooth and always seems to have some cakes or sweets.’
Preston on Blake: ‘Do I know announcers like that? I’ve got a neighbour like that! It’s a bit of a shame she didn’t get to do sketches with the rest of us but was always working alone to camera.’
Blake on Wood: ‘I’m very sad that this is the last time we will all work together but I understand why Vic wanted to stop. Anyway there were only two series of Fawlty Towers and, as far as I’m concerned, this rates with it, so I’m sure it’ll be shown lots of times.’
Blake on Walters and Imrie: ‘Celia’s very into natural remedies. Julie would never need any as she seems to be totally impervious to illness or danger of any kind. I still think her elderly waitress in the second series was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.’
Blake on Preston: ‘He’s very much one of us. His macho elements went out of the window straight away because Vic’s humour knocks all that.’
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