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Smith, Liz (1921-)


Main image of Smith, Liz (1921-)

Renowned for her deadpan expressions and 'eternal grandmother' persona, character actress Liz Smith did not establish herself until she was in her fifties, but since then has built a highly successful career out of playing elderly, slightly dotty characters in popular TV shows, including Nana in The Royle Family (BBC, 1998-2000) and Leticia in The Vicar of Dibley (BBC, 1994-2007).

Born Betty Gleadle on 11 December 1921 in Scunthorpe, Smith was brought up by her grandmother after her mother died and her father abandoned her. Although she had taken acting lessons as a child, she spent the first few decades of her career alternating non-acting jobs with tiny walk-on parts while bringing up two children single-handed.

Her big break occurred in 1971, in Mike Leigh's debut feature Bleak Moments. She then became a regular face on TV, appearing in Emmerdale (ITV, 1972-), The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-8), The Gentle Touch (ITV, 1980-4), Last of the Summer Wine (BBC, 1973-2010) and Lark Rise to Candleford (BBC, 2008-11). More occasionally, she graced the big screen, winning a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress in A Private Function (d. Malcolm Mowbray, 1984) and appearing in such diverse blockbusters as The Curse of the Pink Panther (UK/US, d. Blake Edwards, 1983), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (UK/US/Australia, d. Tim Burton, 2005) and the animated Wallace and Gromit feature The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (UK/US, d. Nick Park/Steve Box, 2005).

In the 1990s her profile was raised via The Vicar of Dibley and the ground-breaking armchair TV sitcom The Royle Family. The latter won her a British Comedy Award for Best Television Comedy Actress.

Soon after, Smith published her autobiography, 'Our Betty' (2006), and moved into a retirement home. She continued to work, not only as an actress, but also as a fully-fledged celebrity in the BBC Four documentary Liz Smith's Summer Cruise (tx. 12/7/2009). Following a stroke in 2009, she finally announced her retirement from acting at the age of 87. The same year, she received an MBE and confirmed her public appeal by taking part in the BBC's anti-ageing programme The Young Ones (2010).

Eddie Dyja

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bleak Moments (1971)Bleak Moments (1971)

Mike Leigh's debut, about a lonely girl caring for her learning-disabled sister

Thumbnail image of Britannia Hospital (1982)Britannia Hospital (1982)

Lindsay Anderson's unhinged satire of Thatcher's Britain

Thumbnail image of Little Dorrit (1987)Little Dorrit (1987)

Ambitious two-film adaptation of one of Dickens' greatest works

Thumbnail image of Private Function, A (1984)Private Function, A (1984)

Alan Bennett-scripted Yorkshire comedy about pigs and social climbing

Thumbnail image of 2point4 Children (1991-99)2point4 Children (1991-99)

Popular sitcom about the travails of family life

Thumbnail image of Hard Labour (1973)Hard Labour (1973)

Mike Leigh's first TV drama, about the travails of domestic drudgery

Thumbnail image of Life and Loves of a She-Devil, The (1986)Life and Loves of a She-Devil, The (1986)

Witty supernatural feminist revenge thriller by Fay Weldon

Thumbnail image of Royle Family, The (1998-2000)Royle Family, The (1998-2000)

Groundbreaking sitcom about a working-class Manchester family

Thumbnail image of Spend Spend Spend (1977)Spend Spend Spend (1977)

Jack Rosenthal play based on the story of pools winner Vivian Nicholson

Thumbnail image of Vicar of Dibley, The (1994-2007)Vicar of Dibley, The (1994-2007)

Gently satirical Richard Curtis sitcom with Dawn French as a female vicar

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