2016 robs us of another angel; Liz Smith passed away on Christmas Eve, aged 95.
Born Betty Gleadle in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1921, Smith will be best remembered for her roles in the BBC sitcoms The Vicar of Dibley and The Royle Family.
It was 1970, while working at Hamleys demonstrating toys, that Mike Leigh gave Smith her big break at the age of 49 for his debut movie Bleak Moments. Three years later Leigh cast her again as the central, hapless character in Hard Labour, his first Play For Today. Subsequent roles came thick and fast, including appearances in Last of the Summer Wine, Crown Court, Village Hall and in adaptations of South Riding and David Copperfield. Then came her role as Mrs Brandon in three series of the sitcom I Didn't Know You Cared and film roles in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Britannia Hospital, The Curse of the Pink Panther, A Private Function, High Spirits, Bert Rigby, You're a Fool and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.
She played the gran in 2point4 Children and continued to carve a place for herself as a sitcom legend by playing Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley, before playing another families grandmother in the role of 'Nana' in Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash's The Royal Family. Now in her 80s, the roles continued with films such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Keeping Mum and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. In 2008 she starred in the first series of the BBC costume drama Larkrise to Candleford.
Following a series of strokes in 2009, Liz Smith announced her retirement from acting at the age of 87. Her last role before this announcement was that of Olive Greenhalgh, playing opposite Peter Vaughan (who also sadly died this month) in The Antiques Rogue Show, the TV film concerning the true story of the Greengalgh family of Bolton, whose son Shaun fooled museums and auction houses with a series of forgeries who enlisted his aged parents to sell thereby giving his fakes credible provenance. Smith was also awarded the MBE that same year and allowed documentary makers to follow her on a cruise from Croatia to Venice in BBC4's Liz Smith's Summer Cruise. In 2010 she returned to the documentary genre, appearing in the BBC's The Young Ones which saw six celebrities in their 70s and 80s living together in a house pretending it was the 1970s in an attempt to hark back to their heydays and overcome some of the problems of ageing. In 2013 Smith returned to acting with roles in Sky's Common Ground and in The Tunnel, the UK/France remake of the hit Nordic Noir series The Bridge.