Jasper Rees

The unseen Victoria Wood

Hidden in the late comedian’s remarkable archive is a sketch that is the foundation stone of her entire comedy career

The beloved entertainer, pictured in Bournemouth in 2002, left behind a remarkable archive of unused material. Credit: The victoria wood archive

For a few years now I have been living with Victoria Wood. That sounds all wrong, obviously, and yet no more apt phrase suggests itself. Not long after her death I was invited to write her authorised biography, and in due course a vast collection of documents was delivered to my address. Packed into storage boxes, which I stacked in corners and stuffed under beds, her intellectual legacy became a physical fact.

It was in sifting through this remarkable archive that I started to come across work — masses of it — that had never seen the light of day. At its core was a stash of 100 television sketches. More than half were intended for her canonical mid-1980s chef d’oeuvre Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV which, unlike any sketch show before or since, was entirely written by its star. It’s no hyperbole to say that finding them felt like digging up buried treasure.

I submitted the first draft of Let’s Do It at the start of lockdown last year. Among the first to read the biography was Lucy Ansbro, the literary executor of the Victoria Wood estate, who intuited that I might feel forlorn at the prospect of letting Victoria go. ‘We’re going to have to find something else for you to do,’ she said. ‘Funny you should say that…’ I replied. With Lucy’s blessing I set out to collect the unpublished work I’d found in the archive.

Plenty of female comics joke about sex now. None did when Victoria, aged 25, nipped to the loo and wrote ‘Sex’

Having no desire to be accused of exploiting Victoria’s memory, or of diluting her status as one of the greats of comedy, I would often interrogate the validity of this project. It was a new dilemma in relation to a beloved entertainer. Usually when the archives of such figures are posthumously exhumed, it’s home movies that surface.

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