Liz Smith (actress)
11 December 1921
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
|Died||24 December 2016
Worthing, West Sussex, England
|Spouse(s)||Jack Thomas (1945–1959; divorced)|
Betty Gleadle, MBE (11 December 1921 – 24 December 2016), known by the stage name Liz Smith, was an English character actress, known for her roles in BBC sitcoms, including as Annie Brandon in I Didn't Know You Cared (1975–79), Bette and Aunt Belle in 2point4 Children (1991–99), Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley (1994–96), and Norma Speakman ("Nana") in The Royle Family (1998–2006). She also played Zillah in Lark Rise to Candleford (2008), and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the 1984 film A Private Function.
Liz Smith was born Betty Gleadle in 1921 in the Crosby area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. When she was two years old, her mother died in childbirth. Her father walked out of her life shortly afterwards, when his new wife did not wish him to have any contact with his previous life. She was brought up by her widowed grandmother and attended Crosby Junior School and the Scunthorpe Modern and Day Commercial Schools in Cole Street. During the Second World War, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service of the Royal Navy.
The moment that my life transformed was when I was standing in Hamleys one Christmas, flogging toys, and I got a message from this young director named Mike Leigh. I was nearly 50 at the time, but he wanted a middle-aged woman to do improvisations. I went to an audition and I got the job of the mother in this improvised film – Bleak Moments, his first film – and it changed my life.
Smith starred in It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow, written by Bernard Kops and directed by John Goldschmidt, which depicted the real-life drama of the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster during World War II. A role in Hard Labour followed. After that she appeared in Emmerdale Farm (as Hilda Semple), Last of the Summer Wine, Bootsie and Snudge, Crown Court, I Didn't Know You Cared and The Sweeney. She also appeared as Madame Balls in The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), but her scenes were deleted and remained unseen until Trail of the Pink Panther in 1982. She was seen in Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) in the same role.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Smith appeared in many popular UK television programmes, including The Duchess of Duke Street, Within These Walls, In Loving Memory, The Gentle Touch, Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, One by One as Gran Turner, and The Lenny Henry Show. In 1984, Liz Smith received a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Maggie Smith's mother in A Private Function.
In 1980 Smith won a role in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End as Lady Philippa of Staines. She later appeared in the thriller, Apartment Zero, which was featured in the 1988 Sundance Film Festival. Smith played the role of one of two eccentric characters (the other is Dora Bryan) described by The Washington Post as two "... tea-and-crumpet gargoyle-featured spinsters who snoop the corridors."
Smith started the 1990s by appearing in 2point4 Children (as "Aunt Belle" and "Bette"), Bottom, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Lovejoy. In 1994, she played the lead role in the Children's BBC series Pirates and the supporting role of Letitia Cropley for seven episodes in The Vicar of Dibley. This made her a household name, but in the 1996 Easter Special episode the character died.
In November 1995, she made a guest appearance in the BBC1 medical drama series Casualty. In 1998, she starred in another sitcom, The Royle Family. This aired until 2000, but came back for a special episode in 2006 when her character, Nana, died. In the meantime, she had appeared in The Queen's Nose, The Bill and Secrets & Lies. In 1999, Smith was featured in A Christmas Carol as Mrs Dilber. She portrayed that same character in the 1984 version, and also appeared as Miss Lory in Alice in Wonderland.
Smith continued to act until ill-health beset her in 2009, appearing in such TV programmes as Trial & Retribution V and Doctors. In 2005, she played Grandma Georgina in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and provided the voice of Mrs. Mulch in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, as well as small roles in Oliver Twist and Keeping Mum. In 2001, she appeared as herself in Lily Savage's Blankety Blank.
In 2006 Smith published her autobiography Our Betty and, around the same time, moved to a retirement home in Hampstead, London. In 2007, she published a series of short stories entitled Jottings: Flights of Fancy and appeared in the Little Man Tate music video "This Must Be Love". On 5 December 2007, Smith won the Best Television Comedy Actress at the British Comedy Awards for her role in The Royle Family.
In 2006 she made a cameo appearance in Kenneth Branagh's film The Magic Flute, a version in English of the Mozart opera. However, her role did not require her to sing. She portrayed Old Papagena who, later on in the film, magically transforms into Young Papagena (played by soprano Silvia Moi) and marries the birdcatcher Papageno (played by baritone Benjamin Jay Davis).
In 2008 she starred in the first series of the period drama Lark Rise to Candleford. That same year she was a castaway on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs and was in the film City of Ember, which was released in October 2008. In July 2009 she featured in a one-hour BBC Four documentary called Liz Smith's Summer Cruise, where she joined a group of like-minded individuals on a cruise from Croatia to Venice. That same month, having suffered a series of strokes a few months earlier, she announced her retirement from acting at the age of 87.
In 2010 she took part in BBC's The Young Ones, in which six celebrities in their 70s and 80s attempted to overcome some of the problems of ageing by harking back to the 1970s.
Personal life and death
In 1945 she married Jack Thomas, whom she met while on service in India. They had two children but divorced in 1959. Smith brought up her son and daughter on her own. She described this as an extremely difficult period in her life, as she struggled against financial difficulties and social disapproval of her status as a divorcee.
Smith died on 24 December 2016 at the age of 95. Shane Allen, controller of BBC comedy commissioning, said that Smith had "brilliantly captured the grandparent in everyone's family" as Nana in The Royle Family. Mike Leigh said "She was a complete breath of fresh air... she was not your bog standard middle-aged actress."
TV and filmography
|Film||1970||Leo the Last||Raving tenant||uncredited|
|Film||1971||Bleak Moments||Pat's Mother|
|TV series||1972||Emmerdale Farm||Hilda Semple||unknown episodes|
|TV series||1973||Last of the Summer Wine||"Spring Fever"||Housekeeper|
|TV series||1973||Play for Today||"Hard Labour"
|TV series||1974||Bedtime Stories||"Jack and the Beanstalk"||Miss Long|
|TV series||1974||Bootsie and Snudge||"Up the Downstairs"||Mrs. Partridge|
|TV series||1974||Crown Court||"Hidden Scars: Part 1"||Mrs. Fowkes|
|TV miniseries||1974||David Copperfield||Mrs. Heep||based on the novel by Charles Dickens; 3 episodes|
|TV series||1974||No, Honestly||"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"||May|
|TV series||1974||Play for Today||"Taking Leave"||Actress|
|TV series||1974||Second City Firsts||"Festive Poacher""The Festive Poacher"|
|TV series||1974||Seven Faces of Woman||"Polly Put the Kettle On"||Madge|
|TV series||1974||South Riding||"Take What You Want and Pay for It"
"The Powers That Be"
|TV series||1974||Village Hall||"There'll Almost Always Be an England"||Mrs. Whalley|
|TV series||1975||Crown Court||"Two in the Mind of One: Part 1"||Kitty Ross|
|TV series||1975||I Didn't Know You Cared||"Cause for Celebration"
"A Knitter in the Family"
"The Old Tin Trunk"
"After the Ball Was Over"
"Aye... Well... Mm..."
"Large or Small, Big or Tall"
"The Axe and Cleaver"
|TV film||1975||It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow||Vi Bell|
|TV series||1975||Play for Today||"Breath"
"Keep an Eye on Albert"
|TV series||1975||Sweeney, TheThe Sweeney||"Hit and Run"||Mrs. Davies, Landlady|
|TV series||1976||Crown Court||"Two in the Mind of One: Part 3"||Kitty Ross|
|TV film||1976||Hunchback of Notre Dame, TheThe Hunchback of Notre Dame||La Falourdel||based on the novel by Victor Hugo|
|TV series||1976||I Didn't Know You Cared||"Way My Wife Looks at Me""The Way My Wife Looks at Me"
"A Woman's Work"
"A Signal Disaster"
"You Should See Me Now"
"Good Wood, God!"
|Film||1976||Pink Panther Strikes Again, TheThe Pink Panther Strikes Again||Marta Balls||scenes deleted; directed by Blake Edwards|
|TV series||1977||Duchess of Duke Street, TheThe Duchess of Duke Street||"Legion of the Living""The Legion of the Living"
|Film||1977||Duellists, TheThe Duellists||Woman reading tarot cards|
|Film||1977||It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet||Mrs. Dodds|
|TV miniseries||1977||Nicholas Nickleby||Peg Sliderskew||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|TV series||1977||Play for Today||"Spend Spend Spend"||Keith's Granny|
|TV series||1977||Ripping Yarns||"Testing of Eric Olthwaite""The Testing of Eric Olthwaite"||Mrs. Bag|
|Film||1977||Stick UpThe Stick Up||Hotel Manageress|
|TV series||1978||I Didn't Know You Cared||"Men at Work"
"A Grave Decision"
"A Bleak Day"
"The Last Tram"
|TV series||1978||Within These Walls||"Is There Anyone There?"
|TV series||1979||I Didn't Know You Cared||"Love Match""The Love Match"
"Love Is a Many Splendoured Thing"
"A Tip Top Day"
"Don't Answer That"
"The Great Escape"
"What's in a Name"
"The Great Day"
|TV series||1980||Bernie||01 episode|
|TV series||1980||In Loving Memory||"Outing""The Outing"||Hilda Pardoe|
|TV series||1980||Play for Today||"Murder Rap"||Elfie|
|Film||1980||Sir Henry at Rawlinson End||Lady Phillipa of Staines|
|Film||1981||French Lieutenant's Woman, TheThe French Lieutenant's Woman||Mrs. Fairley|
|Film||1981||Monster Club, TheThe Monster Club||Villager||uncredited|
|Film||1982||Crystal Gazing||Lady in Pub|
|TV series||1982||Gentle Touch, TheThe Gentle Touch||"One of Those Days"||Edna Slater|
|Film||1982||Give Us This Day||Landlady|
|TV series||1982||In Loving Memory||"Special: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"||Hilda Pardoe|
|TV film||1982||Russian Night... 1941||Frosya|
|Film||1982||Trail of the Pink Panther||Martha Balls|
|TV series||1983||Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime||"House of Lurking Death""The House of Lurking Death"||Hannah MacPherson|
|Film||1983||Curse of the Pink Panther||Marta Balls|
|Film||1983||Fanny Hill||Mrs. Jones||uncredited|
|TV film||1983||Love Story: Mr. Right||Gran|
|TV series||1983||Now and Then||Gran||07 episodes|
|TV film||1983||Separate Tables||Miss Meacham|
|TV series||1984||Bill, TheThe Bill||Maggie|
|TV film||1984||Christmas Carol, AA Christmas Carol||Mrs. Dilber||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|TV series||1984||Lenny Henry Show, TheThe Lenny Henry Show||01 episode|
|TV series||1984||Now and Then||Gran||06 episodes|
|TV series||1984||One by One||"We Called in the Experts"
"Nature's Great Masterpiece"
"They Shoot Tigers in India"
"A Long Weekend"
"The Woman's Touch"
"Ends and Beginnings"
|Film||1984||Private Function, AA Private Function||Joyce's Mother||BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role|
|TV series||1985||Mann's Best Friends||Mrs. Anstruther||04 episodes|
|TV series||1985||Rainbow||"Overhelpfuls"||Auntie Liz|
|TV film||1986||Harem||Mrs. Pendleton||miniseries-movie|
|TV series||1986||King & Castle||"Friends"||Mrs. Chalmers|
|TV miniseries||1986||Life and Loves of a She-Devil, TheThe Life and Loves of a She-Devil||Mrs. Fisher||based on the novel by Fay Weldon|
|TV series||1987||Bust||"Man of Property"||Brenda Walsh|
|TV miniseries||1987||Imaginary Friends||Milly Munger||based on the 1967 novel by Alison Lurie|
|TV series||1987||Valentine Park||Mrs. Giles||04 episodes|
|TV film||1987||When We Are Married||Mrs. Northrop|
|TV series||1987||Worlds Beyond||"Undying Love"|
|Film||1987||Little Dorrit||Mrs. Bangham, Midwife||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|Film||1988||Apartment Zero||Mary Louise McKinney|
|Film||1988||High Spirits||Mrs. Plunkett|
|TV series||1988||Valentine Park||"No Particular Place to Go"
"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
"A Rose by Any Other Name"
"Heroes and Villains"
|Film||1988||We Think the World of You||Millie|
|TV series||1989||All Change||"Bosom of the Family""The Bosom of the Family"||Aunt Mary|
|Film||1989||Bert Rigby, You're a Fool||Mrs. Rigby|
|Film||1989||Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, TheThe Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover||Grace|
|TV series||1989||Screen Two||"Words of Love"||Gran|
|TV series||1989||Singles||"Family Likeness"||Mrs. Phelps|
|TV series||1989||Wonderworks: Young Charlie Chaplin||Mrs. Greenwood||01 episode|
|TV series||1990||Bit of Fry & Laurie, AA Bit of Fry & Laurie||01 episode|
|TV film||1990||Dunrulin||Mrs. Trodd|
|TV series||1990||Screen Two||"Drowning in the Shallow End"||Agent|
|TV series||1991||2point4 Children||"Love and Marriage"||Bette||12 episodes total|
|TV series||1991||Bill, TheThe Bill||Mrs. West|
|TV series||1991||Bottom||"Apocalypse"||Fortune Teller|
|TV series||1991||El C.I.D.||"Paradise Mislaid"||Mildred|
|TV series||1991||Making Out||01 episode|
|TV series||1992||2point4 Children||"I'm Going Slightly Mad"
|Bette||12 episodes total|
|Film||1992||Dakota Road||Joan Benson|
|TV series||1992||Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, TheThe Young Indiana Jones Chronicles||"Barcelona, May 1917"||Delfina|
|TV series||1993||2point4 Children||"Secret Diary of David Porter""The Secret Diary of David Porter"
"Babes in the Wood"
|Bette and Belle
|12 episodes total|
|TV series||1993||Cluedo||"Finders Keepers"
"Seven Deadly Sinners"
"The Word, the Flesh & the Devil"
"The Hanged Man (10 May 1993)"
"Where There's a Will"
"Publish and Be Damned"
|TV series||1993||Lovejoy||"God Helps Those"||Florence|
|Film||1993||Piccolo Grande Amore||Queen Mother|
|Film||1993||Son of the Pink Panther||Marta Balls|
|TV series||1994||2point4 Children||"You Only Live Twice"
|Bette||12 episodes total|
|TV film||1994||Doggin' Around||Mrs. Thompson|
|TV series||1994||New Voices||"Bad Voodoo"||Nana|
|TV series||1994||Pirates||Gran (Abigail Blood)|
|TV series||1994||Takin' Over the Asylum||"Fly Like an Eagle"||Harriet|
|TV series||1994||Vicar of Dibley, TheThe Vicar of Dibley||"Arrival""The Arrival"
"Songs of Praise"
"The Window & the Weather"
"The Easter Bunny"
|TV series||1995||2point4 Children||"Mayday"||Bette||12 episodes total|
|TV series||1995||Casualty||"Hit and Run"||Tillie|
|Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series||1995||Crapston Villas||Delia (voice)|
|Film||1995||Haunted||Old Gypsy Woman|
|TV series||1996||2point4 Children||"Vertigo"
"Two Years Before the Mast"
|Bette||12 episodes total|
|TV series||1996||Queen's Nose, TheThe Queen's Nose||Grandma||01 episode|
|Film||1996||Secrets & Lies||Cat Owner|
|TV series||1996||Vicar of Dibley, TheThe Vicar of Dibley||"Easter Bunny""The Easter Bunny"||Letitia Cropley|
|Film||1997||Keep the Aspidistra Flying||Mrs. Meakin||a.k.a. A Merry War|
|TV series||1998||2point4 Children||"When Did You Last See Your Father"||Bette||12 episodes total|
|Short film||1998||Anthrakitis||Dolly||10 minutes|
|TV series||1998||Bill, TheThe Bill||Edna Finch|
|Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series||1998||Canterbury Tales, TheThe Canterbury Tales||"Leaving London"||HagThe Hag (voice)|
|TV series||1998||Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family||"Sunday Afternoon"
|Norma Speakman||11 episodes total|
|TV series||1998||V.I.P.||"Beats Working at a Hot Dog Stand"||Gossip Columnist|
|TV series||1999||2point4 Children||"Enter the Dragon"||Bette||12 episodes total|
|TV film||1999||Alice in Wonderland||Miss Lory|
|TV film||1999||Christmas Carol, AA Christmas Carol||Mrs. Dilber||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|TV miniseries||1999||Oliver Twist||Sally||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|TV series||1999||Queen's Nose, TheThe Queen's Nose||"Harmony's Return"||Grandma|
|TV series||1999||Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family||"Sunday Lunch"
"Nana Comes to Stay"
"Christmas with the Royle Family"
|Norma Speakman||11 episodes total|
|TV series||1999||Ruth Rendell Mysteries, TheThe Ruth Rendell Mysteries||"Lake of Darkness""The Lake of Darkness"||Lena Finn|
|Film||1999||Tom's Midnight Garden||Mrs. Willows|
|TV film||1999||Tube Tales||"Horny"||Older Lady|
|Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series||2000||Animated Tales of the World||"Story from Taiwan""A Story from Taiwan: Aunt Tiger"||Third Aunt (voice)|
|TV film||2000||Christmas Carol, AA Christmas Carol||Joyce||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|TV series||2000||City Central||"Half Man Half Cop"||Megan Roberts|
|TV film||2000||Donovan Quick||Granny|
|TV series||2000||Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family||"Funeral"
"The Royle Family at Christmas"
|Norma Speakman||11 episodes total|
|TV film||2001||Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, TheThe Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby||Peg Sliderskew||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|TV series||2002||Bill, TheThe Bill||Harriet 'Tatsie' Wright||02 episodes|
|TV film||2002||Good ThiefA Good Thief||Lizzie|
|TV series||2002||Trial & Retribution||Mrs. Dorothy Norton||02 episodes|
|Animated short filmAnimated short film||2003||Anna Spud||Gran (voice)||10 minutes|
|TV miniseries||2003||Between the Sheets||Audrey Delany|
|TV series||2003||Doctors||English Woman's Home"An English Woman's Home"||Agatha Clifford|
|TV miniseries||2004||Imperium: Nerone||Soothsayer|
|Film||2005||Charlie and the Chocolate Factory||Grandma Georgina|
|Film||2005||Keeping Mum||Mrs. Parker|
|Film||2005||Oliver Twist||Old Woman||based on the novel by Charles Dickens|
|Animated film||2005||Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit||Mrs. Mulch (voice)|
|Film||2006||Magic Flute, TheThe Magic Flute||Old Papagena||music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart|
|TV series||2006||Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family||"Queen of Sheba""The Queen of Sheba"||Norma Speakman||11 episodes total
2007 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress
|TV film||2007||Abbey, TheThe Abbey|
|Film||2008||City of Ember||Granny Mayfleet|
|TV series||2008||Lark Rise to Candleford||Zillah||10 episodes|
|TV film||2009||Antiques Rogue ShowThe Antiques Rogue Show||Olive Greenhalgh|
|TV film||2009||All Star Impressions ShowThe All Star Impressions Show||Queen Elizabeth II|
|TV miniseries||2013||Common Ground||"Colin's Mum"||Colin's Mum||1 episode|
|TV series||2013||The Tunnel||Harriet Stone|
- "FreeBMD Entry Info".
- Liz Smith gets MBE, This Is Scunthorpe, 14 July 2009.
- Kenny, Ursula (21 October 2007). "This much I know". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
- Star Pupils Revealed at Scunthorpe Telegraph. Retrieved 9 July 2016
- Liz Gets MBE at Scunthorpe Telegraph. Retrieved 9 July 2016
- "Apartment Zero' (R)". The Washington Post. 3 November 1989. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
- Lily Savage's Blankety Blank. 22 April 2001. ITV.
- Smith, L. (2006), Our Betty – Scenes from my Life, London: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-1161-8
- "Little Man Tate Bring Nanna Royle Back From The Dead". Gigwise.com. 1 March 2007. Archived from the original on 3 March 2007.
- Osborn, Michael (6 December 2007). "Smith wins for Royle performance". BBC News website.
- Staff (5 July 2009). "Actress Liz Smith to quit acting". BBC News website. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
- The London Gazette: . 31 December 2008.
- Smyth, Chris (31 December 2008). "Terry Pratchett lost for words as he receives knighthood". The Times. London.
- "The Young Ones – BBC One".
- "Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Liz Smith". BBC. 2008-03-09. Retrieved 2013-10-20.
- "Royle Family star Liz Smith dies at 95".
- "'Royle Family' actress Liz Smith dies". BBC News. 26 December 2016.