Liz Smith (actress)

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Liz Smith

Betty Gleadle

(1921-12-11)11 December 1921
Died24 December 2016(2016-12-24) (aged 95)
Years active1969–2013
Height5 ft 4 in (1.63 m)[citation needed]
Jack Thomas
(m. 1945; div. 1959)

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 (1975–1979), the sisters Bette and Belle in 2point4 Children (1991–1999), Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley (1994–1996) and Norma Jean Speakman ("Nana") in The Royle Family (1998–2000, 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.

Early life[edit]

Liz Smith was born Betty Gleadle[2] in 1921 in the Crosby area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.[3] Her mother died when she was two.[4] 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.[4] She was brought up by her widowed grandmother and attended Crosby Junior School[5] and the Scunthorpe Modern and Day Commercial Schools in Cole Street.[6] During the Second World War, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service of the Royal Navy.[7]


Early roles[edit]

In 1971, aged 49, she had a career breakthrough when she appeared as the downtrodden mother in Mike Leigh's film Bleak Moments:

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), and later Son of the Pink Panther (1993) in the same role.[citation needed]

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 the mother of Maggie Smith's character 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."[8]


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.

2000s and 2010s[edit]

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.[citation needed] In 2001, she appeared as herself in Lily Savage's Blankety Blank.[9]

In 2006 Smith published her autobiography Our Betty[10] 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".[11] On 5 December 2007, Smith won the Best Television Comedy Actress at the British Comedy Awards for her role in The Royle Family.[12]

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.[13]

Smith was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[14][15]

In 2010, she took part in the BBC TV programme 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.[16]

Personal life and death[edit]

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.[17]

Smith died on 24 December 2016 at her home in Worthing, West Sussex,[1] thirteen days after her 95th birthday.[18] 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."[19] The final episode of the lockdown edition of The Vicar of Dibley ended with a tribute just before the closing credits reading, "In loving memory of Liz, John, Emma and Roger", paying tribute to her and also three other late Dibley cast members (John Bluthal, Emma Chambers and Roger Lloyd-Pack).

TV and filmography[edit]

Genre Year Title Episode Role Notes
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"
"Jack Point"
Mrs. Thornley
Mrs. Matthews
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" Mrs. Fowkes Episode 3
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 "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"
Nellie Huggins
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"
Mrs Brandon
TV film 1975 It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow Vi Bell
TV series 1975 Play for Today "Breath"
"Keep an Eye on Albert"
Mrs. Pritchett
Mrs. Oxfam
TV series 1975 The Sweeney "Hit and Run" Mrs. Davies, Landlady
Film 1976 It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet Mrs. Dodds
TV series 1976 Crown Court "Two in the Mind of One: Part 3" Kitty Ross
TV film 1976 The Hunchback of Notre Dame La Falourdel based on the novel by Victor Hugo
TV series 1976 I Didn't Know You Cared "The Way My Wife Looks at Me"
"Chez Us"
"A Woman's Work"
"A Signal Disaster"
"You Should See Me Now"
"Good Wood, God!"
Mrs Brandon
Film 1976 The Pink Panther Strikes Again Marta Balls scenes deleted; directed by Blake Edwards
TV series 1977 The Duchess of Duke Street "The Legion of the Living"
"Winter Lament"
Film 1977 The Duellists Woman reading tarot cards
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 "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite" Mrs. Bag
Film 1977 The Stick Up Hotel Manageress
TV series 1978 I Didn't Know You Cared "Men at Work"
"A Grave Decision"
"Party Games"
"A Bleak Day"
"Stout Deeds"
"Paradise Lost"
"The Last Tram"
Mrs Brandon
TV series 1978 Within These Walls "Is There Anyone There?"
Tottie Dowd
Film 1979 Agatha Flora
TV series 1979 I Didn't Know You Cared "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"
Mrs Brandon
TV series 1980 Bernie 1 episode
TV series 1980 In Loving Memory "The Outing" Hilda Pardoe
TV series 1980 Madhouse
TV series 1980 Play for Today "Murder Rap" Elfie
Film 1980 Sir Henry at Rawlinson End Lady Phillipa of Staines
Film 1981 The Monster Club Villager Uncredited
Film 1981 The French Lieutenant's Woman Mrs. Fairley
Film 1982 Britannia Hospital Maisie
Film 1982 Crystal Gazing Lady in Pub
TV series 1982 The 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 "The House of Lurking Death" Hannah MacPherson
Film 1983 Fanny Hill Mrs. Jones Uncredited
Film 1983 Curse of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
TV series 1983 The All Electric Amusement Arcade Gran
TV film 1983 Love Story: Mr. Right Gran
TV series 1983 Now and Then Gran 7 episodes
TV film 1983 Separate Tables Miss Meacham
TV series 1984 The Bill Maggie
TV film 1984 A Christmas Carol Mrs. Dilber based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 1984 The Lenny Henry Show 1 episode
TV series 1984 Now and Then Gran 6 episodes
TV series 1984 One by One "We Called in the Experts"
"Nature's Great Masterpiece"
"They Shoot Tigers in India"
"Silver Linings"
"Pastures New"
"A Long Weekend"
"Doctor's Orders"
"The Woman's Touch"
"Ends and Beginnings"
Gran Turner
Film 1984 A Private Function Joyce's Mother BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
TV series 1985 Mann's Best Friends Mrs. Anstruther 4 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 The 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 4 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 We Think the World of You Millie
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"
Mrs. Giles
TV series 1989 All Change "The Bosom of the Family" Aunt Mary
Film 1989 Bert Rigby, You're a Fool Mrs. Rigby
Film 1989 The 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 1 episode
TV series 1990 A Bit of Fry & Laurie 1 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 The 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 1 episode
TV series 1992 2point4 Children "I'm Going Slightly Mad"
Bette 12 episodes total
Film 1992 Dakota Road Joan Benson
TV series 1992 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles "Barcelona, May 1917" Delfina
TV series 1993 2point4 Children "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"
Mrs. White
TV series 1993 Lovejoy "God Helps Those" Florence
Film 1993 Son of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
Film 1993 Piccolo Grande Amore Queen Mother
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 1994-1996 The Vicar of Dibley "The Arrival"
"Songs of Praise"
"Community Spirit"
"The Window & the Weather"
"The Easter Bunny"
Letitia Cropley
TV series 1995 2point4 Children "Mayday" Bette 12 episodes total
TV series 1995 Casualty "Hit and Run" Tillie
Animated 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 Karaoke "Friday"
Mrs. Baglin
TV series 1996 The Queen's Nose Grandma 1 episode
Film 1996 Secrets & Lies Cat Owner
Film 1997 Keep the Aspidistra Flying Mrs. Meakin a.k.a. A Merry War
Film 1998 Sweet Revenge Winnie
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 The Bill Edna Finch
Animated TV series 1998 The Canterbury Tales "Leaving London" The Hag Voice
TV series 1998-2006 The Royle Family "Sunday Afternoon"
"Wedding Day"
"Sunday Lunch"
"Nana Comes to Stay"
"Antony's Birthday"
"Christmas with the Royle Family"
"The Christening"
"The Royle Family at Christmas"
"The Queen of Sheba" - 2007 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress
Norma Jean 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 A 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 The Queen's Nose "Harmony's Return" Grandma
TV series 1999 The Ruth Rendell Mysteries "The Lake of Darkness" Lena Finn
Film 1999 Tom's Midnight Garden Mrs. Willows
Film 1999 Tube Tales Old Lady (segment "Horny")
Animated TV series 2000 Animated Tales of the World "A Story from Taiwan: Aunt Tiger" Third Aunt Voice
TV film 2000 A 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 film 2001 The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Peg Sliderskew based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 2002 The Bill Harriet 'Tatsie' Wright 2 episodes
TV film 2002 A Good Thief Lizzie
TV series 2002 Trial & Retribution Mrs. Dorothy Norton 2 episodes
Animated short film 2003 Anna Spud Gran Voice, 10 minutes
TV miniseries 2003 Between the Sheets Audrey Delany
TV series 2003 Doctors "An English Woman's Home" Agatha Clifford
Film 2004 Dead Cool Liz
TV miniseries 2004 Imperium: Nerone Soothsayer
Film 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Grandma Georgina
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 2005 Keeping Mum Mrs. Parker
Film 2006 The Magic Flute Old Papagena music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
TV film 2007 The Abbey
Film 2008 City of Ember Granny Mayfleet
Film 2008 Flick Ma horror film
TV series 2008 Lark Rise to Candleford Zillah 10 episodes
TV film 2009 The Antiques Rogue Show Olive Greenhalgh
TV film 2009 The 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 (final appearance)


  1. ^ a b Wynn-Davies, Stephen (27 December 2016). "Tributes paid to Worthing resident Liz Smith". Worthing Herald. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ "FreeBMD Entry Info".
  3. ^ Liz Smith gets MBE, This Is Scunthorpe, 14 July 2009.
  4. ^ a b Kenny, Ursula (21 October 2007). "This much I know". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  5. ^ Star Pupils Revealed at Scunthorpe Telegraph Archived 1 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Liz Gets MBE at Scunthorpe Telegraph Archived 3 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Barker, Dennis (26 December 2016). "Liz Smith obituary". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "Apartment Zero' (R)". The Washington Post. 3 November 1989. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  9. ^ Lily Savage's Blankety Blank. 22 April 2001. ITV.
  10. ^ Smith, L. (2006), Our Betty – Scenes from my Life, London: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-1161-8
  11. ^ "Little Man Tate Bring Nanna Royle Back From The Dead". 1 March 2007. Archived from the original on 3 March 2007.
  12. ^ Osborn, Michael (6 December 2007). "Smith wins for Royle performance". BBC News website.
  13. ^ Staff (5 July 2009). "Actress Liz Smith to quit acting". BBC News website. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
  14. ^ "No. 58929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2008. p. 22.
  15. ^ Smyth, Chris (31 December 2008). "Terry Pratchett lost for words as he receives knighthood". The Times. London.
  16. ^ "The Young Ones – BBC One".
  17. ^ "Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Liz Smith". BBC Radio 4. BBC. 9 March 2008. Archived from the original on 13 April 2019. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  18. ^ Press Association 2019 (27 December 2016). "Royle Family star Liz Smith dies at 95". Kidderminster Shuttle. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  19. ^ "'Royle Family' actress Liz Smith dies". BBC News Online. BBC News. BBC. 26 December 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2019.

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