Mel Smith

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Mel Smith
Mel Smith (cropped).jpg
Smith in the 1980s
Birth nameMelvyn Kenneth Smith
Born(1952-12-03)3 December 1952
Chiswick, London, England
Died19 July 2013(2013-07-19) (aged 60)
London, England
MediumFilm, television
Years active1979–2013
GenresPolitical satire and sketch comedy
Pamela Gay-Rees
(m. 1988)
Notable works and rolesNot the Nine O'Clock News
Alas Smith and Jones

Melvyn Kenneth Smith (3 December 1952 – 19 July 2013) was an English comedian, actor and director. Smith worked on the sketch comedy shows Not the Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones with his comedy partner, Griff Rhys Jones. Smith and Jones founded Talkback, which grew to be one of the United Kingdom's largest producers of television comedy and light entertainment programming.

Early life[edit]

Smith's father, Kenneth, was born in Tow Law, County Durham, and worked at a coal mine during the Second World War; looking after the pit ponies. After the war ended, he moved to London and married Smith's mother, whose parents owned a greengrocers in Chiswick. When the government legalised high street betting with the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, he turned the shop into the first betting shop in Chiswick.[1]

Smith was born and brought up in Chiswick.[2] He was educated at Hogarth Primary School, Chiswick, and at Latymer Upper School, a private school in Hammersmith. He studied Experimental Psychology at New College, Oxford.[3][4]


Whilst at Oxford University, Smith produced The Tempest, and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe with the Oxford University Dramatic Society. One year they shared a venue with the Cambridge Footlights, directed by John Lloyd. His extra-curricular activities while at university led to his joining the Royal Court Theatre production team in London, and then Bristol Old Vic. He was also associate director of Sheffield's Crucible Theatre for two years. Later, he directed a theatre production of Not in Front of the Audience.[5]

John Lloyd later gained the opportunity to develop the idea that became the satirical BBC television series Not the Nine O'Clock News. This was followed briefly by Smith and Goody (with Bob Goody) and then the comedy sketch series Alas Smith and Jones, co-starring Griff Rhys Jones, its title being a pun on the name of the American television series Alias Smith and Jones. In 1982, he starred as the lead role in ITV drama Muck and Brass where he played Tom Craig, a ruthless property developer. In 1984, he appeared in the Minder episode "A Star Is Gorn" playing the character Cyril Ash, a record producer. He also guest-starred on The Goodies episode "Animals".[6] At the end of the 1980s, he played the title role in the sitcom Colin's Sandwich (1988–90), playing a British Rail employee with aspirations to be a writer.

In 1981, Smith and Griff Rhys Jones founded TalkBack Productions, a company that produced many of the most significant British comedy shows of the following decades, including Smack the Pony, Da Ali G Show, I'm Alan Partridge and Big Train. In 2000, the company was sold to Pearson for £62 million.[7] Dressed as bobbies, Smith and Jones introduced Queen on stage at Live Aid in July 1985, with Smith removing his helmet before shouting into the microphone, "her majesty, Queen!"[8]

Smith co-wrote and took the lead role in the space comedy Morons from Outer Space (1985), but the film failed to make much impact. His next cinema effort was better received as director of The Tall Guy (1989), giving Emma Thompson a major screen role. Perhaps his best-known film in America is Brain Donors, the 1992 update of the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera, starring Smith as a cheeky, opportunistic cab driver turned ballet promoter. Paramount Pictures considered this film the outstanding comedy of the year, but when the producers left Paramount for another studio, Paramount withdrew its support for the film.[9]

In 1987, Smith recorded a single with Kim Wilde for Comic Relief: a cover of the Christmas song "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" with some additional comedy lines written by Smith and Jones.[10] The pairing of Smith and Wilde was a comic allusion to the duo Mel and Kim. The song reached number three in the UK charts.[11] The same year he appeared in The Princess Bride as the Albino.[12]

Smith and Jones were reunited in 2005 for a review/revival of their earlier television series in The Smith And Jones Sketchbook. Smith joked: "Obviously, Griff's got more money than me so he came to work in a Rolls-Royce and I came on a bicycle. But it was great fun to do and we are firmly committed to doing something new together, because you don't chuck that sort of chemistry away. Of course, I'll have to pretend I like Restoration."[13]

In August 2006, Smith returned to the theatre stage after some 20 years, appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in Allegiance, Irish journalist and author Mary Kenny's play about Churchill's encounter with the Irish nationalist leader Michael Collins in 1921.[14] The play initially caused some controversy, with Smith proposing to flout the Scottish ban on smoking in public places, but the scene was quickly adapted after gaining the required amount of publicity. The play was directed by Brian Gilbert and produced by Daniel Jewel.[15] In 2006, he also appeared in Hustle as Benjamin Frasier, a pub landlord who was scammed by the Hustle team when his on-screen son Joey tried to launch a rap career.

In autumn 2006, Smith starred opposite Belinda Lang in a tour of a new comedy An Hour and a Half Late by French playwright Gérald Sibleyras, which was adapted by Smith. He then directed a West End revival of Charley's Aunt starring Stephen Tompkinson. From October 2007 to January 2008, he played the role of Wilbur Turnblad in the London production of Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Smith was married to Pamela (née Gay-Rees), a former model, who grew up in Easington and Durham. The couple had houses in St John's Wood, London, and the hamlet of Great Haseley, Oxfordshire,[17] as well as a property in Barbados.[18]


Smith was hospitalised in 1999 with stomach ulcers, following an accidental overdose of over 50 Nurofen Plus tablets in one day, after previously admitting an addiction to sleeping pills. Smith said at the time that the pressures of film work were a contributing factor, along with a desperate need to ease the pain caused by gout. Partly as a result, he agreed to sell Talkback Productions. On 31 December 2008, Smith appeared on Celebrity Mastermind whilst suffering from severe pharyngitis.[19]


On the morning of 19 July 2013, the London Ambulance Service was called to Smith's home in north-west London. Smith was confirmed dead by the ambulance crew, with a later post-mortem confirming death from a heart attack.[20]

Television shows[edit]


  • 2000 Too Much Sun television series, six episodes
  • 1995 Tough Target television series, one episode





Executive producer[edit]





  1. ^ [dead link] "Newcastle one, Hollywood nil (From The Northern Echo)". 22 July 2001. Retrieved 8 December 2010.
  2. ^ "Smith, Melvyn Kenneth [Mel] (1952–2013)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/107066. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Cavendish, Dominic (22 July 2006). "I'm hoping to cover my air fare". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  4. ^ "Smith, Mel". British Film Institute. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  5. ^ "Mel Smith Biography". Debretts. Archived from the original on 25 December 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  6. ^ "Smith, Mel: Filmography". BFI Film & TV Database. Archived from the original on 29 January 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  7. ^ "Pearson TV buys TalkBack". BBC News. 14 June 2000. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  8. ^ Live Aid: The Greatest Show on Earth. Sidgwick & Jackson. 1985. p. 118.
  9. ^ "Brain Donors". Lost Reel Review. Archived from the original on 4 September 2015. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  10. ^ "Rockin' around the Christmas tree". Wilde Life: Lyrics. Archived from the original on 25 January 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  11. ^ Warwick, Neil; Kutner, Tony; Kutner, Jon (2004). The Complete Book of the British Charts (3rd ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 1012.
  12. ^ "The Cast of The Princess Bride: Where Are They Now?". 14 October 2014.
  13. ^ Chadwick, Alan (7 August 2006). "Mel Smith". Metro. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  14. ^ Cavendish, Dominic (22 July 2006). "I'm hoping to cover my air fare". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 27 October 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  15. ^ "Allegiance (2005)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  16. ^ "Mel Smith to make West End debut". BBC News. 22 August 2007. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  17. ^ White, Roland (17 October 2010). "Alas, Mel Smith is moving on". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 26 December 2013.
  18. ^ Shales, Melissa (29 June 2007). Globetrotter Travel Pack – Barbados. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1845375607.
  19. ^ "Mel Smith health fears allayed". Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  20. ^ "Mel Smith dies of a heart attack aged 60". BBC News. 20 July 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2013.

External links[edit]