Linda Smith - Comedian with a deft satirical edge to her turns of phrase
Linda Smith, the comedian and broadcaster, probably best known for her work on BBC radio's The News Quiz and Just a Minute, has died of cancer aged 48. She was born at Erith in Kent, a town of which she said: "It's not twinned with anywhere, but it does have a suicide pact with Dagenham." She had no fondness for the place. Her father worked on the railway. Her family was hard-up and she very much enjoyed shopping when she eventually became comfortable, describing her spending habits as "working-class fecklessness".
After Erith College and Sheffield University, where she read English and drama, she lived in the city for many years. Despite a strong south-east London twang, she had a very Yorkshire way with words. She was very particular in finding (often in an instant) the most precise and elegant language. I think she also absorbed a lot of Jewishness from Warren Lakin, her partner for 23 years.
She mentally stored quaint expressions, bizarre and silly turns of phrase, literary and biblical text and movie dialogue. She loved films old and new, and could reference Frank Capra and Billy Wilder as readily as she could Martin Scorsese. And she went beyond the obvious in her use of simile. She once described the designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen as looking like Margaret Lockwood in The Wicked Lady.
She read voraciously despite being dyslexic. Her writing was done in her head or longhand on bits of paper. She never mastered the computer keyboard, and her beloved and devoted Warren would type everything up for her. She could be quite scatty, but her brain was extraordinary. She also had a very big heart, and was adored by a lot of people.
In fact, she was one of the most popular people I have known. Her fans felt not only admiration but great affection for her. And you knew if you were going to be working with her, that it was going to be a good show and a lot of fun.
In 1983, she started working with Sheffield Popular Theatre, where she met Warren. She wrote, devised, produced and directed productions. She cut her teeth as a performer during the miners' strike, when she performed many benefits in South Yorkshire Miners' Welfare clubs. She began performing in a double act called Tough Lovers with Ann Lavelle. It was the stand-up element of the show that she really took to and she decided that that was where her future lay. She was the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year in 1987. In 1993, she moved with Warren to east London. But she is still held in high regard in South Yorkshire for the political and theatrical work she did there.
In the mid 1990s, she started to become well-known to radio listeners. She appeared on many shows, of which the News Quiz, Just a Minute and her own series, Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting, are best known. She also racked up numerous television appearances, but, as a wordsmith, she always seemed happiest on radio and on stage. In 2002, she was voted Wittiest Living Person by Radio 4 listeners.
She was a true satirist with an eye for the ridiculous, the bogus and the vain. Her leftwing politics were never dry nor passionless, nor did they stray into rhetoric. They came from a basic sense of what is decent, fair, sensible and humane. She was an observant atheist and had been president of the British Humanist Association for two years. She was deeply sceptical about many things and her wit could be savagely cutting, but I do not think it was ever cruel. She was hard but fair.
As she became better and better known, her live shows became extremely popular and she was still very much in the ascendant when bad health intervened. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 but kept the fact very quiet. She was extremely proud and never wanted to be defined by her illness. She spoke of it as little as possible. At times, I would forget she was ill and would moan about my own problems. Then, when I apologised, she would wryly say: "No, no, for me it's light relief."
She was strong and brave, and determined to live for as long as she could. She could be darkly humorous about what she was going through and, if she had ever decided to write about it, she would have set an unattainable standard for the genre. But she hated her cancer and I don't think she wanted to give it the publicity. As Linda might have said about herself: "She didn't exactly rage against the dying of the light, but she gave it quite a look." She died at home with family and friends around her.
She is survived by Warren and her sister Barbara.
· Linda Smith, comedian and broadcaster, born January 25 1958; died February 27 2006
- There will be a special tribute edition of the News Quiz on Radio 4 this Friday at 6.30 pm
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Linda Smith Dies Funny.co.uk
Linda Smith Dies New Humanist
Linda Smith The Telegraph
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As witty offstage as on it Evening Standard
Radio comedian Linda Smith dies, aged 48 The Times
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Writer and broadcaster Linda Smith dies The Stage
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