Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

March 19, 2006

Janet farewelled

The current season ended with tribute being paid to Janet Staplehurst who is giving up the whistle as has been mentioned here.

The only other time a tribute has been paid to a departing member was Derek Nimmo whose death mid-season led to the next show being dedicated to him. I wondered if some thing similar might be done for Linda Smith but it wasn't.

Of course the tributes underlined that the JAM regulars are a happy team, and obviously enjoy being with their producer and production assistant. I think they have also had the same sound engineer, Martha (sorry I don't know her surname) for many years.

I understand that preparations are already under way for JAM's 40th - which is almost two years away. That suggests that Claire Jones is staying on. She's certainly had a long run - she has now produced 116 editions - second only to David Hatch on 165. If she is still there at the beginning of 2007 she will be only a few shows behind David.

She had to pick things up after the death of Peter Jones and Derek Nimmo within a year. She's done amazingly well.

March 18, 2006

Kenneth - still a ratings winner

Kenneth Williams drama wins biggest-ever audience for BBC4

Ben Dowell
Tuesday March 14, 2006

Fantabulosa, BBC4's drama about the troubled Carry On comedian Kenneth Williams, was the highest-rated programme in the history of the network, according to unofficial overnights.

The drama attracted an average of 846,000 viewers last night, the same number as watched The Alan Clark Diaries starring John Hurt as the maverick Tory MP in 2003. However, Fantabulosa attracted a higher peak audience of 964,000 viewers and its average viewing is certain to rise once the figures are consolidated.

Fantabulosa, in which Michael Sheen took the lead role, was also a sole BBC4 commission while The Alan Clark Diaries was made in conjunction with BBC2, making the former easily the most popular sole BBC4 commission.

The timing for the ratings could not have been better for the channel, which is awaiting the government's verdict on its 10-year future in today's white paper.

The news of the drama's success was welcomed by the BBC4 controller, Janice Hadlow, who praised Sheen's performance for "deservedly" winning the channel its highest-ever rating.

"It shows that our original approach to single-subject dramas exploring figures from our recent past can really capture the imagination of our audience," Ms Hadlow said.

March 13, 2006

Kenneth on TV!

The TV network BBC4 is having a Kenneth Williams night on Monday night.

The programmes on offer are...

7:00 pm Round the Horne... Revisited - Original scripts for the cult 1960s radio show adapted for television by Brian Cooke, the only surviving writer from the Round the Horne quartet, with the original cast played by actors.

8:30 pm Kenneth Williams in His Own Words - Drawing from the extensive BBC archive of footage from Williams' long career, this film allows a unique comedy talent and much-loved performer to tell his own story in his own words.

9:00 pm Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! - Michael Sheen stars in this drama adapted from Kenneth Williams' own diaries; a behind the scenes look at one of Britain's most popular, and tragic, comic performers. Some strong language.

10:20 pm Jackanory - The Dribblesome Teapots: From 1969 to 1986, Kenneth Williams presented 69 episodes of the children's story series, including this classic from 1978 written by Norman Hunter.

10:35 pm Reputations: Kenneth Williams - 1/2. Seriously Outrageous: Two-part documentary exploring the eccentric actor Kenneth Williams, a man who hid his unhappiness by creating humour from misery.

11:35 pm Reputations: Kenneth Williams - 2/2. Desperately Funny: The second of a two-part documentary following Williams through his days on the Carry On films, the chat show years, and to his mysterious death. Some strong language.

sounds like it's worth a walk all the way from Great Portland Street to see - after all the man's a cult, and we all need a chance to see that spun golden hair again...

I have seen the Reputations programmes and if you haven't, regard this as a must - an outstanding doco on Kenneth's life including rare clips from the unbroadcast JAM TV pilot that Kenneth made - and of Derek Nimmo doing a very good impression of Kenneth at his best/worst!

March 10, 2006

the current season

I am sad that the current season finishes this week - but I can't help thinking it hasn't been the greatest season. A friend sent me some "new" Kenneth from the mid 70s and the shows are all so good. Peter, Clement, Derek, Aimi, Sheila, Alfred Marks all excellent support but it's Kenneth that makes the shows so good. I think Paul hasn't been at his best this year. He is such a key to the show and if he is quiet the shows don't seem to work as well.

March 08, 2006

Another JAM veteran dies

JAM guest John Junkin has died.

John appeared in eight JAMs between 1980 and 1992, and was one of the "braver" guests, challenging Kenneth within a few minutes of his first show for being "boring".

It's certainly been a sad few weeks for JAM fans.

Here's how the BBC reported it - an obituary follows.

Comedy veteran John Junkin dies

Comedian and writer John Junkin has died at the age of 76.

Junkin, who was in the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night and appeared in TV shows such as The Goodies, had been suffering from lung cancer.

He died at 0130 GMT at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, said his friend and former BBC Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis.

Five years ago, Junkin made a TV comeback in EastEnders, playing Ernie, a stranger who came into the Queen Vic.

The Ealing-born comedian had also had emphysema and asthma.

Junkin's film roles included Shake, who was one of the road managers in the Beatles' 1964 comedy adventure, A Hard Day's Night.

He also appeared in classic British comedy The Plank, with Tommy Cooper and Eric Sykes.


He was also a prolific writer. His credits include the Morcambe and Wise show and ITV's Hark at Barker, which starred Ronnie Barker as Lord Rustless alongside Josephine Tewson as Mildred Bates.

Junkin also wrote and appeared in Marty, which starred Marty Feldman.

More recently, Junkin was on the writing team of The Crazy World of Joe Pasquale and The Impressionable John Culshaw.

He also appeared in sitcoms Terry and June and Till Death Us Do Part.

His radio credits include Hello Cheeky! alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer, which was later turned into a TV series.

Obituary: John Junkin

John Junkin: Master of mirth and noted character actor

John Junkin, who has died aged 76, was a familiar face in dozens of films, TV plays, comedies and game shows, but he was also a prolific scriptwriter for many of Britain's top comedians.

Together with Barry Cryer, Neil Shand, Eddie Braben and Spike Mullins, John Junkin was one of a select band of comedy writers responsible for scripting some of the most popular television shows of recent years.

John Junkin was born in Ealing, west London, in January 1930 and began his working life as a school teacher.

He turned to scriptwriting, supporting himself at first as a liftman and labourer while writing for comedians like Ted Ray and Jimmy Logan, and got into acting in 1960 with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop.

Indeed, within a fortnight of first meeting Littlewood, he was playing a leading role in the original production of Sparrers Can't Sing.

Junkin worked with Bruce Forsyth and Elizabeth Larner

During the following year, Junkin played a wide variety of stage roles, from a gay Liverpudlian tennis player to a mad German scientist.

After leaving Littlewood's company he featured alongside Rex Harrison in August for the People, at London's Royal Court.

The 60s saw him appearing as an actor in a vast array of television shows, including Z Cars, Emergency Ward 10 and Dr Finlay's Casebook, as well as in films like A Hard Day's Night, which provided a snapshot of Beatlemania.

At the same time, Junkin was writing, often in his garden shed, for some of the biggest comedy names in the UK: Morecambe and Wise, Marty Feldman and Ronnie Barker.

He went on to appear in films like A Handful of Dust and Chicago Joe and the Showgirl, plus hundreds of television and radio programmes, including EastEnders, Coronation Street, and The Professionals.

Beyond that, there were four series of his own show, Junkin, on ITV, and the cult radio hit Hello Cheeky!, which he wrote with his long-time collaborators Barry Cryer, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Denis King.

And he remained a much sought-after scriptwriter, working on television programmes like All Creatures Great and Small and for top comedians including Les Dawson, Bruce Forsyth, Joe Pasquale and Jon Culshaw.

Junkin's wit, and his obvious contempt for much of today's television output, was pithily displayed in the following letter to The Times, published in October 1998:

"May I confess to not being quite as upset as many people at the loss of first-class cricket by BBC Television, principally because it will give viewers a chance to see the three new series I have devised.

"These consist of 26 programmes on gardening, 26 on travel and 26 on cooking, with a Christmas special in which a well-known gardener is invited to take a celebrity chef to some glamorous location and cook him."

John Junkin was married, and had a daughter.

Veteran comedian John Junkin dies aged 76

John Junkin, the veteran comedian who appeared alongside some of Briton's most respected actors and entertainers, has died at the age of 76.

Junkin, who was in the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night and appeared in EastEnders, had been suffering from lung cancer.

The comedian worked with Morecambe and Wise, Ronnie Barker and Spike Milligan. In the Seventies, he appeared in The Goodies, Terry And June, and Till Death Us Do Part.

Five years ago he made a TV comeback in EastEnders, playing Ernie, a mysterious stranger who suddenly appeared in the Queen Vic.

An actor, comedian and script writer, Junkin was as comfortable appearing on radio as on TV. Dave Lee Travis, a former Radio 1 DJ, paid tribute to his friend and colleague.

"He was one of those characters that if you were in conversation with him, you were always in a state of hilarity," he said.

"He had no airs and graces at all. He was just as at home talking to his friends in the local pub as he was with people in show business."

Junkin had been suffering from lung cancer, emphysema and asthma and died at 1.30 this morning at the Florence Nightingale House in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Travis said.

March 06, 2006

Linda - her partner pays tribute

A final piece on Linda - this time from her partner

How my Linda conquered her demons

The comedian's partner tells Alice O'Keeffe that the much-loved radio star, who died last week, used her art to conquer a troubled past

Sunday March 5, 2006
The Observer

When death eventually came to Linda Smith it was, as far as anything like that ever can be, exactly as she would have wanted. 'She was as serene in the weeks before her death as she was when she was well,' says her partner of 23 years, Warren Lakin.

'She had three wishes: to die at home, to die without pain, and to die with her hair - the last one was very important. She got all three. When she passed away, the house was filled with all her friends from the comedy world, and they all drank a toast of her favourite whisky. After the years of suffering, it couldn't have been a better end.'

When Smith, the much-loved, sharp-tongued veteran of programmes including the The News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, died last week of ovarian cancer aged 48, her fans mourned the departure of one of the first ladies of British comedy. But, as is so often the case, her art had helped her to overcome a troubled past.

Smith was born to a working-class home in Erith in Kent - a town she said 'isn't twinned with anywhere, but it does have a suicide pact with Dagenham'. 'As a young child, she was a daddy's girl,' says her half-sister, Barbara Giles. 'She adored him, and he adored her. It was just our mum he took out his aggression on. They had an unhappy marriage. I think he was a frustrated man. He was extremely clever and very witty, he had terrific humour. He was a real Jekyll and Hyde.'

Then, with what Linda's partner Lakin describes as 'good comic timing', her father went out to work on the day of their 25th wedding anniversary and did not come back. Every night for weeks afterwards, her mother prepared his dinner. It took a long time for them to accept he had gone forever.

It was, Smith said later, the kindest thing he ever did. For as long as she could remember, says Giles, her mother bore the brunt of his alcoholism and violent temper. 'He was a torturer,' she says. 'A horrible, violent, wicked man. Although he never hurt Linda or me, I suffered because of him, and I know Linda did.'

Smith never spoke about her father publicly. 'For her, he was dead,' he says. In her last interview, back in November, she was asked about her parents, and she said he was dead. And afterwards, I thought, well we don't know actually. What she meant, I suppose, was that he was out of her life.'

Smith managed to transform the intelligence and humour she inherited from her father into a remarkable career. When she escaped the family home to go to Sheffield University, she became involved in left-wing theatre and the comedy scene. She was renowned in the run-up to the miner's strike for her spot-on impersonations of Margaret Thatcher, complete with twin-set and pearls. It was on this scene in the early Eighties that she met Lakin, who had founded a local theatre company.

'She was phenomenally talented - she never had to work at anything,' he says. 'Whether it was stand-up, or acting, or writing - everything came naturally. I've never met anyone like her. In some ways she was like those posh, well-educated performers like Stephen Fry, who can turn their hand to anything. But Linda just had a natural style and panache.

'She never let herself be intimidated by the laddy atmosphere of the comedy clubs. She was determined to prove she had the guts to hack it will those blokes.'

Underneath the surface, however, the gutsy performer was struggling. It was just after she left university, when Smith was 23, that her father disappeared.

'She was quite a tortured soul when I first met her, because of the difficult time she had been going through at home,' says Lakin. 'She had to be very tough to deal with it - she was trying to develop an outer shell to protect herself.'

Smith and Lakin decided to track her father down. They discovered he was 'lodging' at an address in south London, and went to pay him a visit. 'A woman opened the door,' says Lakin. 'It was obvious he was doing more than lodging there - he had obviously been with her for quite some time. That was the end of it, for Linda. From that day on, her dad was dead. She told me never to mention him again.' She remained close to her mother who died of cancer 10 years later.

Despite the personal tragedy, Smith's career never faltered. After touring and doing comedy shows throughout the Eighties, Smith broke into radio in the early Nineties. It came, says Lakin, as a surprise to her. 'Career and ambition were alien to Linda, she didn't think of things in those terms,' he says. 'She was not a pessimist but she felt her prospects were limited - the world of entertainment, and particularly the BBC, was a middle-class club. If you had said to her, you're going to be a regular on Radio 4 she wouldn't have believed you. I always told her she'd get there in the end, and she did. She and her contemporaries - talented people from modest backgrounds, like Paul Merton and Mark Steel - crashed through the barriers.'

In her 'non-comedian life' Smith was, Lakin says, an intensely private person. When she was diagnosed with cancer in December 2002 she refused to go public, disturbed by the trend for public figures 'making a show out of their illness'.

'It's not that she didn't want awareness of the illness raised - quite the contrary,' he says. 'But she didn't want to do that using her life.' She uncomplainingly went through three years of traumatic treatments and carried on working until recently, recording sessions from her bed which she dubbed 'The Boudoir Tapes.' 'I never heard her ask, "Why me?" Lakin said. 'Though I asked it all the time.'

Smith conquered her demons enough to maintain the kind of stable partnership with Lakin that her parents never had. 'In our 23 years together we never had an argument,' he says. 'In all my memories of her, that's the thing I'm most proud of.'

March 02, 2006

More on Linda Smith

Some more on Linda Smith... This a lovely piece by Jeremy Hardy in The Guardian

Linda Smith

Comedian with a deft satirical edge to her turns of phrase

Jeremy Hardy
Wednesday March 1, 2006
The Guardian

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 spendinghabits 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

This piece in The Independent was by Mark Steel

Linda Smith, comedian: born Erith, Kent 25 January 1958; President, British Humanist Association 2004-06; died London 27 February 2006.

In 2002, Radio 4 held a poll to see who their listeners felt was the "wittiest person on the planet". The overwhelming winner was Linda Smith - a regular on such programmes as I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and The News Quiz.

The voters made a fine choice. For example, a group of us were watching the Euro 2004 final, which was won by Greece. As the Greek captain received the trophy, Linda said, "We'll have that in the British Museum by the end of the week claiming it's ours." Linda Smith's everyday conversation contained more jokes than most comedy scripts and more social comment than most dramas.

She was brought up in Erith, a town by the Thames where Kent edges towards London, which she said "isn't twinned with anywhere, but it does have a suicide pact with Dagenham". This was a comment that attracted the wrath of her local paper, but she defended herself by pointing out that the same paper ran a competition the following week to come up with the best name for the new Erith leisure centre, which was won by the entry "The Erith Leisure Centre".

Perhaps it was the tower blocks that lined the river from Erith upwards, peering down on her 1960s childhood, that framed her outlook. Because, just as 19th-century Romantics opposed the functional grime of the Industrial Revolution by praising art and imagination, Linda Smith developed a contempt for all that was soulless and concrete, and a passion for what could be appreciated purely for embodying beauty or enthusiasm.

She read novels at an alarming rate, retaining huge passages which she could quote with flair even when drunk. She seemed to have watched every film ever made, and could recite entire episodes of The Simpsons. And she retained a deep affection for the language and nuances of all she encountered, employing an Alan Bennett-ish attention to detail in her anecdotes.

With one simple tale, she summarised the process whereby people at work feel no connection with whatever they're producing. She was working on an assembly line, on which apple pies would emerge from an oven, then Smith and her colleagues would pick them up as they passed and place them in their boxes. Every single time, she said, as the pies approached, one worker who'd been there 20 years would flare his nostrils, look menacingly at them and snarl, "Here come the little fuckers."

In 1978 Smith went to Sheffield University to study English and Drama, and in 1983 joined a professional touring company. Then, in a short period, came what were probably the three defining events of her life. She was attracted by the growth of a new comedy circuit, in which comics would write material about their own experiences rather than rely on standard jokes. She met Warren Lakin, also part of the theatre group, who became her devoted partner. And there was the miners' strike, for which she performed and arranged countless fund-raising benefits, winning her vast affection amongst Yorkshire mining families.

Following the strike, she was confirmed as a very English radical. She adored Blake and Keats and jazz and rambling and cricket, would travel across Britain to raise money for a strike or anti-racist campaign, then hurry back to spend a day gardening or scouring east London for a red- and-white tea-set. Hers was an Englishness with no English nationalism. After she moved to London, her favourite walk was across Wanstead Common, absorbing the twinkling lake, then back down Newham High Street to embrace the chaos of the Indian and Pakistani markets.

While she befriended and assisted all sections of the left, she would join none of them. She often said, "The last thing I joined was the Tufty Club." And there was even a point, long after becoming President of the British Humanist Association, when she realised she had forgotten to fill the form in and so was technically not a member of the thing she was President of.

Throughout the 1980s, Smith became one of the few women to conquer the male-dominated world of stand-up in clubs and universities. When a student yelled, "Show us yer tits", she retorted sweetly, "Ah, is it time for a breast feed" - resulting in a deservedly humiliated student. She was similarly biting about authority. When many people were refusing to pay the poll tax, the Labour Party would not back them, so Smith described the Labour Party campaign as being "Pay the poll tax - but while you're doing so - oo you give that clerk SUCH a look".

From the early 1990s onwards, Linda Smith performed for seven years at the Edinburgh Festival, by herself and with Hattie Hayridge and Henry Normal. But she was often at her funniest in conversation, which is why her national prominence began after she was heard chatting on radio shows, at first, from 1998, on Radio Five Live's The Treatment, then on Radio 4, on Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and, conspicuously, The News Quiz.

There was the odd dissenting voice, in the form of letters complaining that someone with such an accent was "lowering the tone" of the BBC, but their isolation made her success all the more delightful. As well as disarmingly savage routines about the week's news Smith was wonderfully playful with the other guests. For example, if Alan Coren looked in any way puzzled, she would say endearingly, "It's all right, Alan, the nurse will be round this afternoon. No she HASN'T been stealing your flowers."

In 2001, she wrote and presented the first series of her radio show A Brief History of Timewasting (with a second series the following year), and on television was one of the most popular guests on Have I Got News For You, appearing on six occasions. Once she tied together her political outlook and passion for film by describing the privatised rail service as a series of scenes from Doctor Zhivago, with parents desperately passing their children on to crowded trains in the hope the odd one might make it.

On Room 101 in 2003, she won acclaim for including adults reading Harry Potter in public amongst her pet hates, and her love of language resulted in appearances on Call My Bluff, Countdown and the 2003 Test the Nation, of which she was the "celebrity winner".

It was around the time she was diagnosed with cancer, three and a half years ago, that her popularity became most apparent. For the two years that followed, she toured her live show, selling out large theatres with embarrassing ease, and through an honest humility barely acknowledged this was anything to do with her. "Oo, I went up to Norwich on Tuesday and there was 800 people there," she would drop into conversation, slightly bemused, as if them and her turning up on the same night was a complete coincidence.

Maybe that was because there was something else unique about Linda Smith, which is she was the only comic of any renown I've ever come across who wasn't an egomaniac. When she won the vote as wittiest person, she didn't even tell anyone, and, if it was brought up, she'd comment, "Oh yes, that was nice because it was presented by Stephen Fry."

A common cliche when a comic of Linda Smith's popularity dies is that, despite their jokes, they bore no one any malice. But this isn't a cliche when it comes to Smith, because it isn't true. She was funny partly because, while she oozed and overflowed with compassion for the vast number she befriended, entertained and assisted, she had plenty of malice for the soulless corporate world, of which she was proud to be an enemy. What annoyed her most was when that creed seeped its way into the world of entertainment. Even a few days before she died, as she lay motionless and apparently oblivious to visitors, when someone mentioned a new television show starring Davina McCall, Linda suddenly looked up, glared and beamed, "It's shite."

Linda Smith will be remembered for her charm, her wit, her subtle destruction of pomposity, her subdued but burning English rage; and for her familiarity. Even those who only know her as a voice on the radio will feel they have lost not just a splendid comic, but a wonderful and brilliant friend.

This is a lovely summary of her life in The Independent

Linda Smith, the first lady of radio comedy, dies of cancer aged 48
By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent

The broadcaster Linda Smith, one of the small band of women to make it to the top of the male-dominated world of comedy, has died of cancer. She was 48.

A stalwart of Radio 4 quiz shows, notably the News Quiz, she was regarded with warm affection and admiration by listeners who named her the wittiest living person in one poll.

She also wrote and starred in two radio series of her own situation comedy, Linda Smith's A Brief History of Time Wasting, about life in a tower block. The veteran of the Edinburgh fringe circuit also appeared on shows including Have I Got News For You?, QI, and Mock the Week.

She died on Monday, three years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Jeremy Hardy, fellow comedian and News Quiz regular, said he was so lucky to have had such a wonderful friend and that she had been "the wittiest and brightest person working on TV or radio panel games".

"Working with someone so funny always reminded me of what comedy is all about. Her banter and flights of fancy were amazing," he said. "In a second, she could summon up the perfect word, the daftest English expression, the most appropriate literary quotation or line of movie dialogue, or the most savage putdown of any fraud, bully or tyrant in the news." Even when she was ill, she had made friends laugh and feel uplifted despite their sadness. "It was impossible to be in her company for more than a few minutes without laughing. I loved her very much." Mark Damazar, the controller of Radio 4, said it was a terrible loss. "Linda Smith was a Radio 4 giant. She was incredibly funny. She generated an energy and warmth in every programme she ever did that made her fellow comedians and millions of listeners love her."

Her blend of the personal, the political and the downright silly appealed to audiences across all spectrums. The Daily Mail lauded her "fertile, slightly unhinged imagination".

Outside comedy, her interests included humanism. She was president of the British Humanist Association two years ago. She said at the time: "I only found out that the beliefs I hold are 'humanistic' when the BHA kindly invited me to be its president. I am sure that I'm typical of many unconscious humanists.

"With fundamentalism of many kinds on the rise, the rational voice of humanism needs to be heard. I see publicising humanism in order that other people might identify themselves not just negatively as atheists, but positively as humanists, as a vital part of my role."

The BHA's executive director Hanne Stinson said: "She was a wonderful president and we are desperately sorry to hear of her death. We will miss her terribly.
"Until recently she continued to do great work for us."

Linda Smith grew up in Kent and became an early fan of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and the Monty Python team. From Bexleyheath comprehensive, she went on to study English with drama at Sheffield University.

She once said careers advice at school involved girls becoming typists and boys going into the Army and that they had laughed when she said she wanted to be an actress.

After Shef-field, she joined a local theatre company where she met her partner, Warren Lakin, and, in the 1980s, began stand-up. Only in the 1990s, did her broadcasting career take off and she carried on performing even after cancer was diagnosed. Few people were aware of her illness. There will be a special tribute edition of the News Quiz on Friday presented by her friend and fellow panellist, Andy Hamilton.

In her own words

* On Jesus: "We know he wasn't English, because he wore sandals - but never with socks."

* When it was mooted the Duchess of York might be taken off the Civil List, she imagined her on a council estate: "I can't afford shoes for the kids: I've had to send Eugenie to school in skis."

* On her hometown, Erith: "They had a competition to find a new name for the Erith Leisure Centre. The winning name was 'The Erith Leisure Centre'."

* On WMD: "I sympathise with people trying to find them. I'm like that with scissors - I put them down, then search all over the house and never find them."

* On the tennis player, Tim Henman: "He's the human equivalent of beige."

Stephanie Calman

March 01, 2006

Linda - hear tributes

This page has a link to an audio clip of Jeremy hardy talking about her


This page has a link to a episode of Front Row with Mark Steel talking about her (it's about 20 minutes in). It also has a clip from JAM


Linda - obituaries

This is the Times obituary

Radio comedian Linda Smith dies, aged 48
By Adam Sherwin, Media Correspondent, for Times Online

Broadcasters paid tribute tonight to Linda Smith, the deadpan comedian and panel show regular, who has died of cancer aged 48.

Voted the "wittiest living person" by radio listeners in 2002, Smith became one of the small band of women who made it to the top of the male-dominated world of comedy.

Listeners delighted in her jaundiced or plain surreal observations on the Radio 4’s Just A Minute and The News Quiz, where she became the first female team captain.

She enjoyed a successful career on television with a string of appearances on numerous panel programmes including Have I Got News For You, QI and Mock The Week.

Smith never disguised her left-wing politics, imbibed from a working-class upbringing, and became President of the British Humanist Association. Her description of David Blunkett as "Satan’s bearded folk singer" has dogged the politician.

She also wrote and starred in two highly successful series of her radio situation comedy Linda Smith's A Brief History Of Time Wasting.

Smith had been ill for some time with ovarian cancer and died on Monday. The BBC declined to give further details of her illness. She is survived by her partner, Warren Lakin.

Jeremy Hardy, her regular News Quiz sparring partner, said: "In a second, she could summon up the perfect word, the daftest English expression, the most appropriate literary quotation or line of movie dialogue, or the most savage put-down of any fraud, bully or tyrant in the news."

Hardy described Smith as "the wittiest and brightest person working on television or radio panel games. Her banter and flights of fancy were amazing. I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful friend."

He added: "Even when she was very ill, she had her friends laughing and feeling uplifted despite our sadness. I loved her very much."

Mark Damazer, Radio 4 Controller, said: "Linda Smith was a Radio 4 giant. She was incredibly funny. She generated an energy and warmth in every programme she ever did that made her fellow comedians and millions of listeners love her. It’s a terrible loss."

Smith came to prominence with a run of hit shows at the Edinburgh fringe and won Hackney Empire’s New London Comic Award. She established the permanently dissatisfied persona of a woman who has "decided to stay in my late thirties forever."

She created meticulously observed routines about Britishness, delivered with warmth. Of Jesus, she said: "Despite all those blonde paintings we know he wasn’t English, because he wore sandals - but never with socks."

She poked fun at her town of origin, Erith in Kent. "They had a competition to find a new name for the Erith Leisure Centre," she said in one of her routines. "The winning name was ‘The Erith Leisure Centre.’"

When it was mooted that the Duchess of York might be taken off the Civil List and have to make her own living, she imagined her living on a council estate: "I can’t afford shoes for the kids: I’ve had to send Eugenie to school in skis."

Radio 4 announced a special tribute edition of the News Quiz this Friday at 6.30pm presented by Andy Hamilton, her friend and fellow panellist.

This is how the Stage reported Linda's death

Radio comedian Linda Smith, who appeared on shows such as Radio 4's The News Quiz, Just A Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue has died of cancer aged 48.

The writer and broadcaster, who penned and starred in two series of popular sitcom Linda Smith's Brief History of Time Wasting, was voted the wittiest person on radio in a listener's poll in 2002.

Mark Damazer, controller, Radio 4 said: "Linda Smith was a Radio 4 giant. She was incredibly funny. She generated an energy and warmth in every programme she ever did that made her fellow comedians and millions of listeners love her. It's a terrible loss."

Smith also had a successful career on television with a string of appearances on popular shows including Have I Got News For You, QI and Mock the Week.

Jeremy Hardy, comedian and News Quiz regular, paid tribute to Smith who died on Monday. He said: "I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful friend. Working with someone so funny always reminded me of what comedy is all about. Her banter and flights of fancy were amazing. She was the wittiest and brightest person working on TV or radio panel games. And it was impossible to be in her company for more than a few minutes without laughing. Even when she was very ill, she had her friends laughing and feeling uplifted despite our sadness."

There will be a special tribute edition of the News Quiz on March 3 at 6.30pm presented by Andy Hamilton.

Linda Smith - BBC obituaries

This is how the BBC reported the news

Radio comedian Linda Smith dies

Comic Linda Smith, a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4's The News Quiz, has died of cancer at the age of 48.

The writer and broadcaster was a staple of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and BBC Radio, whose listeners voted her "Wittiest Person" in 2002.

She made frequent appearances on Just A Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, as well as the TV shows Have I Got News For You, Room 101 and Mock the Week.

Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer said her passing was "a terrible loss".

"Linda was a Radio 4 giant," he added. "She generated an energy and warmth in every programme she ever did that made her fellow comedians and millions of listeners love her."

News Quiz regular Jeremy Hardy paid an emotional tribute, calling her "the wittiest and brightest person working on TV or radio panel games".

"It was impossible to be in her company for more than a few minutes without laughing," he continued.

"Even when she was very ill, she had her friends laughing and feeling uplifted despite our sadness.

"I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful friend."

Ms Smith, who is survived by her partner Warren Lakin, died on Monday.

Mr Hardy told Radio 4 she had been ill for some time from ovarian cancer.

A special tribute edition of the News Quiz will be broadcast on Friday at 1830 GMT, presented by her fellow panellist Andy Hamilton.

This is her official BBC obituary

Linda Smith: Witty commentator on modern life

Comedian Linda Smith was one of the sharpest performers on the stand-up circuit, but in recent years had become a favourite of diverse audiences on BBC radio and television.

Her roots, in Erith, south-east London, were working-class, but she stubbornly refused to fit any stereotype, her deadpan diatribes about everyday irritations resonating with millions.

She studied English and Drama at Sheffield University and joined a professional touring theatre company in 1983, where she met her partner, Warren Lakin.

Turning to stand-up comedy, she won the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year in 1987.

Throughout the 1990s, she made the annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, performing her own show and collaborating with others.

And the mid-90s saw the start of her prolific career on BBC radio, as a regular panellist on the former Radio Five's weekly news satire programme, The Treatment.

From there she graduated to writing and performing in two critically-acclaimed series of her own Radio 4 sitcom, A Brief History of Time Wasting.

She was the first woman team captain and regular on the network's News Quiz and a frequent panel guest on two long-running Radio 4 favourites, Just a Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

Linda Smith also presented Home Truths and Pick of the Week and in 2002 was voted Wittiest Person in a poll of Radio 4 listeners.

She also won a following on television through several appearances on Have I Got News For You, along with Room 101, Q.I., Mock the Week, They Think It's All Over and Call My Bluff, while she contributed her own take on current affairs as a panellist on Question Time.

She still managed to find time for a 35-date national tour in 2004, performing her show, Wrap Up Warm, to sell-out audiences.

Linda Smith blended the topical with the personal, the political with the surreal and silly.

She had a wealth of subjects to grumble about: motorway service stations, the trains, inane daytime television commercials for sun awnings or loans, all delivered in a downbeat fashion that belied a penetrating insight to social trends.

Besides this, Linda Smith was a great fan of the rock musician and actor, Ian Dury, and president of the British Humanist Association.

In this connection, she recently said: "With fundamentalism on the rise, the rational voice of humanism needs to be heard."

Radio 4 Controller Mark Damazer said Linda Smith was a Radio 4 giant.

"She was incredibly funny, but also generated energy and warmth in every programme she ever did", he said.

Jeremy Hardy pays tribute

Linda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three and a half years ago but she really didn't want people to know.

She was a very proud woman and she hated the cancer. It annoyed her because she loved life.

She wanted to live. I think she thought that by talking about the cancer she was giving it a platform that she didn't think it deserved.

She was a very proud and dignified woman who didn't want to be thought of as a patient or a victim.

She battled very bravely right up to the end.

She didn't want to go, she had so much life in her.

Linda was fantastic to work with. I can honestly say that if you knew she was going to be on the News Quiz, you knew it was going to be great.

She'd make you raise your game and if you weren't on form you could just enjoy listening to Linda.

Her mind was extraordinary. She had a record in her mind of everything she'd ever read or every film she'd seen.

She could quote you Shakespeare or the Bible. She could quote Martin Scorsese or Billy Wilder films.

Linda had the most wonderful, exact terminology.

The quirky English expressions she used were the most wonderful daft ways the English express themselves.

She sorted of flirted with the listener in a way.

When she started there was a degree of snobbery about her voice.

She had a very flat, south-east London, suburban working class, Kentish drone and some people thought: 'What on earth is happening to Radio 4?'

But she won the hearts of the nation and yet she was so savage.

She detested things she thought were fraudulent or pompous or vain.

She hated Tony Blair and the Iraq war and yet could express it in such a dismissive, disdainful but glorious, articulate way.

She lived in Sheffield for many years and I think she acquired a very Yorkshire way of expressing herself.

She was our greatest living Englishwoman. She reminds me of Alan Bennett in that wonderful Yorkshire terminology, the exactitude.

Her partner Warren Lakin was Jewish and had a great influence on her.

She had a very Jewish way of expressing herself in her humour and inflexion.

She absorbed everything and then could replay it.

Away from the microphone she was still hilarious.

Even at the very end, she'd make a very wry joke.

Having a cup of tea with Linda, you'd think this is a cup of tea I am going to enjoy.

She was always funny but not in a knockabout way, she cared passionately about things and people.

She was very loving and very aesthetic. She loved all beautiful things including gardening, theatre and films.

She was so funny. She had such a wicked sense of humour. It just came effortlessly. She didn't even try.

Humour was just in there, trying to get out all the time.

RIP Linda Smith

JAM regular Linda Smith has died at the tragically young age of 48 of ovarian cancer.

Linda had been ill for some time - I guess this explains her absence from the show over the past year. She was also a regular on The News Quiz and A Brief History Of Time Wasting and guested on countless other shows.

It's so very sad for all of her many fans. She first appeared on JAM in 1999 at Derek Nimmo's last recording and made such an impact as to appear on more shows than anyone else in the BBC's short-lived Tv version of the show later that year. Since then she's been a "regular" with Paul, Clement, Graham and Tony.

She had a style all of her own which contrasted wonderfully with the others because it could be called a quiet style. In a way reminiscent of Peter Jones, she didn't try to shout the others down. She poked fun at herself and the show. She had a wonderfully inventive mind and was at her best in diatribes against modern life - without sounding old fashioned. You can admire Paul Merton's many comic gifts - but you don't feel as if you share his amazing way of seeing the world - you felt that Linda was in your mind and that her observations were things you might have dreamed up - if only you were as witty and clever as her.

She's a huge loss to JAM. Claire Jones would clearly liked to have had her on the show more often in recent years if it hadn't been for her illness. At one recording her illness meant she had to be replaced at the last minute by Charles Collingwood who arrived after the show had begun.

We will miss Linda terribly on JAM. If her family and partner happen to read this some day, my sincere condolences. But thank you for sharing Linda's brilliance with us.