Liz Smith dies at 95

Tributes pour in for character actress.

by Amber Wilkinson

Liz Smith as Grandma Georgina with the cast of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
Liz Smith as Grandma Georgina with the cast of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Photo: Warner Bros
Fellow stars paid tribute to actress Liz Smith yesterday, after her family announced the 95-year-old had died on Christmas Eve.

Smith, who became a household name for her small-screen role as Nana in BBC's The Royle Family, was a veteran of both television and film - even though she didn't land her first role until she was almost 50.

Recalling her role in Mike Leigh's Play For Today later, she said: “The moment that my life transformed was when I was standing in Hamley’s 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.”

From that point on Smith, who was born Betty Gleadle in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, went on to carve a career as a character actress.

Leigh told Radio 4's Today Programme Smith was refreshingly down to earth. He added: "She was a complete breath of fresh air. She was not your bog standard middle-aged actress."

Smith's most memorable roles may have come on the small screen in shows including I Didn't Know You Cared, The Royle Family and Lark Rise To Candleford, but she also had a number of notable film roles, including the role of Maggie Smith's mother in A Private Function and - for which she won a BAFTA.

Other film roles included Grandma Georgina in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and the voice of Mrs Mulch in The Curse of The Were-Rabbit.

The death of Smith, who had two children, comes just months after The Royle Family creator Catherine Aherne passed away. Co-star Ralf Little tweeted: Devastating to lose two members of my second family in one awful year. RIP Liz Smith. Goodbye Nana. Xxx"

Leigh said: "She was eccentric, she was a bohemian, a kind of hippy in a way. She had a lot of cats, was a vegetarian, the most generous person you would ever hope to meet."

Richard E Grant, who starred alongside Smith in 1997's Keep The Aspidistra Flying, also paid tribute on Twitter, writing: "Liz Smith-I loved working with you on the George Orwell film & privileged to have played & danced together R.I.P."

Liz, who announced her retirement in acting in 2009 following a series of strokes, was appointed an MBE in the same year.

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