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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
Jack Thomas
(m. 1945; div. 1959)

Betty Smith MBE (11 December 1921 – 24 December 2016), known by the stage name Liz Smith,[2] was a British 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 ("Nana") in The Royle Family (1998–2006). 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]

Smith was born Betty Gleadle[3] in 1921 in the Crosby area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.[4] Her mother died when she was two.[5] 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.[5] She was brought up by her widowed grandmother and attended Crosby Junior School[6] and the Scunthorpe Modern and Day Commercial Schools in Cole Street.[7] During the Second World War, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service of the Royal Navy.[8]


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 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."[9] also had a part in Lovejoy 1eps


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. 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 1996 she had a cameo appearance in the Mike Leigh film Secrets & Lies and in 1998 starred in the TV 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 and The Bill. 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.[citation needed]

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.[10]

In 2006, Smith published her autobiography Our Betty[11] 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".[12] On 5 December 2007, Smith won the Best Television Comedy Actress at the British Comedy Awards for her role in The Royle Family.[13]

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.[14]

Smith was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[15][16]

In 2010, she took part in the BBC television 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.[17]

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 problems and social disapproval of her status as a divorcée.[18]

Smith died on 24 December 2016 at her home in Worthing, West Sussex,[1] shortly after her 95th birthday.[19] 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."[20] 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 deceased Dibley cast members (John Bluthal, Emma Chambers and Roger Lloyd-Pack).


Year Title Role
1970 Leo the Last Raving Tenant (uncredited)
1971 Bleak Moments Pat's Mother
1976 It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet Mrs. Dodds
1977 The Duellists Fortune Teller
The Stick Up Hotel Manageress
1979 Agatha Flora
1980 Sir Henry at Rawlinson End Lady Phillipa of Staines
1981 The Monster Club Villager (uncredited)
The French Lieutenant's Woman Mrs. Fairley
1982 Britannia Hospital Maisie
Crystal Gazing Lady in Pub
Give Us This Day Landlady
1983 Fanny Hill Mrs. Jones (uncredited)
Curse of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
1984 A Private Function Joyce Chilvers
1987 Little Dorrit Mrs. Bangham
1988 We Think the World of You Millie Burney
High Spirits Lavinia Plunkett
1989 Bert Rigby, You're a Fool Mrs. Rigby
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover Grace
Apartment Zero Mary Louise McKinney
1991 Dakota Road Joan Road
1993 Son of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
Piccolo grande amore Queen Mother
1995 Haunted Old Gypsy Woman
1996 Secrets & Lies Cat Owner
1997 Keep the Aspidistra Flying Mrs. Meakin
1998 Sweet Revenge Winnie
Anthrakitis (short) Dolly
1999 Tom's Midnight Garden Mrs. Willows
Tube Tales Old Lady (segment: "Horny")
2003 Anna Spud (short) Gran
2004 Dead Cool Liz
2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Grandma Georgina
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit Mrs. Mulch (voice)
Oliver Twist Old Woman
Keeping Mum Mrs. Parker
2006 The Magic Flute The Old Papagena
2008 Flick Ma
City of Ember Granny Mayfleet


Year Title Role Notes
1973 Last of the Summer Wine Housekeeper Series 1, episode 4
1974 Bedtime Stories Miss Long Series 1, episode 4
1974 Comedy Playhouse (unknown role) Series 15, episode 14
1974 Seven Faces of Woman Madge Series 1, episode 4
1974 Village Hall Mrs. Whalley Series 1, episode 2
1974 Omnibus Mrs. Smith Series 8, episode 3
1974 Bootsie and Snudge Mrs. Partridge Series 4, episode 3
1974 No, Honestly May Series 1, episode 5
1974 South Riding Nellie Hughins Series 1, episodes 1 and 9
1974 Second City Firsts Mrs. Murphy Series 3, episode 7
1974 David Copperfield Mrs. Heep Miniseries (3 episodes)
1975 The Sweeney Mrs. Davies Series 2, episode 5
1975 The Dick Emery Show (unknown role) Series 14, episode 5
1975 It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow Vi Bell TV film
1975 Emmerdale Farm Hilda Semple Episodes 275–278
1975 The Fortune Hunters Mrs. Eady TV film
1974–1976 Crown Court Mrs. Fowkes Series 3, episode 7
Kitty Ross Series 4, episodes 15 and 17
Mrs. Flynn Series 5, episodes 39, 40 and 41
1976 The Hunchback of Notre Dame La Falourdel TV film
1977 The Punch Review Various Series 1, episode 2
1977 Nicholas Nickleby Peg Sliderskew Miniseries (2 episodes)
1977 Ripping Yarns Mrs. Bag Series 1, episode 2
1977 The Duchess of Duke Street Nanny Series 2, episodes 4 and 12
1978 Within These Walls Tottie Dodd Series 5, episodes 12 and 13
1975–1979 I Didn't Know You Cared Annie Brandon Series 1–4 (series regular, 27 episodes)
1979 Hazell Mrs. Scropp Series 2, episode 12
1973–1980 Play for Today Mrs. Thornley Series 3, episode 20
Mrs. Matthews Series 4, episode 3
Series 5, episode 5
Mrs. Pritchett Series 5, episode 10
Mrs. Oxfam Series 6, episode 5
Keith's Granny Series 7, episode 12
Elfie Series 10, episode 15
1980 Bernie (unknown role) Series 2, episode 3
1980 Madhouse Various Series 1 (7 episodes)
1981 The Other 'Arf Nora Series 2, episode 4
1981 Love Story: A Chance to Sit Down Mrs. Barker Series 1, episode 3
1980–1982 In Loving Memory Hilda Pardoe Series 2, episode 1 and series 3, episode 8
1982 The Gentle Touch Edna Slater Series 3, episode 10
1982 Russian Night… 1941 Frosya TV film
1983 Mr. Right Gran Series 1, episodes 1–4
1983 Separate Tables Miss Meacham TV film
1983 The All Electric Amusement Arcade Gran Series 1 (series regular, 7 episodes)
1983 Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime Hannah Macpherson Miniseries (1 episode)
1983–1984 Now and Then Gran Series 1 and 2 (series regular, 13 episodes)
1984 One by One Gran Turner Series 1 (series regular, 10 episodes)
1984 The Lenny Henry Show Various Series 1, episode 2
1984 A Christmas Carol Mrs. Dilber TV film
1985 Doctors' Dilemmas Edna Bryant Series 2, episode 5
1985 Mann's Best Friends Mrs. Anstruther Series regular. In 5 episodes.
1985 Rainbow Auntie Liz Series 14, episode 40
1986 Harem Mrs. Pendleton TV film
1986 King and Castle Mrs. Chalmers Series 1, episode 4
1986 The Life and Loves of a She-Devil Mrs. Fisher Miniseries (3 episodes)
1987 Imaginary Friends Milly Munger Miniseries (3 episodes)
1987 Worlds Beyond Mrs. Watts Series 1, episode 10
1987 Bust Brenda Walsh Series 1, episode 5
1987 When We Are Married Mrs. Northrop TV film
1987–1988 Valentine Park Mrs. Giles Series 1 and 2 (series regular, 12 episodes)
1988 All in Good Faith Annie Freeman Series 3, episode 2
1988 Jake's Journey Witch TV pilot
1989 Young Charlie Chaplin Mrs. Greenwood Series 1, episode 4
1989 Singles Mrs. Phelps Series 2, episode 6
1989 All Change Aunt Mary Series 1, episode 5
1987–1990 Screen Two Mrs. Slatterthwaite Series 3, episode 13
Gran Series 5, episode 4
Agent Series 6, episode 3
1990 A Bit of Fry & Laurie Woman Returning Suits Series 2, episode 4
1990 Dunrulin Mrs. Trodd TV film
1990–1991 Making Out Muriel Series 2, episode 4 and series 3, episode 6
1991 El C.I.D. Mildred Series 2, episode 4
1991 Bottom Fortune Teller Series 1, episode 4
1991 Performance Anyula Series 1, episode 3
1992 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Delfina Series 2, episode 4
1993 Lovejoy Florence Series 4, episode 8
1993 Cluedo Mrs. Blanche White Series 4 (series regular, 6 episodes)
1993 Without Walls Maid 1 episode
1994 New Voices Nana 1 episode
1994 Takin' Over the Asylum Harriet Miniseries (1 episode)
1994 Screen One Mrs. Thompson Series 6, episode 7
1995 Crapston Villas Delia (voice) 20 episodes
1995 Casualty Tillie Series 10, Episode 9
1994–1996 Pirates Abigail Blood Series 1–3 (3 episodes)
1994–1996 The Vicar of Dibley Letitia Cropley Series 1 (series regular, 6 episodes)
Easter special (final episode)
1996 Karaoke Mrs. Baglin Miniseries (3 episodes)
1998 V.I.P. Gossip Columnist Series 1, episode 1
1998 The Canterbury Tales The Hag Series 1, episode 1
1991–1999 2Point4Children Bette Series 1–8 (recurring, 11 episodes)
Aunt Belle Series 3, episode 1 and series 6, episode 3
1996–1999 The Queen's Nose Grandma Series 2 and 3 (7 episodes)
1999 Alice in Wonderland Miss Lory TV film
1999 The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Lena Finn Series 11, episodes 8 and 9
1999 A Christmas Carol Mrs. Dilber TV film
1999 Oliver Twist Sally Miniseries (2 episodes)
2000 City Central Megan Roberts Series 3, episode 2
2000 Donovan Quick Granny TV film
2000 A Christmas Carol Joyce TV film
2001 The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Peg Sliderskew TV film
2002 Animated Tales of the World Third Aunt Series 2, episode 12
2002 Trial & Retribution Mrs. Dorothy Norton Series 5, episodes 1 and 2
1984–2002 The Bill Maggie Series 1, episode 6
Mrs. West Series 7, episode 30
Edna Finch Series 14, episode 78
Harriet 'Tatsie' Wright Series 18, episodes 51 and 52
2003 Doctors Agatha Clifford Series 5, episode 142
2003 Between the Sheets Audrey Delany Series 1 (series regular, 6 episodes)
2004 Nero Soothsayer TV film
1998–2006 The Royle Family Norma Speakman Series 1–3 (recurring, 10 episodes)
2006 special
2007 The Abbey Elsie TV pilot
2008 Lark Rise to Candleford Zillah Series 1 (series regular, 10 episodes)
2009 The Antiques Rogue Show Olive Greenhalgh TV film
2009 The All Star Impressions Show Queen Elizabeth II TV special
2013 Common Ground Colin's Mum Series 1, episode 7
2013 The Tunnel Harriet Stone Series 1, episodes 2 and 3


  1. ^ a b Wynn-Davies, Stephen (27 December 2016). "Tributes paid to Worthing resident Liz Smith". Worthing Herald. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ "Page 22 | Supplement 58929, 31 December 2008 | London Gazette | the Gazette".
  3. ^ "FreeBMD Entry Info".
  4. ^ Liz Smith gets MBE, This Is Scunthorpe, 14 July 2009.
  5. ^ a b Kenny, Ursula (21 October 2007). "This much I know". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  6. ^ Star Pupils Revealed at Scunthorpe Telegraph Archived 1 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Liz Gets MBE at Scunthorpe Telegraph Archived 3 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Barker, Dennis (26 December 2016). "Liz Smith obituary". The Guardian.
  9. ^ "Apartment Zero' (R)". The Washington Post. 3 November 1989. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  10. ^ Lily Savage's Blankety Blank. 22 April 2001. ITV.
  11. ^ Smith, L. (2006), Our Betty – Scenes from my Life, London: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-1161-8
  12. ^ "Little Man Tate Bring Nanna Royle Back From The Dead". Gigwise.com. 1 March 2007. Archived from the original on 3 March 2007.
  13. ^ Osborn, Michael (6 December 2007). "Smith wins for Royle performance". BBC News website.
  14. ^ Staff (5 July 2009). "Actress Liz Smith to quit acting". BBC News website. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
  15. ^ "No. 58929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2008. p. 22.
  16. ^ Smyth, Chris (31 December 2008). "Terry Pratchett lost for words as he receives knighthood". The Times. London.
  17. ^ "The Young Ones – BBC One".
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ Press Association 2019 (27 December 2016). "Royle Family star Liz Smith dies at 95". Kidderminster Shuttle. Retrieved 15 December 2019.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "'Royle Family' actress Liz Smith dies". BBC News Online. BBC News. BBC. 26 December 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2019.

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