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Liz Smith (1921)

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Liz Smith, MBE is a British actress, best-known for her roles in the sitcoms The Vicar of Dibley and The Royle Family. She also appeared in the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.


 early life
Liz Smith was born Betty Gleadle in the Crosby area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1921. When she was two years old, her mother died in childbirth. 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. She was brought up by her widowed grandmother. During the Second World War, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service of the Royal Navy.

 Early roles
In 1971, aged 48, she got her big break when she appeared as the downtrodden mother in Mike Leigh's Bleak Moments, part of Play for Today."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 another Play for Today, Hard Labour, followed and after that she appeared in programmes such as Emmerdale Farm , 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 , but her scenes were deleted. She was seen in Curse of the Pink Panther in the same role.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Liz Smith appeared in many popular television programmes in the UK, 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 Maggie Smith's mother in A Private Function.

in 1980 Smith won a role in Charisma Records backed: Sir Henry at Rawlinson End starring Trevor Howard as Sir Henry. In this Vivian Stanshall conceived and written cult classic, she played Lady Philippa of Staines. Soon after she appeared in the Trethe Anglo-Argentine Hitchcockian thriller, Apartment Zero. The film was featured in the 1988 Sundance Film Festival and was directed by Martin Donovan (born Carlos Enrique Varela y Peralta-Ramos) and starred Hart Bochner and Colin Firth. Smith played the role of one of two eccentric characters described by The Washington Post as two "... tea-and-crumpet gargoyle-featured spinsters who snoop the corridors."

 The 1990s
Liz Smith started the 1990s by appearing in 2point4 children, in which she had regular roles 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 also the supporting role of Letitia Cropley for seven episodes in the popular sitcom The Vicar of Dibley. This made her a household name, but in the 1996 Easter Special episode the character died. Two years later, Smith starred in another 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, The Bill and Secrets & Lies. In 1999, she featured in A Christmas Carol as Mrs Dilber, having played the same character in the 1984 version, and also appeared as Miss Lory in Alice in Wonderland.

 Since 2000
Smith has continued to act and has appeared in TV programmes such as Trial & Retribution V and Doctors. In 2005 she played Grandma Georgina in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory she provided the voice of Mrs Mulch in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and also had small roles in Oliver Twist and Keeping Mum.

In 2006 Smith published her autobiography Our Betty and moved into 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". On 5 December 2007, Smith won the Best Television Comedy Actress at the British Comedy Awards for her role in The Royle Family.

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 and marries the birdcatcher Papageno .

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 stroke a few months earlier, she announced her retirement from acting at the age of 87.

In 2009 Smith received the Member of the Order of the British Empire.

In 2010 she took part in BBC's The Young Ones, in which six celebrities in their 70s and 80s attempt to overcome some of the problems of ageing by harking back to the 1970s.

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