Actress Liz Smith dies aged 95

Liz Smith, well known for her role as Norma ‘Nana’ Speakman in the BBC sitcom The Royle Family, has died.

A spokeswoman for the actress’s family released a statement today (26 December) confirming that she has passed away. She had recently turned 95. 

Smith is also fondly remembered by comedy fans for serving up revolting recipes as Mrs Cropley in the first series of The Vicar of Dibley. Her character was once dubbed “The Queen of Cordon Bleurgh” by the sitcom’s lead character Geraldine Granger (Dawn French) as a result.

The popular character actress also played Bette and Aunt Belle in forerunner to My Family family-based sitcom 2point4 Children and Zillah in Lark Rise to Candleford and voiced Mrs Mulch in Wallace and Gromit’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Born Betty Gleadle in 1921 in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, she took on Smith as a stage name. Early acting roles in the 1970s included parts in Emmerdale Farm, Crossroads, Crown Court and Within These Walls. Her first longer term role was as Mrs Brandon in I Didn’t Know You Cared.

(l-r) Craig Cash, Caroline Aherne, Sue Johnston and Liz Smith in BBC comedy The Royle Famly.

Liz Smith with the cast of The Vicar of Dibley.

The actress is now probably best known for her supporting role of Norma ‘Nana’ Speakman in the BAFTA award winning sitcom The Royle Family co-created by Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne in the late 1990s.

Set in the living room of the titular clan comprising patriarch Jim (Ricky Tomlinson), wife Barbara (Sue Johnston), their daughter Denise (Caroline Aherne), their son Anthony (Ralf Little) and Denise’s fiancé later husband David (Craig Cash), the episodes take place in real time and largely focus on the family’s banal conversation and ribbing of each other whilst assembled around the TV set.

The series also featured a number of recurring guest characters one of whom was ‘Nana’ (Barbara’s mum) who appeared in 11 of the 25 episodes aired between 1998-2012. The series originally ended with the Christmas special in 2000 but made a comeback with a special episode in 2006. The Queen Of Sheba saw ‘Nana’ killed off in the plots and was a landmark episode in that it was the first to feature scenes external to the Royles’ living room. The series continued to air annual specials thereafter until 2012.

Caroline Aherne passed away in July this year.

“Devastating to lose two members of my second family in one awful year. RIP Liz Smith. Goodbye Nana. Xxx.” – Ralf Little (@RalfLittle)

Smith retired from acting in 2013, although was previously inactive professionally between 2009-2013.  

Hard Labour, a BBC TV Play for Today

In We Think the World of You from 1988

Liz Smith in LWT’s prison saga Within These Walls.

(l-r) Liz Smith with June Brown and Sam Kelly in ITV comedy period drama Now and Then.

(l-r) Liz Smith with Leslie Grantham, Jerry Hall, Joanna Lumley. John Bird and Nicholas Parsons in Cluedo.

Liz and Lionel Blair travel ‘back to the 1970s’ in The Young Ones with the BBC.

Liz Smith – 1921 – 2016

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