Liz Smith (actress)

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Liz Smith
Born Betty Gleadle
(1921-12-11) 11 December 1921 (age 98)
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
Occupation Actress
Years active 1970–2013
Spouse(s) Jack Thomas (1945-1959; divorced); 2 children

Betty Gleadle, MBE, known by the stage name Liz Smith, (born 11 December 1921) is a retired English character actress, known for her roles as Annie Brandon in I Didn't Know You Cared, Bette and Aunt Belle in 2point4 Children, as Norma Speakman in the BBC comedy The Royle Family, Letitia Cropley in the BBC comedy The Vicar of Dibley and as Zillah In Lark Rise to Candleford.

Early life

Liz Smith was born Betty Gleadle in the Crosby area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1921.[1] 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.[2] 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.


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 has described this as an extremely difficult period in her life, as she struggled against financial difficulties and social disapproval of her status as a divorcee.[3]


Early roles

In 1971, aged 49, she had a career breakthrough 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 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.

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. She was seen in Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) in the same role.[citation needed]

In the 1970s and 1980s, Smith appeared in many popular 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 Maggie Smith's mother 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."[4]


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. This made her a household name, but 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 1998, she 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, 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.

Since 2000

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 she 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 2006 Smith published her autobiography Our Betty[5] 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".[6] On 5 December 2007, Smith won the Best Television Comedy Actress at the British Comedy Awards for her role in The Royle Family.[7]

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.[8]

In 2009 Smith was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).[9][10]

In 2010 she took part in BBC's 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.[11]

TV and filmography

Genre Year Title Episode Role Notes
Film 1970 Leo the Last Raving tenant uncredited
Film 1971 Bleak Moments Pat's Mother
TV series 1972 Emmerdale Hilda Semple unknown episodes
TV series 1973 Last of the Summer Wine "Spring Fever" Housekeeper
TV series 1973 Play for Today "Hard Labour"
"Jack Point"
Mrs. Thornley
Mrs. Matthews
TV series 1974 Bedtime Stories "Jack and the Beanstalk" Miss Long
TV series 1974 Bootsie and Snudge "Up the Downstairs" Mrs. Partridge
TV series 1974 Crown Court "Hidden Scars: Part 1" Mrs. Fowkes
TV miniseries 1974 David Copperfield Mrs. Heep based on the novel by Charles Dickens; 3 episodes
TV series 1974 No, Honestly "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" May
TV series 1974 Play for Today "Taking Leave" Actress
TV series 1974 Second City Firsts "Festive Poacher""The Festive Poacher"
TV series 1974 Seven Faces of Woman "Polly Put the Kettle On" Madge
TV series 1974 South Riding "Take What You Want and Pay for It"
"The Powers That Be"
Nellie Huggins
TV series 1974 Village Hall "There'll Almost Always Be an England" Mrs. Whalley
TV series 1975 Crown Court "Two in the Mind of One: Part 1" Kitty Ross
TV series 1975 I Didn't Know You Cared "Cause for Celebration"
"A Knitter in the Family"
"The Old Tin Trunk"
"After the Ball Was Over"
"Aye... Well... Mm..."
"Large or Small, Big or Tall"
"The Axe and Cleaver"
Mrs Brandon
TV film 1975 It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow Vi Bell
TV series 1975 Play for Today "Breath"
"Keep an Eye on Albert"
Mrs. Pritchett
Mrs. Oxfam
TV series 1975 Sweeney, TheThe Sweeney "Hit and Run" Mrs. Davies, Landlady
TV series 1976 Crown Court "Two in the Mind of One: Part 3" Kitty Ross
TV film 1976 Hunchback of Notre Dame, TheThe Hunchback of Notre Dame La Falourdel based on the novel by Victor Hugo
TV series 1976 I Didn't Know You Cared "Way My Wife Looks at Me""The Way My Wife Looks at Me"
"Chez Us"
"A Woman's Work"
"A Signal Disaster"
"You Should See Me Now"
"Good Wood, God!"
Mrs Brandon
Film 1976 Pink Panther Strikes Again, TheThe Pink Panther Strikes Again Marta Balls scenes deleted; directed by Blake Edwards
TV series 1977 Duchess of Duke Street, TheThe Duchess of Duke Street "Legion of the Living""The Legion of the Living"
"Winter Lament"
Film 1977 Duellists, TheThe Duellists Woman reading tarot cards
Film 1977 It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet Mrs. Dodds
TV miniseries 1977 Nicholas Nickleby Peg Sliderskew based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 1977 Play for Today "Spend Spend Spend" Keith's Granny
TV series 1977 Ripping Yarns "Testing of Eric Olthwaite""The Testing of Eric Olthwaite" Mrs. Bag
Film 1977 Stick UpThe Stick Up Hotel Manageress
TV series 1978 I Didn't Know You Cared "Men at Work"
"A Grave Decision"
"Party Games"
"A Bleak Day"
"Stout Deeds"
"Paradise Lost"
"The Last Tram"
Mrs Brandon
TV series 1978 Within These Walls "Is There Anyone There?"
Tottie Dowd
Film 1979 Agatha Flora
TV series 1979 I Didn't Know You Cared "Love Match""The Love Match"
"Love Is a Many Splendoured Thing"
"A Tip Top Day"
"Don't Answer That"
"The Great Escape"
"What's in a Name"
"The Great Day"
Mrs Brandon
TV series 1980 Bernie 01 episode
TV series 1980 In Loving Memory "Outing""The Outing" Hilda Pardoe
TV series 1980 Madhouse
TV series 1980 Play for Today "Murder Rap" Elfie
Film 1980 Sir Henry at Rawlinson End Lady Phillipa of Staines
Film 1981 French Lieutenant's Woman, TheThe French Lieutenant's Woman Mrs. Fairley
Film 1981 Monster Club, TheThe Monster Club Villager uncredited
Film 1982 Britannia Hospital Maisie
Film 1982 Crystal Gazing Lady in Pub
TV series 1982 Gentle Touch, TheThe Gentle Touch "One of Those Days" Edna Slater
Film 1982 Give Us This Day Landlady
TV series 1982 In Loving Memory "Special: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" Hilda Pardoe
TV film 1982 Russian Night... 1941 Frosya
TV series 1983 Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime "House of Lurking Death""The House of Lurking Death" Hannah MacPherson
Film 1983 Curse of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
Film 1983 Fanny Hill Mrs. Jones uncredited
TV film 1983 Love Story: Mr. Right Gran
TV series 1983 Now and Then Gran 07 episodes
TV film 1983 Separate Tables Miss Meacham
TV series 1984 Bill, TheThe Bill Maggie
TV film 1984 Christmas Carol, AA Christmas Carol Mrs. Dilber based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 1984 Lenny Henry Show, TheThe Lenny Henry Show 01 episode
TV series 1984 Now and Then Gran 06 episodes
TV series 1984 One by One "We Called in the Experts"
"Nature's Great Masterpiece"
"They Shoot Tigers in India"
"Silver Linings"
"Pastures New"
"A Long Weekend"
"Doctor's Orders"
"The Woman's Touch"
"Ends and Beginnings"
Gran Turner
Film 1984 Private Function, AA Private Function Joyce's Mother BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
TV series 1985 Mann's Best Friends Mrs. Anstruther 04 episodes
TV series 1985 Rainbow "Overhelpfuls" Auntie Liz
TV film 1986 Harem Mrs. Pendleton miniseries-movie
TV series 1986 King & Castle "Friends" Mrs. Chalmers
TV miniseries 1986 Life and Loves of a She-Devil, TheThe Life and Loves of a She-Devil Mrs. Fisher based on the novel by Fay Weldon
TV series 1987 Bust "Man of Property" Brenda Walsh
TV miniseries 1987 Imaginary Friends Milly Munger based on the 1967 novel by Alison Lurie
TV series 1987 Valentine Park Mrs. Giles 04 episodes
TV film 1987 When We Are Married Mrs. Northrop
TV series 1987 Worlds Beyond "Undying Love"
Film 1988 Apartment Zero Mary Louise McKinney
Film 1988 High Spirits Mrs. Plunkett
Film 1988 Little Dorrit Mrs. Bangham, Midwife based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 1988 Valentine Park "No Particular Place to Go"
"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
"A Rose by Any Other Name"
"Heroes and Villains"
Mrs. Giles
Film 1988 We Think the World of You Millie
TV series 1989 All Change "Bosom of the Family""The Bosom of the Family" Aunt Mary
Film 1989 Bert Rigby, You're a Fool Mrs. Rigby
Film 1989 Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, TheThe Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover Grace
TV series 1989 Screen Two "Words of Love" Gran
TV series 1989 Singles "Family Likeness" Mrs. Phelps
TV series 1989 Wonderworks: Young Charlie Chaplin Mrs. Greenwood 01 episode
TV series 1990 Bit of Fry & Laurie, AA Bit of Fry & Laurie 01 episode
TV film 1990 Dunrulin Mrs. Trodd
TV series 1990 Screen Two "Drowning in the Shallow End" Agent
TV series 1991 2point4 Children "Love and Marriage" Bette 12 episodes total
TV series 1991 Bill, TheThe Bill Mrs. West
TV series 1991 Bottom "Apocalypse" Fortune Teller
TV series 1991 El C.I.D. "Paradise Mislaid" Mildred
TV series 1991 Making Out 01 episode
TV series 1992 2point4 Children "I'm Going Slightly Mad"
Bette 12 episodes total
Film 1992 Dakota Road Joan Benson
TV series 1992 Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, TheThe Young Indiana Jones Chronicles "Barcelona, May 1917" Delfina
TV series 1993 2point4 Children "Secret Diary of David Porter""The Secret Diary of David Porter"
"Babes in the Wood"
Bette and Belle
12 episodes total
TV series 1993 Cluedo "Finders Keepers"
"Seven Deadly Sinners"
"The Word, the Flesh & the Devil"
"The Hanged Man (10 May 1993)"
"Where There's a Will"
"Publish and Be Damned"
Mrs. White
TV series 1993 Lovejoy "God Helps Those" Florence
Film 1993 Piccolo Grande Amore Queen Mother
Film 1993 Son of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
TV series 1994 2point4 Children "You Only Live Twice"
Bette 12 episodes total
TV film 1994 Doggin' Around Mrs. Thompson
TV series 1994 New Voices "Bad Voodoo" Nana
TV series 1994 Pirates Gran (Abigail Blood)
TV series 1994 Takin' Over the Asylum "Fly Like an Eagle" Harriet
TV series 1994 Vicar of Dibley, TheThe Vicar of Dibley "Arrival""The Arrival"
"Songs of Praise"
"Community Spirit"
"The Window & the Weather"
"The Easter Bunny"
Letitia Cropley
TV series 1995 2point4 Children "Mayday" Bette 12 episodes total
TV series 1995 Casualty "Hit and Run" Tillie
Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series 1995 Crapston Villas Delia (voice)
Film 1995 Haunted Old Gypsy Woman
TV series 1996 2point4 Children "Vertigo"
"Two Years Before the Mast"
Bette 12 episodes total
TV series 1996 Karaoke "Friday"
Mrs. Baglin
TV series 1996 Queen's Nose, TheThe Queen's Nose Grandma 01 episode
Film 1996 Secrets & Lies Cat Owner
TV series 1996 Vicar of Dibley, TheThe Vicar of Dibley "Easter Bunny""The Easter Bunny" Letitia Cropley
Film 1997 Keep the Aspidistra Flying Mrs. Meakin a.k.a. A Merry War
TV series 1998 2point4 Children "When Did You Last See Your Father" Bette 12 episodes total
Short film 1998 Anthrakitis Dolly 10 minutes
TV series 1998 Bill, TheThe Bill Edna Finch
Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series 1998 Canterbury Tales, TheThe Canterbury Tales "Leaving London" HagThe Hag (voice)
Film 1998 Sweet Revenge Winnie
TV series 1998 Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family "Sunday Afternoon"
"Wedding Day"
Norma Speakman 11 episodes total
TV series 1998 V.I.P. "Beats Working at a Hot Dog Stand" Gossip Columnist
TV series 1999 2point4 Children "Enter the Dragon" Bette 12 episodes total
TV film 1999 Alice in Wonderland Miss Lory
TV film 1999 Christmas Carol, AA Christmas Carol Mrs. Dilber based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV miniseries 1999 Oliver Twist Sally based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 1999 Queen's Nose, TheThe Queen's Nose "Harmony's Return" Grandma
TV series 1999 Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family "Sunday Lunch"
"Nana Comes to Stay"
"Antony's Birthday"
"Christmas with the Royle Family"
Norma Speakman 11 episodes total
TV series 1999 Ruth Rendell Mysteries, TheThe Ruth Rendell Mysteries "Lake of Darkness""The Lake of Darkness" Lena Finn
Film 1999 Tom's Midnight Garden Mrs. Willows
TV film 1999 Tube Tales "Horny" Older Lady
Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series 2000 Animated Tales of the World "Story from Taiwan""A Story from Taiwan: Aunt Tiger" Third Aunt (voice)
TV film 2000 Christmas Carol, AA Christmas Carol Joyce based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 2000 City Central "Half Man Half Cop" Megan Roberts
TV film 2000 Donovan Quick Granny
TV series 2000 Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family "Funeral"
"The Christening"
"The Royle Family at Christmas"
Norma Speakman 11 episodes total
TV film 2001 Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, TheThe Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Peg Sliderskew based on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series 2002 Bill, TheThe Bill Harriet 'Tatsie' Wright 02 episodes
TV film 2002 Good ThiefA Good Thief Lizzie
TV series 2002 Trial & Retribution Mrs. Dorothy Norton 02 episodes
Animated short filmAnimated short film 2003 Anna Spud Gran (voice) 10 minutes
TV miniseries 2003 Between the Sheets Audrey Delany
TV series 2003 Doctors English Woman's Home"An English Woman's Home" Agatha Clifford
Film 2004 Dead Cool Liz
TV miniseries 2004 Imperium: Nerone Soothsayer
Film 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Grandma Georgina
Film 2005 Keeping Mum Mrs. Parker
Film 2005 Oliver Twist Old Woman based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Animated film 2005 Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit Mrs. Mulch (voice)
Film 2006 Magic Flute, TheThe Magic Flute Old Papagena music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
TV series 2006 Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family "Queen of Sheba""The Queen of Sheba" Norma Speakman 11 episodes total
2007 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress
TV film 2007 Abbey, TheThe Abbey
Film 2007 Flick Ma horror film
Film 2008 City of Ember Granny Mayfleet
TV series 2008 Lark Rise to Candleford Zillah 10 episodes
TV film 2009 Antiques Rogue ShowThe Antiques Rogue Show Olive Greenhalgh
TV film 2009 All Star Impressions ShowThe All Star Impressions Show Queen Elizabeth II
TV miniseries 2013 Common Ground "Colin's Mum" Colin's Mum 1 episode
TV series 2013 The Tunnel Harriet Stone


  1. Liz Smith gets MBE, This Is Scunthorpe, 14 July 2009.
  2. Kenny, Ursula (21 October 2007). "This much I know". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Desert Island Discs - Castaway : Liz Smith". BBC. 2008-03-09. Retrieved 2013-10-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Apartment Zero' (R)". The Washington Post. 3 November 1989. Retrieved 11 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Smith, L. (2006), Our Betty – Scenes from my Life, London: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-1161-8
  6. "Little Man Tate Bring Nanna Royle Back From The Dead". 1 March 2007. Archived from the original on March 3, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Osborn, Michael (6 December 2007). "Smith wins for Royle performance". BBC News website.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Staff (5 July 2009). "Actress Liz Smith to quit acting". BBC News website. Retrieved 5 July 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58929. p. 22. 31 December 2008.
  10. Smyth, Chris (31 December 2008). "Terry Pratchett lost for words as he receives knighthood". The Times. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. BBC One Programmes – The Young Ones

External links

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