Am I the only person who’s seen half her iTunes’ collection die this year? Bowie, Lemmy, Prince… They’ve each touched my life in ways that they would never realise and have been the backdrop to my last 49 years.
Yet it was the death of a fat Northern lass that really affected me.
When I was little, I wanted to be a nurse, or Lucy Pevensie, or an actress. Strangely, the first two never seemed impossible, but an actress? A lass from the back streets of Byker getting involved in theatre? Impossible. Apart from Coronation Street – who were real-life people, obviously – people on telly or the theatre weren’t like me. They were tall and glamorous Millicent Martins, with beautiful, rounded voices. I was little and fat with vowels so flat you’d think they were me mam’s Yorkshire puddings.
And then one Sunday night, when I was up far too late, this chubby little blonde appeared behind a piano singing a silly song with a voice different to mine but that definitely pronounced scone and bath the right way.
That was my first introduction to Victoria Wood.
I stayed loyal for the next four decades. I even suffered through Wood and Walters and pretended I liked it because here was someone like me (I was far too young to understand it). While the careers woman was telling me I could probably make a future playing the sidekick or the friend of the beautiful lead, Victoria Wood showed me that I could take on more – and not only perform, but control the whole shebang, too.
I studied Theatre until I was 19, then life went awry and I abandoned thoughts of it as a career – in fact, I left behind thoughts of any career, I just needed a job – but Victoria Wood continued to be a beacon. She showed us that being Northern wasn’t just all right; it was something to be celebrated and loved.
Victoria Wood went her own way and did what she wanted to do. She was a punk – even with her pageboy haircut.
Her death got me thinking about the importance of role models and the women who have influenced me or got me thinking. Victoria Wood wasn’t the only one who shaped my childhood…
Mary Tyler Moore
I always say All The President’s Men sparked off my love of journalism. It’s a great film – magnificent – but remember that amazing female reporter on the team? You know, the one who em… er…. No, you’re right. The reason I can’t remember that amazing female reporter on the team is cos there aint one.
That’s how it was then. I have a photo of my first newspaper going off stone and there isn’t one double X chromosome in it. Yet somehow, as a young girl, I got the idea that a woman could be a journalist and make a difference and I have The Mary Tyler Moore Show to thank.
Mary Richards was single, 30 and successful. More than that, she was an equal with the men. Yes, she was female but that didn’t define her or make her different: it was part of her, in the way her boss, Lou Grant, was gruff and Ted the anchor was dumb. She could “turn the world on with her smile”, said the theme tune, but in truth, it was her honesty and hard work that won her friends and saw her being respected and promoted. No one would have called her totty and she’d have given them short shrift if they had
Mary: A woman doesn’t have to have a baby if she doesn’t want to.
Lou Grant: Well, I say a man’s entitled to have a baby if he wants to.
Mary: Well, Mr. Grant, on behalf of women everywhere let me say we’d sure like to be there when he has it.
Mary had sex, took birth control and screwed up at times. Didn’t stop her.
Oh, how I remember trying to tie a scarf around my head à la Rhoda Morgenstern. Rhoda was Mary’s sarcastic, bad girl neighbour and so sophisticated to my young eyes. She lived in an apartment, not a flat, with a doorman. A doorman!!! How chic was that? Plus she was artistic.
While Mary showed that a woman could have a career, Rhoda showed us how a woman could be strong. Her marriage failed, she got divorced and the world didn’t stop. She got over the pain and was able to smile again. She was powerful, witty and didn’t need a man in her life – it was nice to have one, but it wasn’t her raison d’être.
And she lived in New York, which was obviously where all the best people lived.
Rhoda (talking about her mother): I think she’s holding a grudge because I didn’t go into the profession she wanted.
Mary: What’s that?
Rhoda: A housewife.
Bet Lynch – and all the Corrie women (pre-2000)
Oh Coronation Street, how good you used to be. Back before Wetherfield became the site of murders and long lost relatives and Michelle Collins supposedly having shagged Les Battersby (as if), it was a true slice of life oop North.
And nowhere was that more noticeable in the women it portrayed. Every street in Byker had its Hilda Ogden, barmaids were Bet Lynch and don’t get me started on the floosie Elsie Tanners who were no better than they should be.
I saw widows Annie Walker and Rita Fairclough running a business, Hilda ruling the roost in her pinny and curlers and Deidre Langton/Barlow/Rachid/Barlow seducing men with the biggest glasses outside a drink-a-yard-of-ale contest.
Women were at the forefront of life on the cobbles and what women they were: strong, vulnerable, witty, scared but most of all, indomitable. I loved them all.
Elsie Tanner: I could ‘ave done anythin’. Got anywhere. I don’t just mean fellers. I mean life generally. I was a fighter. I walked down this street last night in the pourin’ rain an cried for a girl ‘oo once ‘ad guts, and hope. Only she’s dead now. I’m not sure just when it was she died.
They may not all have been real, but these women had a huge influence on my life and I thank them all.
Do you agree? Please drop me a line and let me know your fictional role models.