Liz Smith: Royle Family co-stars lead tributes

The cast of the Royle Family have paid tribute to their fictional Nana Liz Smith, following the actress’s death at the age of 95.

Ricky Tomlinson, who played her son-in-law Jim Royle, said the “excellent” Smith played his “favourite character”.

Director Mike Leigh described her as “eccentric” and “the most generous person you would hope to meet”.

Her death on Christmas Eve comes months after Caroline Aherne, co-star and co-writer of The Royle Family, died at 52.

‘I loved her’

Tomlinson said the Royles were as “close as a family” during the sitcom’s four-year run and that Smith would often visit the set on her days off.

“I’d take the mickey out of her because she’d always come in at lunchtime,” he said.

“But no I loved her, I really, really loved her,” he added.

Liz Smith: A long road to stardom

Smith had attributed the show’s popularity to the scripts co-written by Aherne, who also starred as granddaughter Denise Royle. She died from lung cancer in July.

Ralf Little, who played Antony Royle in the sitcom, said it was “devastating” to lose two members of his “second family” in the same year.

He tweeted: “RIP Liz Smith. Goodbye Nana. Xxx”

Sue Johnston – Nana’s daughter Barbara Royle in the show – said Smith “loved everything about being an actor”.

“She was Mrs Sophisticated”, Johnston told BBC News. “But when she put that wig on and sat on the sofa she became Nana.”

She recalls visiting Smith at her care home in Worthing, West Sussex a few years ago.

“I took her out in the wheelchair and we went down the seafront and because it was Barbara and Nana people were so delighted to see her.

“She just screamed with delight that everybody was recognising her,” she said.

Johnston added: “There’s a huge sadness we will never get on that sofa again.”

‘Usain Bolt’ of acting

Craig Cash, who co-wrote the show and played the hapless Dave Best, husband to Jim and Barbara’s daughter Denise, said Smith was a “real master of her craft”.

He said: “She could turn an ordinary line into an extraordinary one.”

Giving Smith a script was like “handing the baton to Usain Bolt”, he said.

“You knew she wouldn’t just run with it – she’d practically fly.”

Director Mike Leigh gave Smith her breakthrough role in his film Bleak Moments in 1970, while she was working in Hamleys demonstrating toys.

“She was not your bog standard middle-aged actress,” he said, recalling how she once took her teeth out during filming.

“She was eccentric, she was a bohemian, a kind of hippy in a way,” he said.

Tomlinson, who played son-in-law Jim Royle, said he was “really, really fascinated” by her.

“She bought her first house, she told me, without going inside the front door.

“She got the money together, knocked on the door, the fella opened the door and she gave him the money,” he said.

‘Eerie, quite strange’

But the laughing and joking on set was absent when the Royles filmed the 2006 episode in which Nana died.

“No-one spoke until it was our turn to go look at her in the bed. It was eerie, it was quite strange,” Tomlinson said.

Tributes have also come in from Smith’s co-stars and collaborators from her many other shows.

She featured in 2point4 Children, Lark Rise to Candleford, Last of the Summer Wine, Emmerdale, and was the voice of Mrs Mulch in Wallace and Gromit’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Coronation Street’s Andrew Whyment, who also appeared in The Royle Family, tweeted: “What a fantastic actress she was absolutely hilarious RIP lovely Liz x”

Richard E Grant, who acted alongside her in the 1997 film Keep the Aspidistra Flying, tweeted: “Liz Smith-I loved working with you on the George Orwell film and privileged to have played and danced together R.I.P. X”

Choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne tweeted: “RIP #LizSmith Lovable actress who was totally unique and endearing. A true British legend.”

Shane Allen, controller of BBC comedy commissioning, said as Nana, Smith “brilliantly captured the grandparent in everyone’s family”.

“It feels like we’ve lost a cherished figure from our lives,” he added.

Born Betty Gleadle in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, in 1921, the actress later gave herself the stage name of Smith.

Smith was appointed MBE in 2009, the year that she retired after suffering a series of strokes.

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