Liz Smith (actress)

Betty Gleadle MBE (11 December 1921 – 24 December 2016), known by the stage name Liz Smith, was an English character actress, known for her roles in BBC sitcoms, including as Annie Brandon in I Didn't Know You Cared (1975–79), the sisters Bette and Belle in 2point4 Children (1991–99), Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley (1994–96) and Norma Speakman ("Nana") in The Royle Family (1998–2006). She also played Zillah in Lark Rise to Candleford (2008) and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the 1984 film A Private Function.

Liz Smith

Betty Gleadle

(1921-12-11)11 December 1921
Died24 December 2016(2016-12-24) (aged 95)
Years active1970–2013
Jack Thomas
(m. 1945; div. 1959)

Early life

Liz Smith was born Betty Gleadle[2] in 1921 in the Crosby area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.[3] Her mother died when she was two.[4] 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.[4] She was brought up by her widowed grandmother and attended Crosby Junior School[5] and the Scunthorpe Modern and Day Commercial Schools in Cole Street.[6] During the Second World War, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service of the Royal Navy.[7]


Early roles

In 1971, aged 49, she had a career breakthrough when she appeared as the downtrodden mother in Mike Leigh's Bleak Moments, a 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 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 and remained unseen until Trail of the Pink Panther in 1982. She was seen in Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) in the same role.

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 the mother of Maggie Smith's character 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."[8]


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.

2000s and 2010s

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 and 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. In 2001, she appeared as herself in Lily Savage's Blankety Blank.[9]

In 2006 Smith published her autobiography Our Betty[10] 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".[11] On 5 December 2007, Smith won the Best Television Comedy Actress at the British Comedy Awards for her role in The Royle Family.[12]

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.[13]

Smith was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[14][15]

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.[16]

Personal life and death

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 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.[17]

Smith died on 24 December 2016 at her home in Worthing, West Sussex,[1] thirteen days after her 95th birthday.[18] Shane Allen, controller of BBC comedy commissioning, said that Smith had "brilliantly captured the grandparent in everyone's family" as Nana in The Royle Family. Mike Leigh said "She was a complete breath of fresh air... she was not your bog standard middle-aged actress."[19]

TV and filmography

GenreYearTitleEpisode RoleNotes
Film1970Leo the Last Raving tenantUncredited
Film1971Bleak Moments Pat's Mother
TV series1972Emmerdale Farm Hilda Sempleunknown episodes
TV series1973Last of the Summer Wine"Spring Fever" Housekeeper
TV series1973Play for Today"Hard Labour"
"Jack Point"
Mrs. Thornley
Mrs. Matthews
TV series1974Bedtime Stories"Jack and the Beanstalk" Miss Long
TV series1974Bootsie and Snudge"Up the Downstairs" Mrs. Partridge
TV series1974Crown Court"Hidden Scars: Part 1" Mrs. Fowkes
TV miniseries1974David Copperfield Mrs. Heepbased on the novel by Charles Dickens; 3 episodes
TV series1974No, Honestly"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" May
TV series1974Play for Today"Taking Leave" Actress
TV series1974Second City Firsts"The Festive Poacher"
TV series1974Seven Faces of Woman"Polly Put the Kettle On" Madge
TV series1974South Riding"Take What You Want and Pay for It"
"The Powers That Be"
Nellie Huggins
TV series1974Village Hall"There'll Almost Always Be an England" Mrs. Whalley
TV series1975Crown Court"Two in the Mind of One: Part 1" Kitty Ross
TV series1975I 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 film1975It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow Vi Bell
TV series1975Play for Today"Breath"
"Keep an Eye on Albert"
Mrs. Pritchett
Mrs. Oxfam
TV series1975The Sweeney"Hit and Run" Mrs. Davies, Landlady
Film1976It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet Mrs. Dodds
TV series1976Crown Court"Two in the Mind of One: Part 3" Kitty Ross
TV film1976The Hunchback of Notre Dame La Falourdelbased on the novel by Victor Hugo
TV series1976I Didn't Know You Cared"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
Film1976The Pink Panther Strikes Again Marta Ballsscenes deleted; directed by Blake Edwards
TV series1977The Duchess of Duke Street"The Legion of the Living"
"Winter Lament"
Film1977The Duellists Woman reading tarot cards
TV miniseries1977Nicholas Nickleby Peg Sliderskewbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series1977Play for Today"Spend Spend Spend" Keith's Granny
TV series1977Ripping Yarns"The Testing of Eric Olthwaite" Mrs. Bag
Film1977The Stick Up Hotel Manageress
TV series1978I 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 series1978Within These Walls"Is There Anyone There?"
Tottie Dowd
Film1979Agatha Flora
TV series1979I Didn't Know You Cared"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 series1980Bernie 1 episode
TV series1980In Loving Memory"The Outing" Hilda Pardoe
TV series1980Madhouse
TV series1980Play for Today"Murder Rap" Elfie
Film1980Sir Henry at Rawlinson End Lady Phillipa of Staines
Film1981The Monster Club VillagerUncredited
Film1981The French Lieutenant's Woman Mrs. Fairley
Film1982Britannia Hospital Maisie
Film1982Crystal Gazing Lady in Pub
TV series1982The Gentle Touch"One of Those Days" Edna Slater
Film1982Give Us This Day Landlady
TV series1982In Loving Memory"Special: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" Hilda Pardoe
TV film1982Russian Night... 1941 Frosya
Film1982Trail of the Pink Panther Martha Balls
TV series1983Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime"The House of Lurking Death" Hannah MacPherson
Film1983Fanny Hill Mrs. JonesUncredited
Film1983Curse of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
TV film1983Love Story: Mr. Right Gran
TV series1983Now and Then Gran7 episodes
TV film1983Separate Tables Miss Meacham
TV series1984The Bill Maggie
TV film1984A Christmas Carol Mrs. Dilberbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series1984The Lenny Henry Show 1 episode
TV series1984Now and Then Gran6 episodes
TV series1984One 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
Film1984A Private Function Joyce's MotherBAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
TV series1985Mann's Best Friends Mrs. Anstruther4 episodes
TV series1985Rainbow"Overhelpfuls" Auntie Liz
TV film1986Harem Mrs. Pendletonminiseries-movie
TV series1986King & Castle"Friends" Mrs. Chalmers
TV miniseries1986The Life and Loves of a She-Devil Mrs. Fisherbased on the novel by Fay Weldon
TV series1987Bust"Man of Property" Brenda Walsh
TV miniseries1987Imaginary Friends Milly Mungerbased on the 1967 novel by Alison Lurie
TV series1987Valentine Park Mrs. Giles4 episodes
TV film1987When We Are Married Mrs. Northrop
TV series1987Worlds Beyond"Undying Love"
Film1987Little Dorrit Mrs. Bangham, Midwifebased on the novel by Charles Dickens
Film1988We Think the World of You Millie
Film1988Apartment Zero Mary Louise McKinney
Film1988High Spirits Mrs. Plunkett
TV series1988Valentine Park"No Particular Place to Go"
"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
"A Rose by Any Other Name"
"Heroes and Villains"
Mrs. Giles
TV series1989All Change"The Bosom of the Family" Aunt Mary
Film1989Bert Rigby, You're a Fool Mrs. Rigby
Film1989The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover Grace
TV series1989Screen Two"Words of Love" Gran
TV series1989Singles"Family Likeness" Mrs. Phelps
TV series1989Wonderworks: Young Charlie Chaplin Mrs. Greenwood1 episode
TV series1990A Bit of Fry & Laurie 1 episode
TV film1990Dunrulin Mrs. Trodd
TV series1990Screen Two"Drowning in the Shallow End" Agent
TV series19912point4 Children"Love and Marriage" Bette12 episodes total
TV series1991The Bill Mrs. West
TV series1991Bottom"Apocalypse" Fortune Teller
TV series1991El C.I.D."Paradise Mislaid" Mildred
TV series1991Making Out 1 episode
TV series19922point4 Children"I'm Going Slightly Mad"
Bette12 episodes total
Film1992Dakota Road Joan Benson
TV series1992The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles"Barcelona, May 1917" Delfina
TV series19932point4 Children"The Secret Diary of David Porter"
"Babes in the Wood"
Bette and Belle
12 episodes total
TV series1993Cluedo"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 series1993Lovejoy"God Helps Those" Florence
Film1993Son of the Pink Panther Marta Balls
Film1993Piccolo Grande Amore Queen Mother
TV series19942point4 Children"You Only Live Twice"
Bette12 episodes total
TV film1994Doggin' Around Mrs. Thompson
TV series1994New Voices"Bad Voodoo" Nana
TV series1994Pirates Gran (Abigail Blood)
TV series1994Takin' Over the Asylum"Fly Like an Eagle" Harriet
TV series1994The Vicar of Dibley"The Arrival"
"Songs of Praise"
"Community Spirit"
"The Window & the Weather"
"The Easter Bunny"
Letitia Cropley
TV series19952point4 Children"Mayday" Bette12 episodes total
TV series1995Casualty"Hit and Run" Tillie
Animated TV series1995Crapston Villas DeliaVoice
Film1995Haunted Old Gypsy Woman
TV series19962point4 Children"Vertigo"
"Two Years Before the Mast"
Bette12 episodes total
TV series1996Karaoke"Friday"
Mrs. Baglin
TV series1996The Queen's Nose Grandma1 episode
Film1996Secrets & Lies Cat Owner
TV series1996The Vicar of Dibley"The Easter Bunny" Letitia Cropley
Film1997Keep the Aspidistra Flying Mrs. Meakina.k.a. A Merry War
Film1998Sweet Revenge Winnie
TV series19982point4 Children"When Did You Last See Your Father" Bette12 episodes total
Short film1998Anthrakitis Dolly10 minutes
TV series1998The Bill Edna Finch
Animated TV series1998The Canterbury Tales"Leaving London" The HagVoice
TV series1998The Royle Family"Sunday Afternoon"
"Wedding Day"
Norma Speakman11 episodes total
TV series1998V.I.P."Beats Working at a Hot Dog Stand" Gossip Columnist
TV series19992point4 Children"Enter the Dragon" Bette12 episodes total
TV film1999Alice in Wonderland Miss Lory
TV film1999A Christmas Carol Mrs. Dilberbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV miniseries1999Oliver Twist Sallybased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series1999The Queen's Nose"Harmony's Return" Grandma
TV series1999The Royle Family"Sunday Lunch"
"Nana Comes to Stay"
"Antony's Birthday"
"Christmas with the Royle Family"
Norma Speakman11 episodes total
TV series1999The Ruth Rendell Mysteries"The Lake of Darkness" Lena Finn
Film1999Tom's Midnight Garden Mrs. Willows
Film1999Tube Tales Old Lady(segment "Horny")
Animated TV series2000Animated Tales of the World"A Story from Taiwan: Aunt Tiger" Third AuntVoice
TV film2000A Christmas Carol Joycebased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series2000City Central"Half Man Half Cop" Megan Roberts
TV film2000Donovan Quick Granny
TV series2000The Royle Family"Funeral"
"The Christening"
"The Royle Family at Christmas"
Norma Speakman11 episodes total
TV film2001The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Peg Sliderskewbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series2002The Bill Harriet 'Tatsie' Wright2 episodes
TV film2002A Good Thief Lizzie
TV series2002Trial & Retribution Mrs. Dorothy Norton2 episodes
Animated short film2003Anna Spud GranVoice, 10 minutes
TV miniseries2003Between the Sheets Audrey Delany
TV series2003Doctors"An English Woman's Home" Agatha Clifford
Film2004Dead Cool Liz
TV miniseries2004Imperium: Nerone Soothsayer
Film2005Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Grandma Georgina
Film2005Oliver Twist Old Womanbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
Animated film2005Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit Mrs. MulchVoice
Film2005Keeping Mum Mrs. Parker
Film2006The Magic Flute Old Papagenamusic by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
TV series2006The Royle Family"The Queen of Sheba" Norma Speakman11 episodes total
2007 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress
TV film2007The Abbey
Film2008City of Ember Granny Mayfleet
Film2008Flick Mahorror film
TV series2008Lark Rise to Candleford Zillah10 episodes
TV film2009The Antiques Rogue Show Olive Greenhalgh
TV film2009The All Star Impressions Show Queen Elizabeth II
TV miniseries2013Common Ground"Colin's Mum" Colin's Mum1 episode
TV series2013The Tunnel Harriet Stone(final appearance)


  1. Wynn-Davies, Stephen (27 December 2016). "Tributes paid to Worthing resident Liz Smith". Worthing Herald. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. "FreeBMD Entry Info".
  3. Liz Smith gets MBE, This Is Scunthorpe, 14 July 2009.
  4. Kenny, Ursula (21 October 2007). "This much I know". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  5. Star Pupils Revealed at Scunthorpe Telegraph Archived 1 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Liz Gets MBE at Scunthorpe Telegraph Archived 3 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Barker, Dennis (26 December 2016). "Liz Smith obituary". The Guardian.
  8. "Apartment Zero' (R)". The Washington Post. 3 November 1989. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  9. Lily Savage's Blankety Blank. 22 April 2001. ITV.
  10. Smith, L. (2006), Our Betty – Scenes from my Life, London: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-1161-8
  11. "Little Man Tate Bring Nanna Royle Back From The Dead". 1 March 2007. Archived from the original on 3 March 2007.
  12. Osborn, Michael (6 December 2007). "Smith wins for Royle performance". BBC News website.
  13. Staff (5 July 2009). "Actress Liz Smith to quit acting". BBC News website. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
  14. "No. 58929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2008. p. 22.
  15. Smyth, Chris (31 December 2008). "Terry Pratchett lost for words as he receives knighthood". The Times. London.
  16. "The Young Ones – BBC One".
  17. "Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Liz Smith". BBC Radio 4. BBC. 9 March 2008. Archived from the original on 13 April 2019. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  18. Press Association 2019 (27 December 2016). "Royle Family star Liz Smith dies at 95". Kidderminster Shuttle. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  19. "'Royle Family' actress Liz Smith dies". BBC News Online. BBC News. BBC. 26 December 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
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