Liz Smith (actress)

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Liz Smith
BornBetty Gleadle
(1921-12-11) 11 December 1921 (age 93)
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
Years active1970–2013
Spouse(s)Jack Thomas (1945-1959; divorced); 2 children
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Liz Smith
BornBetty Gleadle
(1921-12-11) 11 December 1921 (age 93)
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
Years active1970–2013
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, best 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 (1994–96) and as Zillah In Lark Rise to Candleford

Early life[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 moved, around the same time, 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[edit]

Film1970Leo the LastRaving tenantuncredited
Film1971Bleak MomentsPat's Mother
TV series1972EmmerdaleHilda 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 CopperfieldMrs. 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"Festive Poacher""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 TomorrowVi Bell
TV series1975Play for Today"Breath"
"Keep an Eye on Albert"
Mrs. Pritchett
Mrs. Oxfam
TV series1975Sweeney, TheThe Sweeney"Hit and Run"Mrs. Davies, Landlady
TV series1976Crown Court"Two in the Mind of One: Part 3"Kitty Ross
TV film1976Hunchback of Notre Dame, TheThe Hunchback of Notre DameLa Falourdelbased on the novel by Victor Hugo
TV series1976I 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
Film1976Pink Panther Strikes Again, TheThe Pink Panther Strikes AgainMarta Ballsscenes deleted; directed by Blake Edwards
TV series1977Duchess of Duke Street, TheThe Duchess of Duke Street"Legion of the Living""The Legion of the Living"
"Winter Lament"
Film1977Duellists, TheThe DuellistsWoman reading tarot cards
Film1977It Shouldn't Happen to a VetMrs. Dodds
TV miniseries1977Nicholas NicklebyPeg Sliderskewbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series1977Play for Today"Spend Spend Spend"Keith's Granny
TV series1977Ripping Yarns"Testing of Eric Olthwaite""The Testing of Eric Olthwaite"Mrs. Bag
Film1977Stick UpThe Stick UpHotel 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
TV series1979I 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 series1980Bernie01 episode
TV series1980In Loving Memory"Outing""The Outing"Hilda Pardoe
TV series1980Madhouse
TV series1980Play for Today"Murder Rap"Elfie
Film1980Sir Henry at Rawlinson EndLady Phillipa of Staines
Film1981French Lieutenant's Woman, TheThe French Lieutenant's WomanMrs. Fairley
Film1981Monster Club, TheThe Monster ClubVillageruncredited
Film1982Britannia HospitalMaisie
Film1982Crystal GazingLady in Pub
TV series1982Gentle Touch, TheThe Gentle Touch"One of Those Days"Edna Slater
Film1982Give Us This DayLandlady
TV series1982In Loving Memory"Special: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"Hilda Pardoe
TV film1982Russian Night... 1941Frosya
TV series1983Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime"House of Lurking Death""The House of Lurking Death"Hannah MacPherson
Film1983Curse of the Pink PantherMarta Balls
Film1983Fanny HillMrs. Jonesuncredited
TV film1983Love Story: Mr. RightGran
TV series1983Now and ThenGran07 episodes
TV film1983Separate TablesMiss Meacham
TV series1984Bill, TheThe BillMaggie
TV film1984Christmas Carol, AA Christmas CarolMrs. Dilberbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series1984Lenny Henry Show, TheThe Lenny Henry Show01 episode
TV series1984Now and ThenGran06 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
Film1984Private Function, AA Private FunctionJoyce's MotherBAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
TV series1985Mann's Best FriendsMrs. Anstruther04 episodes
TV series1985Rainbow"Overhelpfuls"Auntie Liz
TV film1986HaremMrs. Pendletonminiseries-movie
TV series1986King & Castle"Friends"Mrs. Chalmers
TV miniseries1986Life and Loves of a She-Devil, TheThe Life and Loves of a She-DevilMrs. Fisherbased on the novel by Fay Weldon
TV series1987Bust"Man of Property"Brenda Walsh
TV miniseries1987Imaginary FriendsMilly Mungerbased on the 1967 novel by Alison Lurie
TV series1987Valentine ParkMrs. Giles04 episodes
TV film1987When We Are MarriedMrs. Northrop
TV series1987Worlds Beyond"Undying Love"
Film1988Apartment ZeroMary Louise McKinney
Film1988High SpiritsMrs. Plunkett
Film1988Little DorritMrs. Bangham, Midwifebased on the novel by Charles Dickens
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
Film1988We Think the World of YouMillie
TV series1989All Change"Bosom of the Family""The Bosom of the Family"Aunt Mary
Film1989Bert Rigby, You're a FoolMrs. Rigby
Film1989Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, TheThe Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her LoverGrace
TV series1989Screen Two"Words of Love"Gran
TV series1989Singles"Family Likeness"Mrs. Phelps
TV series1989Wonderworks: Young Charlie ChaplinMrs. Greenwood01 episode
TV series1990Bit of Fry & Laurie, AA Bit of Fry & Laurie01 episode
TV film1990DunrulinMrs. Trodd
TV series1990Screen Two"Drowning in the Shallow End"Agent
TV series19912point4 Children"Love and Marriage"Bette12 episodes total
TV series1991Bill, TheThe BillMrs. West
TV series1991Bottom"Apocalypse"Fortune Teller
TV series1991El C.I.D."Paradise Mislaid"Mildred
TV series1991Making Out01 episode
TV series19922point4 Children"I'm Going Slightly Mad"
Bette12 episodes total
Film1992Dakota RoadJoan Benson
TV series1992Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, TheThe Young Indiana Jones Chronicles"Barcelona, May 1917"Delfina
TV series19932point4 Children"Secret Diary of David Porter""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
Film1993Piccolo Grande AmoreQueen Mother
Film1993Son of the Pink PantherMarta Balls
TV series19942point4 Children"You Only Live Twice"
Bette12 episodes total
TV film1994Doggin' AroundMrs. Thompson
TV series1994New Voices"Bad Voodoo"Nana
TV series1994PiratesGran (Abigail Blood)
TV series1994Takin' Over the Asylum"Fly Like an Eagle"Harriet
TV series1994Vicar of Dibley, TheThe Vicar of Dibley"Arrival""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 seriesAnimated TV series1995Crapston VillasDelia (voice)
Film1995HauntedOld Gypsy Woman
TV series19962point4 Children"Vertigo"
"Two Years Before the Mast"
Bette12 episodes total
TV series1996Karaoke"Friday"
Mrs. Baglin
TV series1996Queen's Nose, TheThe Queen's NoseGrandma01 episode
Film1996Secrets & LiesCat Owner
TV series1996Vicar of Dibley, TheThe Vicar of Dibley"Easter Bunny""The Easter Bunny"Letitia Cropley
Film1997Keep the Aspidistra FlyingMrs. Meakina.k.a. A Merry War
TV series19982point4 Children"When Did You Last See Your Father"Bette12 episodes total
Short film1998AnthrakitisDolly10 minutes
TV series1998Bill, TheThe BillEdna Finch
Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series1998Canterbury Tales, TheThe Canterbury Tales"Leaving London"HagThe Hag (voice)
Film1998Revengers' Comedies, TheThe Revengers' ComediesWinnie
TV series1998Royle Family, TheThe 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 WonderlandMiss Lory
TV film1999Christmas Carol, AA Christmas CarolMrs. Dilberbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV miniseries1999Oliver TwistSallybased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series1999Queen's Nose, TheThe Queen's Nose"Harmony's Return"Grandma
TV series1999Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family"Sunday Lunch"
"Nana Comes to Stay"
"Antony's Birthday"
"Christmas with the Royle Family"
Norma Speakman11 episodes total
TV series1999Ruth Rendell Mysteries, TheThe Ruth Rendell Mysteries"Lake of Darkness""The Lake of Darkness"Lena Finn
Film1999Tom's Midnight GardenMrs. Willows
TV film1999Tube Tales"Horny"Older Lady
Animated TV seriesAnimated TV series2000Animated Tales of the World"Story from Taiwan""A Story from Taiwan: Aunt Tiger"Third Aunt (voice)
TV film2000Christmas Carol, AA Christmas CarolJoycebased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series2000City Central"Half Man Half Cop"Megan Roberts
TV film2000Donovan QuickGranny
TV series2000Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family"Funeral"
"The Christening"
"The Royle Family at Christmas"
Norma Speakman11 episodes total
TV film2001Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, TheThe Life and Adventures of Nicholas NicklebyPeg Sliderskewbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
TV series2002Bill, TheThe BillHarriet 'Tatsie' Wright02 episodes
TV film2002Good ThiefA Good ThiefLizzie
TV series2002Trial & RetributionMrs. Dorothy Norton02 episodes
Animated short filmAnimated short film2003Anna SpudGran (voice)10 minutes
TV miniseries2003Between the SheetsAudrey Delany
TV series2003DoctorsEnglish Woman's Home"An English Woman's Home"Agatha Clifford
Film2004Dead CoolLiz
TV miniseries2004Imperium: NeroneSoothsayer
Film2005Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryGrandma Georgina
Film2005Keeping MumMrs. Parker
Film2005Oliver TwistOld Womanbased on the novel by Charles Dickens
Animated film2005Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-RabbitMrs. Mulch (voice)
Film2006Magic Flute, TheThe Magic FluteOld Papagenamusic by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
TV series2006Royle Family, TheThe Royle Family"Queen of Sheba""The Queen of Sheba"Norma Speakman11 episodes total
2007 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress
TV film2007Abbey, TheThe Abbey
Film2007FlickMahorror film
Film2008City of EmberGranny Mayfleet
TV series2008Lark Rise to CandlefordZillah10 episodes
TV film2009Antiques Rogue ShowThe Antiques Rogue ShowOlive Greenhalgh
TV film2009All Star Impressions ShowThe All Star Impressions ShowQueen Elizabeth II
TV miniseries2013Common Ground"Colin's Mum"Colin's Mum1 episode
TV series2013The TunnelHarriet 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. 
  3. ^ "Desert Island Discs - Castaway : Liz Smith". BBC. 2008-03-09. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  4. ^ "Apartment Zero' (R)". The Washington Post. 3 November 1989. Retrieved 11 May 2010. 
  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. 
  7. ^ Osborn, Michael (6 December 2007). "Smith wins for Royle performance". BBC News website. 
  8. ^ Staff (5 July 2009). "Actress Liz Smith to quit acting". BBC News website. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  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). 
  11. ^ BBC One Programmes – The Young Ones

External links[edit]