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Royle Family and Dibley actress Liz Smith dies aged 95

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Actress Liz Smith, who played Nana in The Royle Family and Mrs Cropley in the Vicar of Dibley, has died aged 95.

A family spokeswoman said the Bafta winning actress died on Christmas Eve.

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

Shane Allen, controller of BBC comedy commissioning, said she "brilliantly captured the grandparent in everyone's family" as Nana.

A long road to stardom

"It feels like we've lost a cherished figure from our lives," he said.

Smith also had roles in 2point4 Children and Lark Rise to Candleford, and was the voice of Mrs Mulch in Wallace and Gromit's The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

She was appointed MBE in 2009 and received the Bafta for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Maggie Smith's mother in the 1984 film A Private Function.

She announced her retirement from acting in 2009, following a series of strokes.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Liz Smith was appointed MBE in 2009

Her death comes less than six months after co-star and co-writer of The Royle Family, Caroline Aherne, died aged 52.

'Most generous person'

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

"For years people would say, 'Who is that funny woman with the funny face wearing the funny hat?' And this was Liz Smith," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"She was a complete breath of fresh air... she was not your bog standard middle-aged actress."

Leigh recalled her once taking her teeth out during filming, adding: "She was eccentric, she was a bohemian, a kind of hippy in a way.

"She had a lot of cats, was a vegetarian, the most generous person you would ever hope to meet.

"She was a compulsive buyer of houses - she bought and sold houses like you and I have breakfast every day. I think it was because she couldn't make her mind up."

Image caption Liz Smith starred as Nana in The Royle Family, a sitcom that ran for nearly four years

Ricky Tomlinson, who played Jim Royle, told the programme 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 estate agent] the money."

Recalling their time on the Royle Family, he said: "We had a great time together and we were so close as a family, she would come in on her days off and just sit there."

He said when filming the 2006 episode in which Nana died, the normal laughing and joking on set was absent.

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

Craig Cash, who starred as Dave Best in the Royle Family, said: "You felt both reassurance and excitement when handing Liz a script.

"It was like handing the baton to Usain Bolt, you knew she wouldn't just run with it - she'd practically fly."

'A British legend'

Ralf Little, who played Antony Royle in the sitcom, tweeted: "Devastating to lose two members of my second family in one awful year. RIP Liz Smith. Goodbye Nana. Xxx"

Andrew Whyment, who starred in Coronation Street and 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."

From factory girl to MBE

Image caption Liz Smith attributed her success to the scripts of Caroline Aherne, who wrote The Royle Family

By BBC obituary editor Nick Serpell

Liz Smith found fame as an actress at an age when most people are considering retirement.

It was a long road to eventual stardom, during which she struggled to raise a family after a broken marriage.

She became best-known for her roles in The Vicar of Dibley and The Royle Family but her talents encompassed serious drama too.

And while she made something of a name playing slightly dotty old ladies, the real Liz Smith was far removed from these on-screen personas.

Read more in Liz Smith's obituary

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