The annual comedy benefit in memory of the glorious Linda Smith takes place in Edinburgh this week. Comedian Angela Barnes takes time out ahead of the gig to remember the lady who made her believe she could be what she now is.
The annual Loving Linda benefit concert in memory of the brilliant Linda Smith, whose influence can be seen all over Edinburgh at this time of year, is fittingly being held as part of the Fringe on Wednesday night.
The proceeds will go to Target Ovarian Cancer, a charity that campaigns on behalf of women who have been, and will be, diagnosed with the disease from which Linda died at just 48 in 2006.
Safe to say I am delighted, honoured and utterly chuffed to be involved alongside Jo Brand, Susan Calman, Jo Caulfield, Bridget Christie, Phill Jupitus, Liz Lochhead, Fred Macaulay, Mark Thomas and Arthur Smith. I know, it’s an amazing line up, isn’t it?
As a comic, you often get interviewed by papers, websites, radio stations and the like to promote gigs and shows. One of the stock questions you get asked is “who is your biggest influence?” I always reply, “Linda Smith”.
I first became aware of Linda via The News Quiz on Radio 4. I felt an immediate affinity to her. She was born just down the road from where I was born and had the accent and turns of phrase that I know so well.
She talked about a Kent and a family life that I recognised, despite being almost two decades younger than her.
I have been a fan of comedy, particularly her radio comedy, for as long as I can remember. Being a girl who had pretty low self-confidence at school and into my twenties, it never occurred to me that this was something I could actually do.
“Linda didn’t come across as if she was part of a “cool” movement. She was just bitingly funny and acerbic and warm. She was just Linda and I loved her instantly.”
I always knew that I wanted to perform comedy. But it was something that cleverer, more confident, and, let’s be honest, if you listen to old radio comedy like I did, something that was the preserve of the Oxbridge elite and middle classes. Hearing Linda on The News Quiz and other programmes on radio and TV really showed me there might be a place for somebody like me in that world.
She was intelligent, had something to say on what was happening in the news, but she was also approachable and not at all threatening. Linda didn’t come across as if she was part of a “cool” movement. She was just bitingly funny and acerbic and warm. She was just Linda and I loved her instantly. I wanted to know about her, to hear what she had to say, to understand her interpretation of the world.
Linda was a brilliant satirist. She was incredibly politically aware, without being party political, and was able to lampoon the world of politics in a completely accessible way. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were targeted equally. She held strong left values, and was a humanist. Values I too hold dear. She also just happened to be one of the sparkiest wits I can think of.
I loved reading Driving Miss Smith: A Memoir Of Linda Smith by her partner of 23 years, Warren Lakin. It was a really touching account of Linda’s life both in and out of comedy. Warren and Linda were a team, and the way they worked together was so inspiring.
I read Warren’s book not long after very suddenly losing my Dad. My Dad who had introduced me to Round The Horne, Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, Just a Minute and so many other radio classics. I think they all helped to plant the seed that maybe, one day, I could actually have a go.
Skip forward to 2013. I took the plunge. I am now a comedian starting out on my way, about to do my first TV series.
One day I received a phonecall out of the blue. It was from Warren. He told me that he had heard about me, and knew that I was a fan of Linda’s. He liked the stuff I was doing, which meant more to me than I can say. We chatted for about half an hour about Linda, and comedy and how things have changed over the years. It was a very special moment for me. He asked me if I would perform at the 2014 Loving Linda comedy night, which took place in London. I jumped at the chance.
He also told me about Linda’s archive. Warren had collected and archived everything about Linda when he was writing his book. Audio tapes dating back to when they first met and worked together in 1983; CDs, videos, posters, notebooks, scripts – everything you could imagine from Linda’s career had been lovingly saved.
Warren had donated it all to the University of Kent. Linda knew the Head of Drama there, Ollie Double, and they have a very popular comedy module. Warren knew those students could benefit greatly from Linda’s archive. And, indeed they will.
“Seeing Linda’s workings out helped me to accept that, although I am a long, long way from having her kind of pure talent, I am on the path I have wanted to be on for all those years.”
Last year, Warren took me to the University to look through it for myself. I never got to meet Linda, let alone to work with her. But on that day, I had an insight into the work of my hero that few people are lucky enough to get.
I saw her notebooks, and in them I recognised the process that I myself go through when writing material. The hastily jotted down ideas; meaningless to anyone else. The writing out of set lists over and over, to sort out where the new bits would go and to cement them in your head. The doodles. OH THE DOODLES! I know my brain won’t let me think unless my pen hand is distracted.
We found tapes of live shows, lots of Linda’s BBC recordings. Warren found notes from when Linda returned to live stand up after concentrating on radio and TV for a few years. He talked me through the process they went through as Linda recalled all of the material she had, and Warren typed it up for her, before helping to whittle it down to a set for her first live show.
My favourite finds of the day were The News Quiz notepads. On The News Quiz, the panellists have a notepad and pen on the table to jot down their thoughts/prompts/reminders etc. Several of Linda’s are in her archives.
When I am sitting at my own desk, covered in post-it notes, and scraps of paper, and filled or half filled notebooks, the thought of someone maybe going through them in the future fills me with dread, but they are part of the process of writing comedy.
And the process is what is so exciting to people like me, comedyphiles. Seeing Linda’s workings out helped me to accept that, although I am a long, long way from having her kind of pure talent, I am on the path I have wanted to be on for all those years. And how bloody lucky I feel to be here.
Linda died in 2006 from ovarian cancer. This cruel disease took her far too young, leaving the world a much less funny place. It is a cancer very difficult to detect, so research and development in this area is vital. This is why Linda’s legacy is so important. The work that Target Ovarian Cancer does has, can and will save so many lives.
Loving Linda 2015 takes place on Wednesday, August 19 at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh.
Click here if you missed our series of articles during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Angela Barnes is currently performing her show, Come As You Are, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Until Aug 30. Click here for more info.1942 Views
Angela Barnes is an award-winning standup comedian. She is sometimes on TV and the radio and is often in a comedy club near you. @AngelaBarnes