Linda Smith, the first lady of radio comedy, dies of cancer aged 48

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The Independent Online

The broadcaster Linda Smith, one of the small band of women to make it to the top of the male-dominated world of comedy, has died of cancer. She was 48.

A stalwart of Radio 4 quiz shows, notably the News Quiz, she was regarded with warm affection and admiration by listeners who named her the wittiest living person in one poll.

She also wrote and starred in two radio series of her own situation comedy, Linda Smith's A Brief History of Time Wasting, about life in a tower block. The veteran of the Edinburgh fringe circuit also appeared on shows including Have I Got News For You?, QI, and Mock the Week.

She died on Monday, three years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Jeremy Hardy, fellow comedian and News Quiz regular, said he was so lucky to have had such a wonderful friend and that she had been "the wittiest and brightest person working on TV or radio panel games".

"Working with someone so funny always reminded me of what comedy is all about. Her banter and flights of fancy were amazing," he said. "In a second, she could summon up the perfect word, the daftest English expression, the most appropriate literary quotation or line of movie dialogue, or the most savage putdown of any fraud, bully or tyrant in the news." Even when she was ill, she had made friends laugh and feel uplifted despite their sadness. "It was impossible to be in her company for more than a few minutes without laughing. I loved her very much." Mark Damazar, the controller of Radio 4, said it was a terrible loss. "Linda Smith was a Radio 4 giant. She was incredibly funny. She generated an energy and warmth in every programme she ever did that made her fellow comedians and millions of listeners love her."

Her blend of the personal, the political and the downright silly appealed to audiences across all spectrums. The Daily Mail lauded her "fertile, slightly unhinged imagination".

Outside comedy, her interests included humanism. She was president of the British Humanist Association two years ago. She said at the time: "I only found out that the beliefs I hold are 'humanistic' when the BHA kindly invited me to be its president. I am sure that I'm typical of many unconscious humanists.

"With fundamentalism of many kinds on the rise, the rational voice of humanism needs to be heard. I see publicising humanism in order that other people might identify themselves not just negatively as atheists, but positively as humanists, as a vital part of my role."

The BHA's executive director Hanne Stinson said: "She was a wonderful president and we are desperately sorry to hear of her death. We will miss her terribly.

"Until recently she continued to do great work for us."

Linda Smith grew up in Kent and became an early fan of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and the Monty Python team. From Bexleyheath comprehensive, she went on to study English with drama at Sheffield University.

She once said careers advice at school involved girls becoming typists and boys going into the Army and that they had laughed when she said she wanted to be an actress. After Shef-field, she joined a local theatre company where she met her partner, Warren Lakin, and, in the 1980s, began stand-up. Only in the 1990s, did her broadcasting career take off and she carried on performing even after cancer was diagnosed. Few people were aware of her illness. There will be a special tribute edition of the News Quiz on Friday presented by her friend and fellow panellist, Andy Hamilton.

In her own words

* On Jesus: "We know he wasn't English, because he wore sandals - but never with socks."

* When it was mooted the Duchess of York might be taken off the Civil List, she imagined her on a council estate: "I can't afford shoes for the kids: I've had to send Eugenie to school in skis."

* On her hometown, Erith: "They had a competition to find a new name for the Erith Leisure Centre. The winning name was 'The Erith Leisure Centre'."

* On WMD: "I sympathise with people trying to find them. I'm like that with scissors - I put them down, then search all over the house and never find them."

* On the tennis player, Tim Henman: "He's the human equivalent of beige."

Stephanie Calman