The Third Leader: Rosy outlook

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The Independent Online

Happy news: Victoria Wood has been voted the funniest woman of all time in a Radio Times poll. A fine result, not only because Ms Wood, with her splendid mix of drollery, pathos and lively interest in human plumbing and catering, is indeed very funny, but because it also confirms my theory that Lancashire, her home county, produces our finest comics. Morecambe, Dawson, Kay, Coogan, Vegas: a small selection of a long list accompanying Victoria, who is from Bury, as was the great Richmal Crompton, begetter of Just William.

Why should this be? What is the secret of the red rose? Well, traditionally, if you come from there, you need a sense of humour, to cope with things like the industrial revolution and Londoners making unkind remarks about the weather; which, traditionally, is also true if you're a woman, as you know what you've got to cope with, although it's only comparatively recently that you've let everybody else in on the joke.

All the same, "Funniest Woman of All Time" is some claim. What about Hylda Baker? Jane Austen, too, of course, had Lancashire connections; I'm working on Dorothy Parker. Who is a fine example of the prime distinguishing feature of female comedy: disdain, which they do so much better than men, having had the practice. All the Radio Times Top 10, Wood, Saunders, Burke, are mistresses of wither, more or less disguised.

Keith Waterhouse has my favourite example: Irene Handl - a Londoner, sadly - telling a director trying to explain motivation: "Sorry, darling, I'm afraid you're confusing me with one of those actresses who gives a toss". Ah, yes.

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