Actor, comedian, producer and director Mel Smith has died this weekend aged 60.
Smith was born in Chiswick, London to parents Kenneth and Vera, in 1952. He studied at Oxford, alongside comedy contemporaries Griff Rhys Jones, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Upon graduation, Smith took up the role of assistant director at the Royal Court Theatre, followed by a stint in the same position at the Bristol Old Vic, and then at the Sheffield Crucible in 1979.
Success on the small screen would come through Not the Nine O’Clock News a few years later, a show for which he both wrote and performed. The programme ran from 1979 to 1981, during which time he and comedy partner Rhys Jones created Talkback production company, which the duo sold for £62 million in 2000. According to Smith, it was Talkback which “gave me the confidence to direct, so it was a short leap to the cinema”. His debut feature, The Tall Guy, was also Richard Curtis’ first foray into cinema, and starred Jeff Goldblum alongside regular collaborators Rowan Atkinson and Emma Thompson.
The 1994 comedy Radioland Murders was to follow, written by none other than George Lucas, but Smith called the movie a disaster. "George doesn't understand comedy”, Smith recalled, “so the movie flopped." His next film however had no such trouble, with the television spin-off Bean grossing $250 million worldwide.
His final two films, the Hollywood comedy High Heels and Low Lifes (2001) and the darkly humorous Blackball (2003), would not fare so well, but he would continue to find success both on television and in the theatre, perhaps most notably in his performance as Winston Churchill in Mary Kenny's play Allegiance at the Edinburgh festival in 2006.
In 1988 he married Pamela Gay-Rees, a former model. She and their daughter, Alexandra, survive him.