Obituary: Tributes to comedian Mel Smith after his death at St John’s Wood home
PUBLISHED: 17:00 24 July 2013
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Tributes have poured in to the “amazingly talented” comedian Mel Smith, who died of a heart attack at his St John’s Wood home, aged 60.
Smith - who became a household name thanks to his comedy sketches on Alas Smith and Jones and Not the Nine O’Clock News - died on Friday.
Tributes were led by his friend and comedy partner Griff Rhys Jones, who said: “He inspired love and utter loyalty and he gave it in return.
“I will look back on the days working with him as some of the funniest times that I have ever spent.
“We probably enjoyed ourselves far too much, but we had a roller coaster of a ride along the way.”
Fellow Not the Nine O’Clock News star Rowan Atkinson said he felt “truly sad” at their parting.
“Mel Smith - a lovely man of whom I saw too little in his later years,” he said.
“He was the cast member with whom I felt the most natural performing empathy. “He had a wonderfully generous and sympathetic presence both on and off screen.”
Former Not the Nine O’Clock News producer John Lloyd revealed Smith had been ill “for some time”.
The comedian, who was born in Chiswick, west London, had a long and varied career, which saw him appear in and direct Hollywood films, introduce Queen at Live Aid and score a top-five chart hit.
But his early career began started aged just six when Smith directed his friends in plays.
During his time at Oxford, where he studied experimental psychology, he became president of the university’s dramatic society, directed productions at the Oxford Playhouse and performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
His directing career saw him first working at the Royal Court in London, before moving on to the Bristol Old Vic and the Sheffield Crucible.
It was after being invited by producer John Lloyd to join the Not the Nine O’Clock News that Smith met Griff Rhys Jones, who would go on to become his comedy partner for decades.
When the programme came to an end, they decided to continue their comedy partnership with their own sketch show, its name being taken from American Western series Alias Smith and Jones.
The show’s trademark became the pair’s head-to-head chats, which have been compared to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Dagenham Dialogues.
Smith and Rhys Jones founded production firm Talkback in 1981, which was responsible for comedy hits including Da Ali G Show and Knowing Me Knowing You.
Smith also directed films including Bean - The Ultimate Disaster Movie, staring Rowan Atkinson, and appeared in 1987 hit film The Princess Bride and as Sir Toby Belch in Trevor Nunn’s 1996 production of Twelfth Night.
Smith is survived by his wife, Pam, and their daughter, Alexandra.
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