Alas Smith, famous close up

Last updated 14:52 24/07/2013
British comedia Mel Smith who has passed away aged 60.
ALAS NO MEL SMITH: British comedia Mel Smith who has passed away aged 60.

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Actor Mel Smith managed to be both very funny and gloriously ordinary at the same time.

Chubby, prematurely balding, with a rather unkempt look, Smith was not the sort of man who would turn heads in the street or might ordinarily be expected to turn up in a Hollywood movie.

Recalling the 1960s, in conversation with his long-time comedy partner, Griff Rhys Jones, he claimed to have been one of "the beautiful people". "It was before I met you," Smith said. "It must have been," Rhys Jones replied, "because you've always been as ugly as sin since I've known you."

Smith emerged from the same Oxbridge milieu as Rhys Jones, Rowan Atkinson, their co-star on the satirical BBC television show Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979-82), the Pythons and the Beyond the Fringe crowd.

Smith came from comparatively humble stock - his father was a bookie in Chiswick, and there was an unpretentious, proletarian quality to his on-screen persona.

A naturalistic performer, Smith could take the character of Everyman and subtly spin it to produce great comedy. He had the perfect partner in Rhys Jones. On their memorable "head to head" dialogues on Alas Smith and Jones (1984-98) they personified Dumb and Dumber, turning stupidity into an art form, but it was always grounded in reality.

Smith was also an accomplished director from student days onwards and he directed several films, including Bean, with his old friend Rowan Atkinson.

He and Rhys Jones set up a production company, Talkback, in the 1980s to make their own show and others, including the Alan Partridge and Ali G shows. It became one of Britain's leading independent television production companies. They sold it two decades later for a reported [PndStlg]62 million.

Melvyn Kenneth Smith was born in West London in 1952. He studied psychology at New College, Oxford, where he also got involved in amateur drama. While at the Edinburgh Fringe with the Oxford Theatre Group in the mid- 1970s he met several members of the Cambridge Footlights company, including John Lloyd, who would later create Not the Nine O'Clock News.

Smith worked as an assistant director with several theatre companies, including the Royal Court and the Crucible in Sheffield.

Meanwhile Lloyd developed ideas that would become Not the Nine O'Clock News, a show that would revive television satire.

Two of the show's comic actors, Smith and Rhys Jones, appeared together in a sketch in a BBC Christmas comedy special in 1982 and Alas Smith and Jones developed from that.

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The Tall Guy (1989), with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson, successfully launched Smith's career as a film director. Bean was by far his biggest hit.

He had recurring health problems. He suffered from gout and became dependent on painkillers. He developed ulcers and pharyngitis and died of a heart attack at his home in London.

- The Southland Times

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