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Screen Two

As said, Van Load was a touring offshoot of the theatre, designed to take theatre right into the heart of the community. Thus Walters would start her career playing in schools, borstals, clubs, pubs and prisons, speaking to the people in their naked tongue as she performed the works of Bleasdale and Russell. One show was visited by the vice squad who'd been warned that foul language was being used - and indeed it was. In the van with her, unbelievably, would be Peter Postlethwaite, Bill Nighy and Matthew Kelly. Two future Oscar nominees and two future Golden Globe winners taking live theatre into Liverpool borstals - amazing.


The Everyman would provide a great learning experience for Walters, and give her an outlet for her political opinions, forged among the northern working-class. It would also introduce her to a far wider audience as the company, both collectively and individually, began to spread its wings, producing pieces for both TV and the London stage. 1976 would see Walters appear, alongside Postlethwaite and Kelly, in Mike Stott's risque comedy Funny Peculiar, first at London's Mermaid then, once the play had proved a big hit, at the Garrick. It would run for 19 months, earning Olivier nominations for Stott and Richard Beckinsale, who starred as a promiscuous Northern grocer.

Walters would also develop an act of her own, becoming a bawdy performer on the cabaret circuit.

1977 would see the Everyman continuing its assault on the national consciousness, with Walters appearing as Vera, alongside Postlethwaite, in Russell's council estate-set Breezeblock Park, again at the Mermaid, then the Whitehall Theatre.


The next year would be her busiest yet, with several TV plays, including Stott's Soldiers Talking, Cleanly in which she starred with Bernard Hill and Bill Nighy, and Alan Bennett's Me! I'm Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. But it was theatre that was driving her. She'd perform at Bristol's Old Vic in As You Like It and The Changeling (with Joseph O'Conor) and, at London's Royal Court, there'd be Snoo Wilson's hugely inventive The Glad Hand, where Anthony Sher would play a crazed South African tycoon who hires a troup of actors and attempts to sail a tanker through the Bermuda Triangle in the hope of summoning the Antichrist and shooting him in an OK Corral-style gunfight.


For Walters, though, the most important show of 1978 was a revue at London's Bush theatre called In At The Death, which ran between July and August. This saw writers such as Wilson and the notoriously out-there Ken Campbell invited to write sketches on the theme of mortality. Also invited was Victoria Wood, Walter's brief acquaintance some 8 years before. Since then Wood had won the talent show New Faces and was penning topical ditties for the consumer rights programme That's Life. In At The Death would see her add some levity to the grim proceedings, one sketch seeing Walters and Woods discussing surprise pregnancy in a Manchester library.


The sketch would go down a storm, prompting Granada's David Leland to commission Wood to write Talent, a play which she'd put on at Sheffield's Crucible and which would then be screened on TV. As a clearly brilliant performer of Wood's work, Walters would be invited to star, as she would in the sequels, Nearly A Happy Ending and Happy Since I Met You. They'd also collaborate on Good Fun, also produced at the Crucible, where two women would be forced to hastily organise a rally for 300 sufferers of cystitis. Beyond this, Wood would be asked to deliver her own TV series, and again kept Walters with her. Recognising Walters' importance, she even demanded that the pair receive equal billing. So, The Wood And Walters show it was.


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