British comedy figure Mel Smith dies, aged 60
LONDON (AP) — Actor and writer Mel Smith, a major force in British comedy whose evening news parody anticipated the hijinks of hits such as “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” has died of a heart attack, his agent said Saturday. He was 60.
Smith shot to fame along with his partner-in-comedy Griff Rhys Jones in “Not the Nine O’Clock News,” whose take-down of earnest BBC newscasts, talk shows, and commercials would influence a generation of comedians.
“We probably enjoyed ourselves far too much, but we had a rollercoaster of a ride along the way. Terrific business. Fantastic fun, making shows. Huge parties and crazy times,” Jones said. “Mel was always ready to be supportive. Nobody could have been easier to work with.”
The pair’s sketch show was a watershed, laying the ground for current affairs spoofs such as the “The Day Today” and, much later, America’s “Daily Show.”
It also featured a generation of comedians, including “Mr. Bean” actor Rowan Atkinson and actress Pamela Stephenson. Smith and Jones’ company, Talkback Productions, went to nurse other British comedic greats, including Sacha Baron Cohen’s wince-inducing character Ali G and Steve Coogan’s hilariously awkward Alan Partridge.
Born in London, Smith was directing plays by the age of six. He studied experimental psychology at Oxford, directing productions at the Oxford Playhouse and performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.
It was after he was invited by producer John Lloyd to join the “Not the Nine O’Clock News” which launched in 1979, that he met Jones, who would join him in comedy partnerships for decades to come, including the sketch show “Alas Smith and Jones,” which ran through the 1980s. The pair founded Talkback in 1981, selling the firm in 2000.
Smith directed films including “Bean — The Ultimate Disaster Movie,” starring Atkinson, and Richard Curtis in rom-com “The Tall Guy.” His acting credits include the 1987 cult hit, “The Princess Bride.”
Agent Michael Foster said Smith died Friday at this home in northwest London. He is survived by his wife, Pam.