ENTERTAINMENT
20/07/2013 18:16 BST | Updated 20/07/2013 18:49 BST

Mel Smith Obituary: More Than Just A Comic

Mel Smith, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 60, was part of one of television's best-known double acts as well as a successful actor and director in his own right.

His comedy sketches on Alas Smith and Jones and Not the Nine O'Clock News turned him into a household name, launching the long and varied career that saw Smith appear in and direct Hollywood films, introduce Queen at Live Aid and score a top-five chart hit.

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Mel Smith (right) with Griff Rhys Jones were famous for their double act

Born in Chiswick, west London, it was perhaps inevitable Smith - the son of a bookmaker - would enter the world of entertainment as even at the age of six he was directing plays with his friends.

He went up to New College, Oxford, to study experimental psychology, having chosen the university especially for its dramatic society.

Smith's involvement in the society led to him becoming its president, and he directed productions at the Oxford Playhouse and performed at the Edinburgh fringe festival during his university days.

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 sidekick for decades to come.

When the programme, which also featured Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson, came to an end, Smith and Jones decided to continue their comedy partnership with their own sketch show, its name being taken from American Western series Alias Smith and Jones.

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Cast of Not the Nine O'Clock News

Its trademark became the pair's head-to-head chats, which have been compared to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Dagenham Dialogues. The conversations saw Smith play a know-it-all, while Jones took on a dim-witted persona, and they would engage in discussions on every topic under the sun. Over the next 16 years, there were a total of 10 series of the show.

In addition, Smith and Jones made films and radio shows together, and performed in plays, clip shows and Christmas specials. The comedians' many charity appearances included taking to the stage at Wembley to introduce Queen at 1985's Live Aid.

They founded production firm Talkback in 1981, which was responsible for comedy hits including Da Ali G Show and Knowing Me Knowing You. The firm was sold in 2000.

The last Smith and Jones series aired in 1998, but the pair stayed in touch and in 2005 collaborated on The Alas Smith and Jones Sketchbook, a showcase of their past shows.

Smith directed films including Bean - The Ultimate Disaster Movie, which starred fellow Not the Nine O'Clock News comic Atkinson, and Richard Curtis romantic comedy The Tall Guy. His acting credits included Babylon in 1980, the 1987 hit The Princess Bride and Sir Toby Belch in Trevor Nunn's 1996 production of Twelfth Night.

The comic also took the title role in Raymond Briggs' animated Father Christmas in 1991, in which he sung the song Another Bloomin' Christmas. He had previously demonstrated his vocal talents in 1981, releasing the single Mel Smith's Greatest Hits, and in 1987 when he teamed up with Kim Wilde for the Comic Relief song Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree which reached the top five.

Smith worked with Jones again on a sketch show for BBC One only last year.

He leaves wife, Pam, with whom he lived in north west London.