PASSINGS: Mel Smith, James Lewis Carter 'T-Model' Ford

PASSINGS: Mel Smith, James Lewis Carter 'T-Model' Ford
British comedians Mel Smith (left) and Griff Rhys Jones began working together during a current-affairs parody show. (Associated Press)

Mel Smith

British comedian, actor and director


Mel Smith, 60, an actor, writer and director who was a major force in British comedy, died of a heart attack Friday at his home in northwest London, said his agent, Michael Foster.

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 roller coaster of a ride along the way. Terrific business. Fantastic fun, making shows," 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 events spoofs such as the 1994 show "The Day Today" and, much later, America's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

It also featured a generation of comedians, including "Mr. Bean" actor Rowan Atkinson and actress Pamela Stephenson. Smith and Jones' company, Talkback Productions, went on to nurse other British comedic greats, including Sacha Baron Cohen's wince-inducing character Ali G and Steve Coogan's hilariously awkward Alan Partridge.

Smith's acting credits in film include the Albino in "The Princess Bride" (1987) and Sir Toby Belch in "Twelfth Night" (1996).

Smith also directed films including "Bean" (1997) and "The Tall Guy" (1989).

Born in London on Dec. 3, 1952, Smith was directing plays by age 6. He studied experimental psychology at Oxford, directing productions at the Oxford Playhouse and performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 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 years to come.

James Lewis Carter 'T-Model' Ford

Mississippi blues singer

James Lewis Carter "T-Model" Ford, a hard-living blues singer who taught himself to play guitar in his late 50s when his fifth wife left him, died Tuesday of respiratory failure at his home in Greenville, Miss.

His age was uncertain. Washington County Coroner Methel Johnson said the family told her Ford was born in 1924 and had already had his birthday this year, which would have made him 89. But a blues expert and longtime friend, Roger Stolle, said Ford didn't remember what year he was born and claimed to be 93.

"He was known as one of the last really authentic Mississippi blues men," Stolle, who owns a Clarksdale, Miss., store called Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, said. "He has a story and could back it up."

When Ford was young, he served two years of a 10-year prison sentence for killing a man in self-defense, and he had scars on his ankles from serving on a prison chain gang, Stolle said.

Ford had six wives and 26 children, Stolle said. When Ford's fifth wife left him, she gave him a guitar as a parting gift.

"He stayed up all night drinking white whiskey," or moonshine, "and playing the guitar," Stolle said. "He kind of went on from there."

Ford started his blues career by playing at private parties and at juke joints in Greenville. He recorded several albums, including three with Mississippi's Fat Possum Records, and toured the United States and Europe with a group of older blues musicians.

Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett, who co-owns the city's Ground Zero Blues Club with actor Morgan Freeman, said Ford was "a master of old-school blues" with an international following.

"His music would take you right back to the heart and soul of the Delta, back in the day," Luckett said.

Times staff and wire reports