Mel Smith was a popular British comic actor, writer and director of TV and character actor of film who began his career as a busy and versatile stage director. Smith gained some notoriety on the trend-setting comedy "Not the Nine O'Clock News" (BBC, 1979-1982) with Griff Rhys Jones and Rowan Atkinson. Not unlike the early "Saturday Night Live," the series was an irreverent satirical revue that ran the gamut from purely tasteless to memorably brilliant. Smith teamed with Jones to write and star in the top-rated sketch-comedy program "Alas Smith and Jones" (BBC, 1984-1998). He acted in the stage versions of both series and directed "Not in Front of the Audience," based on "Not the Nine O'Clock News," and remained a key influence on later generations of British comedians. He died in 2013.
Smith played character parts in films before making the transition to feature directing with "The Tall Guy" (1989), a pleasantly quirky comedy starring Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson that featured old colleague Atkinson in a memorable supporting role. Smith has also distinguished himself as a comic advertising director, his spots for Carling Black Label received a Silver Lion at Cannes. American fans of English comedy may have first encountered Smith as the co-star and co-screenwriter (both with Jones) of the uneven but often hilarious British feature "Morons from Outer Space" (1985) about alien tourists (with English accents) who find themselves on Earth. He received wider exposure in the small role of the Albino in Rob Reiner's beloved fantasy classic, "The Princess Bride" (1987).
Smith returned to American screens for the little-seen old-fashioned comedy "Brain Donors" (1992), playing the Chico Marx figure. He remained behind the camera as the helmer of "Radioland Murders" (1994), a meticulously designed period comedy produced by George Lucas that made barely a peep at the box office. In 1996, he returned to the big screen as Sir Toby Belch in Trevor Nunn's staid filming of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." The following year, he directed Atkinson as his signature character in the wacky feature "Bean" (1997), and he later helmed the overlooked crime comedy "High Heels and Low Lifes" (2001), starring Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack. Appearing less frequently on screens during his final decades, Smith was featured on the BBC ensemble period piece "Dancing on the Edge" mere months before his death in July 2013. Fondly remembered by his peers, most notably Griff Rhys Jones, Smith was also the subject of thoughtful statements by younger comedians who were inspired by him, including Peter Serafinowicz and Graham Linehan.