Liz Smith (far right) in her role as Nana in the Royle Family. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock
Born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, Smith suffered a series of family misfortunes and heartbreaks. Her mother died in childbirth when she was two years old and her father walked out when she was seven, leaving her in the hands of her widowed grandmother.
He was a weak man and did as he was told, so he just disowned me, said Smith, who in later years discovered her dad had left for another woman who insisted he neglect his previous life.
During the second world war she served in the Womens Royal Naval Service and in 1945 married sailor Jack Thomas whom she met on service in India.
Smith, who divorced Jack in 1959 after their two children were born, broke suddenly and unexpectedly into film and TV in the early 1970s.
The then 49-year-old, who rarely gave media interviews, told how she was selling toys in Hamleys one Christmas when director Mike Leigh OBE, who went on to direct comedy dramas Life is Sweet and Career Girls as well as biopic films including Vera Drake, told her he needed a middle-aged woman to do improvisations.
The former theatre company worker and dressmaker, whose acting experience was limited to small time improvisation plays, starred in Leighs first film, Bleak Moments, which cued up an exhaustive list of TV credits.
She featured in Last of the Summer Wine, Emmerdale, a David Copperfield miniseries, before I Didnt Know You Cared: the story of a working-class household in South Yorkshire. Her casting in 2point4 Children made her a familiar face for a generation in the 1990s.
In Richard Curtis The Vicar of Dibley, the fictional story surrounding a boisterous and disorderly female minister in a quintessentially tiny British village, Smith featured as a character known for outrageous flower decorations and peculiar baking.
Her hapless character, often seen knitting, died at the end of the first series in 1996. Her dying wish to vicar Geraldine was that she take over from her as the villages Easter Bunny.
Liz later admitted she was hurt and bewildered when she learned her character was being killed off by a note stuck to a script that a messenger delivered to her front door.
Ten years later one of her characters again died in the Bafta-award-winning TV comedy The Royle Family, centred around a scruffy television-obsessed Manchester family.
Of the memorable Christmas episode, The Queen of Sheba, Smith said: I felt it was an ending of a whole thing. It was not just one lift, it was the whole concert of the story. They each say goodbye in a way that its almost, Goodbye, its being lovely knowing you.
The episode was rerun this year on 22 December as a tribute to Caroline Aherne.
A statement from Smiths spokeswoman on Monday night said: The Bafta award-winning actress Liz Smith has died, on Christmas Eve, at the age of 95, her family has announced.