Victoria Wood
Victoria Wood attends the British Comedy Awards, London, 2011Carl Court/ AFP

Victoria Wood's friend and former co-star has opened up about the beloved entertainer's secret six-month battle with cancer. Actor Duncan Preston was close to the comedian after they worked together but even he had no idea she was ill until her family called him with news of her death.

The 62-year-old star passed away on 20 April after a short battle with cancer. Confirming the sad news, her publicist Neil Reading said the mult-Bafta-award-winning writer died peacefully at her north London home surrounded by family.

Preston, who appeared with Wood in the BBC sitcom Dinnerladies and As Seen On TV, told The Daily Mail that not many people did knew she was ill, adding that she had cancer "for about six months".

Writing for The Mirror he paid a touching tribute to the "champion of the common people".

"I am shocked. All I know is it's a great loss to comedy in this country. She was a very special writer and the world has lost a great, great comedienne," the 69-year-old Emmerdale actor wrote.

After finding fame on talent show New Faces in 1974, Woods went on to star in popular comedy shows such as BBC 1's Dinnerladies, Acorn Antiques and Victoria Wood As Seen in TV. The mother-of-two received a special Bafta tribute award in 2005 and in 1997 she was made an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, later being made a CBE in 2008.

Long-time collaborator Julie Walters said that Wood's death was "incalculable" and she was "too heart-sore" to comment further. The pair forged a lifelong friendship after meeting as teenagers while auditioning at Manchester Polytechnic's student theatre.

Described by Prime Minister David Cameron as "a national treasure," Wood is said to have spent her final hours cracking jokes with her children Grace, 27, and Harry, 23.

Victoria Wood
Victoria Wood with cast members of Dinnerladies (1998-2000)BBC