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Celebrating Coronation Street's Deirdre

Family, friends and fans mourn the sad passing of Coronation Streets much-loved actress Deirdre

The lights went out in Weatherfield when Anne Kirkbride died. Anne was only 60 and had left Coronation Street for what was expected to be eight weeks last September. The official statement announced that she had suffered “a short illness” but sources suggest she had breast cancer, which had spread to her brain.
Filming was cancelled and cast and crew were sent home to mourn, too upset to continue. “We all wanted to carry on filming for Annie’s sake but when it came to it, we couldn’t do it,” said a tearful Bill Roache, who played her screen husband Ken Barlow. “It’s the thought she’s not around any more.”
It was the ultimate tribute to the actress who, for 42 years and 1439 episodes, brought the irrepressible Deirdre Barlow to such vivid life that many messages of condolence from fans were addressed to the character, not the woman behind her. “I love Deirdre – she is part of me,” Anne once said. “Or perhaps that should be the other way round, as most people think I’m really her.
They expect me to be wearing her glasses, her clothes, her everything. They expect me to be her and are rather surprised when I’m me instead.” In fact, she loved Deirdre and Coro so much that she fell out with actor Ken Farrington, who played her first screen fiancé, Billy Walker, when he told her that her talents (including a photographic memory, perfect for learning scripts) were wasted on the soap.
Deirdre married Ray Langton in 1975 and Ken Barlow – twice
“She had an incredible variety of abilities and I kept trying to persuade her to... leave the Street because I thought she could go on to do really big things,” he says. “She actually became quite angry.”
Certainly, the producers and writers did their best to keep Deirdre at the heart of the best storylines.
There were four marriages, her first to womaniser Ray Langton and two to Ken. Their first ceremony, in 1981, was such a draw that more than 24 million viewers tuned in – which beat the wedding of Charles and Diana in the ratings war. The second, in 2005, was timed to coincide with Charles’ wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles – and the Coro magic triumphed again, with 12 million viewers against the royal couple’s nine million.
But perhaps the most dramatic liaison was with young Moroccan waiter Samir Rachid. She married him so he could get a British passport and, in gratitude, he offered to donate a kidney to her daughter Tracy. Sadly, he was attacked on the way to the hospital. Deirdre switched off his life support machine but the transplant went ahead anyway.
There were also numerous affairs, including a love triangle with Ken and Mike Baldwin and, notoriously, a fling in 1988 with conman Jon Lindsay, which saw her jailed for mortgage and credit card fraud. A public campaign to Free the Weatherfield One drummed up so much support that then-prime minister Tony Blair intervened, insisting, “It is clear to anyone with eyes in their head that she is innocent and she should be freed.” He ordered the home secretary to look into the case – and Deirdre was duly released.
Anne’s off-screen love life was more settled, even if it began with a plot line that would not have been out of place in the soap. She met husband David Beckett when he briefly played handyman Dave Barton. “The attraction was instant,” she remembered. “The thing is, and I really don’t like talking about this, he was in a relationship and I didn’t want to screw anything up for him.
“I never like talking about it because I’m conscious of his ex. It wasn’t nice for her but she was absolutely brilliant when it all happened and I still feel bad about it.” Despite being blissfully happy, they didn’t have children. “I never had that overwhelming need that some women seem to have,” Anne explained in her trademark gravelly voice. “I don’t think I ever heard the biological clock ticking. David and I are very happy with our cat and it’s thanks to Coro that I met my wonderful David. I wouldn’t be without him. “He adores me and I adore him. What else do you need?”
From 2003, their special place was a villa in Spain, where they celebrated special occasions – and Anne took up painting, showing her work at a Manchester gallery. “My whole family are artistic, and, of course, my dad was a cartoonist. But I always thought my artistic side came out in the acting,” she explained. “I don't think I realised how much I wanted to do this.”
Award winners Bill Roache, Anne and Johnny Briggs in 1984.
Painting was as much therapy as a way of expressing herself, especially when she suffered from depression – brought on by her mother’s death and her first battle with cancer in 1993, when a small lump on her neck turned out to be non-Hodgkins lymphoma. By 1998, she was in despair.
“Life became unbearable, absolutely intolerable. I wanted to die... You just don’t want to go on living, feeling like that,” she said shortly after. “But you’re frightened that if you die, you might still feel like that on the other side. There’s no escape.” Apart, that is, from Coro. “I needed the work to take my mind off everything else,” she said. “I don’t think many people even knew what was going on – but Bill was a rock. He would always manage to say something that gave me hope. I couldn’t talk about it with most people, only with Bill.”
With her depression under control, Anne’s only lingering fear was the return of cancer. “It’s still a part of me and always will be,” she said while she was in remission – and still smoking heavily. “Your first brush with it is truly terrifying but once you’ve been through it and come out the other side, it’s not as scary. I hope I never have to go through it again but if I do, I know I’ll cope.” She coped with dignity and restraint, keeping alive the hope that she would soon return to the cobbles even while she was dying. “I can’t see myself ever leaving Coronation Street,” she insisted. “I’ll stay as long as they want me. I love it here.”
Words by: Tessa Paige

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