Forever Deidre: remembering Anne Kirkbride’s Coronation Street years

A 2010 picture taken in the Rovers Return when the Duchess of Cornwall met actors Anne Kirkbride (De

A 2010 picture taken in the Rovers Return when the Duchess of Cornwall met actors Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre Barlow) and Ryan Thomas (Jason Grimshaw) during her visit to the set of Coronation Street. Photo: Andrew Yates/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride has died at the age of 60 after a short illness. She was central to some of the show’s most dramatic story lines over four decades. LYNNE MORTIMER looks back at the Deirdre Barlow years and the real life of the actress.

In the 1980s all of us spectacle wearers had a pair of Deirdres.

She epitomised the look of the decade; very big glasses. Hundreds of thousands of women wore the same hair and specs leaving very little face on show and thus, many of us were nicknamed Deirdre. It was a compliment. For behind those trademark specs and pinny Deirdre Barlow sizzled. She was, perhaps, an unlikely Corrie sex symbol but there was no doubting her allure. The mother-of-one was twice divorced, had a tempestuous affair with Street Casanova Mike Baldwin and later a passionate fling with handyman Dave Barton. Those outsized glasses steamed up on many an occasion.

But actress Anne Kirkbride was nowhere near as racy as her TV character and was happily married to actor David Beckett who she met on the Weatherfield set of the famous ITV soap. As Dave Barton he made an exciting entrance into her life in 1991 when he saved Deirdre’s daughter Tracy from a chip pan fire. He stayed to do odd jobs about the house - and mend her broken heart after being ditched by two-timing husband Ken.

The on-screen romance ended after six months. Off screen, the couple were to fall in love and marry.

Deirdre joined the series in 1972. She was briefly married to plumber Ray Langton but he ran off with a waitress and left her literally holding the baby in 1977 - daughter Tracy.

She became Ken Barlow’s third wife in 1981 but two years later had an affair with Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs). He begged her to set up home with him and the nation held its breath as Deirdre debated leaving boring Ken (William Roache) for glamorous businessman Mike.

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Members of the public threw themselves into the romance - one viewer told Kirkbride she was organising a petition to get her out of The Street. Others wrote “we thought you ought to know” letters to Ken.

Eventually Deirdre rejected Mike’s pleas to dump Ken and she ended their relationship. Ironically Ken later had an affair and left her for another woman.

Anne Kirkbride was voted TV Personality Of The Year in 1983. Off the Corrie set she didn’t enjoy the limelight: “I’m not very good at being a star, I don’t handle it very well. I’m really a quiet, private person,” she said once.

Born in Oldham, Greater Manchester on June 21, 1954, she joined the Street in 1972 after a stint in Oldham Rep. She joined the theatre straight from Counthill Grammar School, Oldham.

Kirkbride got her part in the Street by accident when she was being interviewed for another show. It was a small role but she made such a good impression she was soon back.

She joined the series properly as Deirdre Hunt, engaged to Billy Walker, the feckless son of Rovers Return doyenne Annie Walker. But they were never destined to wed, although Billy always had a gleam in his eye for her.

Kirkbride’s throat cancer was revealed in December 1993 - it was diagnosed after two growths developed on her neck. She was told she had contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a tumour of the lymph gland and had an operation to remove the lumps from her throat. Her character bowed out of the soap for three months during chemotherapy treatment.

In 1998, when Deidre was jailed after being duped into a mortgage fraud, a campaign to free her character from prison gained massive coverage, with even the prime minister promising to intervene.

Tony Blair gave his support to the “Free The Weatherfield One” movement and insisted it was clear to anyone “with eyes in their head” that Deirdre was innocent.

In November 2012 ITV1 aired a special one-off programme - Deirdre And Me: 40 Years On Coronation Street - which showcased some of the heroine’s highlights on the show as well as Kirkbride’s off-screen story.

Last year Kirkbride defended Roache at his sex assault trial by taking to the witness box at Preston Crown Court to praise the character of her co-star. She told the jury that Roache was ‘’always a perfect gentleman’’ around her, and when asked what one word she would use to describe him, she replied: ‘’Lovely.’’

After Roache was cleared of rape and indecent assault, his character Ken returned to Coronation Street to whisk Deirdre off on a caravan holiday in North Wales.

In September Kirkbride was granted an extended break from the soap by producers. She was expected to be absent from the show for three months.

Kirkbride was often advised to go to London and try for other acting roles but she never wanted to move far from home.

She said once: “I love my family and I love my roots. In any case, could you see me playing Ophelia at the National Theatre?”