Anne Kirkbride

Anne Kirkbride
Anne Kirkbride

Anthony Hayward’s obituary of Anne Kirkbridge in “The Guardian”:

In the role of Deirdre Barlow in the ITV soap Coronation Street, the actor Anne Kirkbride, who has died aged 60 after a short illness, found a job for life – and was happy not to endure the stresses, lack of routine and long periods out of work experienced by most actors. “I just enjoy having something to do that’s good, something that’s interesting and gives me a lot of scope,” she once told me in a rare interview. “I wouldn’t be here if I wanted to perform Shakespeare. I never really wanted to be an actress. This is a nine-to-five job. This is how I earn my money. The thought of this show coming off or me losing my job fills me with terror.”

A reluctant star, Kirkbride found fame and press attention difficult to cope with. During my interview, she sometimes fail- ed to find the answers to questions and just shook her head and waved her hands around in front of her face. Away from the Coronation Street studios, Kirkbride was a million miles from her screen character. She left behind Deirdre’s spectacles and pinnies, wore contact lenses, shirts and jeans, and had the aura of a much younger person.

She made her debut in the television soap opera in 1972, with just three lines as Deirdre Hunt, who was discovered drinking in a pub with Alan Howard (Alan Browning) by his then wife, Elsie Tanner (Patricia Phoenix). A year later, Kirkbride returned when Deirdre took her typing skills to the builder’s yard belonging to Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson), where she fell for his business partner, Ray Langton (Neville Buswell). The two married in 1975 and had a daughter, Tracy, but the marriage fell apart and the rest of Kirkbride’s Coronation Street career was dominated by Deirdre’s rollercoaster marriage to Ken Barlow (William Roache).

In 1983, two years after their wedding, Ken found out that Deirdre was having an affair with Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) and told her to leave. The explosive storyline proved to be the serial’s biggest to that date, with unprecedented press coverage. It caught the imagination of the public to the extent that the electronic scoreboard at a midweek Manchester United game informed 56,000 fans of the drama’s resolution: “Deirdre and Ken united again!”

When Ken went astray himself, having an affair with Wendy Crozier (Roberta Kerr), Deirdre threw him out. The couple divorced and, in 1994, Deirdre married a Moroccan waiter, Samir Rachid (Al Nedjari), but their happiness was shortlived. He died in hospital after being attacked by thugs.

Kirkbride was then firmly at the centre of another storyline that captured the nation’s imagination. When Deirdre was duped by Jon Lindsay (Owen Aaronovitch), who falsely claimed to be an airline pilot, moved into an expensive house with her and already had a wife and children, she found herself framed for credit card and mortgage fraud, and was sent to prison in 1998. She was released after several weeks when another of the conman’s victims came forward. In real life, the storyline had been mentioned by the prime minister and galvanised the public to launch a Free the Weatherfield One campaign. Eventually, Deirdre and Ken were re- united and remarried in 2005.

Kirkbride was born in Oldham, Lancashire, the daughter of Jack, a cartoonist, and his wife, Enid (nee Kirkham). As a child, she showed a desire to perform. Aged seven, she disappeared while on holiday in Wales and was found giving a sermon, in a convincing Welsh accent, in an empty chapel. She also learned the US comedian Spike Jones’s zany routines off by heart. When the family moved to the Saddleworth village of Scouthead when she was 11, Kirkbride joined the Saddleworth Junior Players, then the Oldham Rep Junior Theatregoers’ Club.

On leaving Counthill grammar school, Oldham, in 1970, she became an assistant stage manager with Oldham repertory theatre and advanced to acting roles. In between productions, she stage-managed a charity performance of Snow White. She made her first screen appearance in a play made by the Manchester-based Granada Television. In Another Sunday and Sweet F.A. (1972), written by Jack Rosenthal and directed by Michael Apted, she was seen in hotpants and a yellow knitted hat as a footballer’s girlfriend cheering on his Sunday league team from the touchline. Happy with her theatre work and resistant to change, she had had to be persuaded by her father to audition for the part.

This led on to an audition for the pilot episode of a new Granada series. Instead, she was offered the bit part of Deirdre Hunt in Coronation Street. Confirmation that she had become a staple of the soap came in 1984, when she, William Roache and Briggs jointly won a Pye Television award for their performances in the love triangle storyline.

In 1993, a year after marrying the actor David Beckett – who had played Dave Barton, Deirdre’s handyman boyfriend, in Coronation Street – Kirkbride was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer affecting her neck. She lost most of her hair as a result of chemotherapy, returned to the Granada set with a wig after six months and was finally given the all-clear in 1998.

However, as she put this illness behind her, Kirkbride was diagnosed with clinical depression. “I’m too sensitive, everything hits me too hard and affects me too much,” she said in a 2012 documentary, Deirdre & Me: 40 Years on Coronation Street. “I realised that all my life I’d probably suffered from a very mild form of depression.” She was prescribed anti-depressants and immediately felt better.

Inheriting artistic talents from her father and photographer great-grandfather, Kirkbride enjoyed photography and painting, particularly properties and landscapes around her Spanish holiday home. Exhibitions of her paintings were staged at galleries in Didsbury, Manchester, where she lived.

In September 2014, Granada Television announced that it had granted Kirkbride extended leave for “personal reasons”, and she was last seen in Coronation Street in October, after appearing in 1,439 episodes.

Kirkbride is survived by her husband.

• Anne Kirkbride, actor, born 21 June 1954; died 19 January 2015

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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