Words: Alison James Pic: ITV, Rex Shutterstock
They don’t make soap characters like Deirdre Anne Hunt Langton Barlow Rachid Barlow any more! In the 42 years she was on the cobbles, the one they once called ‘Sexy Specs’ managed to combine high drama and a tangled love-life with touches of pure comedy gold – think of her perennially ‘dry bird’ at Christmas, dodgy ‘stuffed marrow’ and dubious skills as a potter, although Deirdre herself was convinced she was the next Wedgewood! All this, of course, was due to the acting skills and perfect comic timing of actress Anne Kirkbride who passed away in January. It’s proof of just how highly Corrie regarded both Anne and Deirdre that they’ve chosen to leave her on-screen passing until now.
“Anne’s death was a huge tragedy and everybody who worked with her just loved her to bits – she was a very special woman,” says executive producer Kieran Roberts. “What’s really important is that the first thing we had to do was respect Anne and her family. We talked to her family about lots of things and when we’d done that, we planned how to say farewell to the character of Deirdre as well.”
Anne’s husband, actor David Beckett, whom she met on set in 1990 when he played a love interest of Deirdre’s, and her family have been consulted every step of the way with regards to Deirdre’s passing. News of her death reaches the Street on July 8, shortly before the welcome home party Ken’s been planning is due to start. The funeral is set for July 13.
‘We will be saying goodbye to Deirdre but also to Annie, so it is bound to be very emotional’
“The scripts are magnificent,” says Corrie producer Stuart Blackburn. “Yes, it is an upsetting experience for all of us for obvious reasons, but I think it is a really fitting tribute to Deirdre. There are tears, there is hurt, there are big issues – but there is also real humour. The ‘lock-in’ back at The Rovers after the funeral is classic Corrie.”
Insiders say the send-off will be the soap equivalent of a state funeral. Coronation Street bosses have reportedly had an entire graveyard built from scratch at Arley Hall stately home in Cheshire in order to do justice to the scenes. Some past characters are returning especially, including Bev Unwin, played by actress Susie Blake, and Peter Barlow, played by Chris Gascoyne.
“We’ll be saying goodbye to Deirdre but also to Annie, so it is bound to be very emotional,” says Chris. “I worked with Annie for 15 years and I loved her, she was a really lovely woman and I miss her. They asked me to go back to the Street for a couple of episodes and of course I said yes. It’s only right that Peter would be there.”
Chief mourner will of course be Deirdre’s husband, Ken, played by actor William Roache, one of the few non-family members present at Anne’s very private funeral in January and who also read a poem at her memorial service held in Manchester Cathedral at the end of May.
“Ken and Deirdre were together for the best part of 35 years,” he says, “so I spent as much time with Anne as I did with my own family. There’s a scene during Deirdre’s funeral where Ken is given her glasses and I certainly didn’t need any motivation where the acting was concerned. None of us did.”
- Corrie is on ITV1. News of Deirdre’s death reaches the Street on July 8 with her funeral on July 13.
The life and times of Deirdre – and the men in her life!
- 1972… aged 18, Deirdre Hunt makes her first appearance on on the Street, flirting with Elsie Tanner’s husband.
- 1975… Deirdre marries builder Ray Langton (pictured top right), having previously been engaged to Billy Walker but the marriage ends in divorce.
- 1981… More than 24 million viewers tune in to watch Deirdre tie the know with her sweetheart Ken Barlow on the same day Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer.
- 1983… Ken finds out about Deirdre’s affair with Mike Baldwin. They separate for a while but ultimately reconcile. This news was announced on the scoreboard during a Manchester United v Arsenal match at Old Trafford– Ken and Deirdre reunited. Ken 1 – Mike 0.
- 1990… Deirdre starts divorce proceedings when she discovers Ken’s affair with Wendy Crozier.
- 1994… Deirdre finds love with Moroccan toyboy Samir Rachid on holiday. They marry but it doesn’t last long. Samir offers to donate a kidney to Tracy, who needs a transplant, but he’s attacked on the way to hospital and Deirdre is forced to decide to switch off his life support.
- 1998… Deirdre is sent to prison after duplicitous lover, Jon Lindsay, implicates her in a bank fraud scheme. The story prompts a real-life tabloid newspaper campaign to get her freed.
- 2005… The romance is on again for Deirdre and Ken as they remarry – but her former husband Ray dies at the reception held at the Rovers.
- 2012… Seven years on Deirdre and Ken’s marriage is on the rocks again when he spends time with former lover Wendy Crozier. But Deirdre puts up a fight – and wins.
For all the latest TV news and star chat, read Yours magazine - out every fortnight on a Tuesday