AS Soapland mourned one of its favourite actors this week, it was recalled that a Wigan man was partly responsible for launching her career.
Tributes have flooded in following the shock death of Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow in Coronation Street, at the age of just 60.
Anne joined the cast 44 years ago and it was the late Standish-born screenwriter Brian Finch who created the character.
His son Paul, himself a successful writer, today recalled Brian’s involvement in introducing Deirdre Hunt, as she was then called, into the soap.
“She was only meant to be a temporary character, so far as I remember,” said Paul. “Dad was writing a lot of episodes for Coronation Street in the 1970s and he invented this new female character for the show.
“Deirdre, I think, was going to be a secretary in Len Fairclough’s builder’s yard; quite a minor character. But of course Deirdre became one of the programme’s main characters.
“Dad couldn’t claim any credit for picking Anne Kirkbride for the role but he must have written a lot of good storylines for her. I would say the 1970s was both his and her heyday on the street, especially with Deirdre man-hunting on the cobbles at the time!
“I remember that when she was ill in the 1990s he said how sad it was and mentioned how good an actress she was.”
Brian, a prolific writer who won plaudits not only for the 150 episodes of Corrie he wrote between 1970 and 1989 but also dramas including Heartbeat, All Creatures Great and Small, Bergerac and Goodnight Mr Tom, himself died in 2007.
Ms Kirkbride had recently been off screen, after taking a break from Weatherfield since September.
But with the full reasons for her absence unexplained, fans were shocked when the broadcaster announced that Kirkbride – famous for her oversized spectacle-wearing, gravel-voiced alter-ego – had died on Monday night in a Manchester hospital.
She leaves behind husband David Beckett, whom she married in 1992.
The couple met when he played Deirdre’s handyman boyfriend Dave Barton in the soap.
In contrast, Kirkbride’s Coronation Street character had an extremely colourful love life, with several husbands over the years.
William Roache, who played her screen husband Ken Barlow - their nuptials attracted more than 24 million viewers in 1981 - said the soap had lost one of its “iconic” characters.
“I feel Anne’s loss so personally having worked closely with her for more than 40 years,” he said.
“She was such a loving and vibrant person.
“You always knew she was there because her laugh was never far away.
“She was an impeccable performer with superb comedy timing and an immense gift for really heightened drama. We had some rows over the years as Ken and Deirdre and it was wonderful to play those scenes opposite her.
A statement on the ITV website said that Kirkbride’s husband and the programme’s cast and crew were “heartbroken and deeply saddened”.
Wigan-born Kym Marsh, who plays barmaid Michelle Connor, said: “Cannot describe how devastated we all are.
“Sleep tight gorgeous lady we will miss you ridiculous amounts RIP Annie x”
Coronation Street’s creator Tony Warren said: “Anne was very easy to love. Her talent over the years made a massive contribution to Coronation Street.”
ITV director of television Peter Fincham said Kirkbride had “created a unique and unforgettable character” and said she had been “a truly loyal servant to Coronation Street since joining the programme in the early 1970s”.
The actress previously took a break from the soap after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1993.
After having chemotherapy treatment she returned to Coronation Street, but told afterwards how it had left her with depression.
“Life became unbearable, absolutely intolerable,” she said. “I wanted to die, I just wanted to die because you just don’t want to go on living feeling like that. But you’re frightened that if you die you might still feel like that on the other side. There’s no escape.”