What became of Mrs Merton’s girls from Wigan?

Enid Keats with the photograph of her, Liz Ramsdale and Sylvia Armstrong dancing on the Bird Street cobbles
Enid Keats with the photograph of her, Liz Ramsdale and Sylvia Armstrong dancing on the Bird Street cobbles

Our top columnist Geoffrey Shryhane takes a look at an iconic comedian's connection with Wigan...

They were known throughout the country as Mrs Merton’s Wigan ladies who appeared in the comedian’s TV show for almost a decade.

The ladies of certain ages from the cobbles of Bird Street area of Ince could never have known they would be recognised in the street and ask for their autographs.

Liz Ramsdale, Sylvia Armstrong and Enid Keats became an essential part of the Mrs Merton Show and their views on life had the nation in tucks.

Mrs Merton – the actress and writer Caroline Ahearn – knew from start that the Wiganers were winners – it was no show without them.

But the weekly show finally ended and everyone went their separate ways.

Caroline died of cancer, sadly Liz too died around eight years ago, and today Sylvia leads a very quiet life.

But Enid was more than delighted and willing to settle down with a cuppa and look back at extraordinary years when appearing on TV was all part of life, along with its fame.

The show opened with Caroline, Liz and Sylvia and a band of locals matching down Bird Street along with a brass band.

Having left Bird Street behind, Enid has now settled into a great flat in nearby Hindley and is proud of her scrap books of cuttings with the many stars who were cheekily questioned by the lady who once asked Debbie Magee: “What attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels.”

The stars who appeared knew they were putting their reputations on the line.

But they took the veiled insults in good part and the Wigan ladies delighted in being introduced and chatting with famous faces.

Enid remembered: “It’s funny how it started. The authorities wanted to replace the cobbles with tarmac and our protest was featured on TV.

“They realised that there was a good rapport with Liz and Sylvia and as part of the pilot show, we were all taken to the studios in Manchester on a double decker bus. We never stopped laughing.

“A day a week was devoted to the recording and people think the show made us rich. Not true.

“We weren’t paid, just our expenses. We did it for the love of having a lot of fun away from our normal everyday lives.

In a way, the show was about the liberation of ladies.

“Caroline was keen on equal rights and nothing was off limits. She was a great professional, and a little bit like her Mrs Merton character.

“It was cosy image but the claws were always out.”

Enid said the three ladies were soon recognised wherever they went.

She added: “We were always in the newspapers and magazines and we felt the big time has arrived when Caroline took a load of us Las Vegas.

“What a treat. We were treated like stars. Nothing was too much trouble and in addition to recording the show, we had a fabulous time.”

The show ran for almost a decade – and Enid recalled how she met big names such as Boy George, Bernard Manning, Richard Whitely, Ted Robins, Fred Dibner, Barbara Windsor, Lord Litchfield, Lorraine Kelly, Ant and Dec , Tony Curtin, Tammy Wynette and so many more.

She believes they were popular on the show because whatever questions were thrown at them, they were never short of words of comments.

Enid admitted that she was just a little disappointed when the show came to an end but admits it had had a good run and finished on top.

Her cat Tia settles on her knew, and Enid laughs as she says that on rare occasions she’s still recognised.

“Yes, it was a lot of fun. I’d love to do it all over again.”