Ruling soap queens who reigned Supreme and lit up our television screens

They were the queens who ruled Soapland, adored by fans, respected by colleagues, feared by rivals. But uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, keeping the throne often difficult.

Pat Phoenix with Tony Booth whom she married in a dramatic hospital wedding after diagnosis with cancer (photo: Getty Images)
Pat Phoenix with Tony Booth whom she married in a dramatic hospital wedding after diagnosis with cancer (photo: Getty Images)

Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner, Coronation Street, 1960-73, 1976-84)

Flame-haired, full-lipped and busty, Elsie was the soap’s most successful good-time girl and the original tart with a heart.

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Unlucky in love, she was often chided by wasp-tongued Ena Sharples about her lack of morals.

Top soap queen, Anita Dobson (photo: Getty Images)

However, in an argument, hot-tempered Elsie always gave as good as she got and would wade into battle, hand on hip and finger wagging furiously.

She left Coronation Street in 1984 to go to Portugal to run a bar with old flame Bill Gregory.

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For almost a quarter of a century, Patricia Phoenix fought off all contenders to stay Queen of the British Soaps.

The colourful and charismatic actress was described as “the sexiest woman on television” by then Prime Minister James Callaghan.

Diva of the Dales, Claire King (Kim Tate, Emmerdale) (photo: Getty Images)

Indeed, during her time in the soap, she received an average of four proposals of marriage a week ... plus numerous indecent propositions!

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But in 1984 she quit, saying: “At 90 Elsie would still have stuck two blobs of rouge on her cheeks and gone down the pub.

"I couldn’t allow that. It would have destroyed her original sexy image.”

She joined TV-am as their resident agony aunt and starred as a seaside landlady in ITV sitcom Constant Hot Water but the show was beneath her.

In 1986 she was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer – the sad legacy of a 60-a-day smoking habit – before marrying Tony Booth in a dramatic hospital wedding.

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She died shortly afterwards and, on the day of her funeral, all Coronation Street rehearsals were cancelled for the first time in the programme’s then 26-year history.

Noele Gordon (Meg Richardson, Crossroads, 1964-81, 1983)

Motel matriarch Meg Richardson was the linchpin of Crossroads.

Classy and with a heart of gold, she was a shrewd businesswoman but a loser in love.

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Without her strength, there is little doubt that her family and the motel would have fallen apart.

For 17 years Meg was the dominant figure of Crossroads and hugely popular with viewers.

Viewers were hooked as she survived two marriages, a murder attempt, a spell in prison, a terrorist attack and a fire.

Noele Gordon, or “Nolly” as she was known to her friends, was the most popular woman in British soaps.

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As Meg, leading character in Crossroads from 1964 until 1981, she endeared herself to millions.

Her importance to the show was immeasurable, particularly in the early days when she held the soap together while everything else (cast and scenery included) was falling apart.

She was the series’ public spokesperson – it was in her contract – and tirelessly defended it against critical attacks.

So when she was unceremoniously sacked, after 3,000 episodes, the dismissal made national news headlines, covered by both BBC and ITV nightly news.

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The reason for the decision has never been satisfactorily explained, Noele herself claiming not to know.

The move sparked national outrage and “Save our Meg” campaigns.

Hundreds protested outside ATV’s studios with banners and there was even a “Meg is Magic” record.

Noele made a surprise return to Crossroads in 1983 for a brief scene in Venice on her on-screen daughter Jill’s honeymoon.

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She died of cancer in April 1984 at the age of 61.

Anita Dobson (Angie Watts, EastEnders, 1985-88)

Cockney sparrow, and proud of it, Angie Watts was the first Queen of the Vic.

Her tempestuous marriage to Den formed the backbone of the early years of EastEnders, helping ensure the success of the soap, garnering some of the biggest viewing figures in the show’s history.

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It was clear from the start that, behind the painted-on smile and forced cheeriness, Angie was actually a mental wreck.

Her hopeless addiction to Den – and gin! – made her soap’s most neurotic heroine.

Anita Dobson wasn’t actually first choice to play Angie. The role had been given to Jean Fennell but Julia Smith and Tony Holland, creators of EastEnders, felt they’d miscast and the actress was fired.

With only four days to go before the first studio recording, Anita was contacted, auditioned and hired. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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During her time in the soap and, according to one critic “despite a singing voice totally lacking in muscle,” Anita recorded a lyrical version of the show’s theme tune "Anyone Can Fall In Love" that made the Top Ten in 1986.

She also appeared in pantomime, was almost daily in the tabloid press and voted a Rear of the Year.

In 1988 her decision to quit EastEnders made headlines on national news shows.

Claire King (Kim Tate, Emmerdale, 1989-99, 2018-present)

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With cheekbones you could cut yourself on, a mane of blonde hair and suggestive look in her eye, there is something playful and almost feline about Kim Tate.

The "Diva of the Dales" has been at the centre of virtually every agricultural maelstrom of chaos, mayhem and violent death for more than three decades – and Emmerdale viewers love to hate her for it!

King played the character to enormous acclaim for a decade before quitting Emmerdale to relax and “have a real life”.

However, just over a year later, she was approached by Brian Park, producer of prison drama Bad Girls, to play Wing Governor Karen Betts and jumped at the chance.

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During her time in the show she won TV Quick Best Actress Award two years in a row for her portrayal of firm but fair Karen.

Guest roles in Doctors, Holby City and Hollyoaks followed her four-year stint in HMP Larkhall.

She also competed in the fourth series of Strictly Come Dancing, finishing sixth before, in 2014, joining rival soap Coronation Street as Erica Holroyd, appearing in 156 episodes over a three-year period.

But, in 2018, the lure of Kim Tate was too strong a temptation to resist and Claire re-joined Emmerdale in a blaze of publicity. After almost 20 years, the lethal lady of the manor was back where she belonged.