Obituary: Anne Kirkbride found job for life in Deirdre Barlow role

The late Coronation Street star made her debut on the soap in 1972


In the role of Deirdre Barlow in the ITV soap Coronation Street, the actor Anne Kirkbride, who died on Monday aged 60 after a short illness, found a job for life.

A reluctant star, Ms Kirkbride found fame and press attention difficult to cope with. Away from the Coronation Street studios, Kirkbride was a million miles from her screen character. She left behind Deirdre’s spectacles, pinnies and dresses, 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 Len Fairclough’s builder’s yard, where she fell for his business partner, Ray Langton. The two married in 1975 and had a daughter, Tracy, but the marriage fell apart and the rest of Ms 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.

When Ken went astray himself, having an affair with Wendy Crozier, 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.

Ms Kirkbride was then firmly at the centre of another storyline that captured viewers’ 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 reunited and remarried in 2005.

Desire to perform

Ms Kirkbride was born in Oldham, Lancashire, the daughter of Jack, a cartoonist, and his wife, Edna. 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 school 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 FA (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 made it as a staple of the soap came in 1984, when she, William Roache and Johnny 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 Corrie, Ms 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.

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

Ms Kirkbride is survived by her husband.