RIP Anne Kirkbride, and goodbye Deirdre Barlow, the Corrie character she played for 44 years

So farewell Anne Kirkbride, and RIP Deirdre Barlow, her glorious, smoky-voiced, bespectacled alter ego with the misshapen family and improbably colourful love life. Belinda Archer pays tribute

I am an unashamedly huge fan of Coronation Street, having been brought up on it by my Mancunian mother and watched it religiously since the late 60s. I can almost remember Deirdre’s very first episode, on 20 November 1972. There she was, all tall and blonde and sexy; a 17-year-old dolly bird with an eye for the fellas, and that unmistakable voice and trademark specs.

In the glorious tradition of Corrie, we knew we were being introduced to another fabulous female character to add to the annals of Minnie Caldwell and Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner. We instantly loved her.

Over the years, of course, we’ve loved her more and more. Who wasn’t utterly gripped by the love triangle between her, Ken and Mike Baldwin in the 80s? It was a national event, and the first Corrie storyline to be written about in the nations’ newspapers.

Or her wrongful imprisonment in the 90s for fraud, triggering the extraordinary Free the Weatherfield One press campaign – and even Tony Blair’s joke intervention?

Anne Kirkbride obituary. Coronation Street Deirdre screengrab YouTube
The young Deirdre: “A 17-year-old dolly bird with an eye for the fellas, and those trademark specs”

Who hasn’t also revelled in her drunken girlie sessions with Liz McDonald down the Rovers? Drunk Deirdre was always a joy to behold.

And then there was her blind, unquestioning mother love towards Terrible Tracy – Tracy the murderer, who biffed her boyfriend over the head with the statue; Tracy the nasty bully who always picked on transgender Hayley and social misfit Roy, Tracy the dodgy shop-owner who trades in stolen goods, and – judging by last night’s episode – who hesitates before rescuing (or not?) Carla from a crashed minibus. Other mothers’ love might have caved in, under all this pressure, but not Deirdre’s.

Deirdre’s many love affairs

It has really been Deirdre’s extraordinary love affairs that have had us all gorgeously entertained, however. There was Billy Walker, son of the indomitable Annie, and Ray Langton (father of the redoubtable Tracy), Cockney businessman Mike Baldwin and the ‘airline pilot’ Jon Lindsay (who, in a typically comic Corrie twist, really worked in a tie shop at Manchester airport, his cover blown by a jealous Ken who went to check him out).

Not forgetting Samir Rachid, who she met Shirley Valentine-style on a holiday to Morocco and who briefly became her third, or was it fourth, husband.

Then, of course, there was the mighty Ken. Can it really be true that more than 24 million people watched Ken and Dierdre’s first wedding, back in 1981 – beating the number who tuned in to ITV for Charles and Di’s wedding? They did, of course, get hitched once more, in 2005.

Video: Ken and Deirdre’s wedding in 1981

The shock of Anne Kirkbride’s death from cancer

Anne Kirkbride’s death has come as a shock. We knew that she hadn’t been on our screens for a few months, having negotiated time off. We also knew that she was a genuine chain-smoker, something that the writers traded on. Deirdre was often seen, fag in hand, as one of the last, glorious, on-screen smokers. But we didn’t know she was seriously ill.

The news broke late last night that she had died, at the unfairly young age of just 60, following a short illness. She had been in Corrie for 43 years. With her talent for comedy as well as for gritty northern drama, she could easily have succeeded outside of Corrie, but she chose to remain.

And we were the beneficiaries of that. She injected great drama and authenticity into every line she delivered. OK, so her eyes bulged a little too much, and the veins stood out on her neck even if she was just ordering a pound of bacon at the corner shop. But she was real and believable, and she had been a part of our lives for so long.

Now, yet another hugely memorable and genuinely loved female character has left the cobbles. It will be interesting to see how she will be written out, but it will be done sensitively and with great respect. For everyone feels her loss – not just the viewers, but the wider Corrie family of cast and crew.

So RIP Deirdre. RIP Anne. The Street won’t be the same without you.