Monday, 12 November 2012

Farewell, Jack Duckworth

by Emma Bell

(L to R): Bet Lynch, Vera and Jack Duckworth, 1980s
(source: Daily Mail)
Bill Tarmey, who has died aged 71, was a stalwart of Coronation Street for over thirty years. He created in the role of Jack Duckworth the kind of Northern male that is very rarely found on television anymore: the hard drinking, gambling, womanising, henpecked male; the rogue who was forever down on his luck.

Born in Manchester in 1941, William Piddington worked as a road spreader until he decided to try his hand a singing ‘in the clubs’. These were brutal arenas – the working men and women who inhabited them could be fierce and unforgiving audiences if the act was poor – and many comics and singers barely got out of them in one piece.

Bill however, had a pleasant voice and was spotted by Coronation Street scouts who were looking for local talent. He appeared as an extra for three years before becoming Punch to Vera’s Judy.

Jack and Vera: battle of the sexes
(source: Daily Mail)
A very popular couple on the Street, Jack and Vera reflected the time and world they lived in: the battle of the sexes was never far away from the script.  Bill’s superb comic timing and warm, lovable personality meant that his appearances were always good value. But importantly, as the characters aged, so did they develop into something more meaningful and poignant. Jack, once the rascal, became a devoted husband and grandfather who recognised his earlier failings and tried to make amends. The philanderer now had Elastoplast holding his spectacles together, settling for a quiet pint rather than a knee trembler at the back of the Rover’s Return.

There is a nice footnote to Bill Tarmey’s popularity. In his early days in Coronation Street, reluctant to abandon his work as an extra “just in case”, Tarmey was an extra during the filming of Laurence Olivier's King Lear at Granada (where the Coronation Street studios were also located). At the stage door, Olivier, Britain's greatest stage actor of the day, was ignored by autograph-hunters, while Tarmey was mobbed. That’s showbiz, folks.

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