Sunday may mark five years since actress Anne Kirkbride passed away, but her name still remains on her Coronation Street dressing room door.

After 42 years stepping out as Deirdre Barlow on Manchester’s famous cobbles, in TV’s most recognisable pair of specs, it’s as much a part of the soap as The Rover’s Return or Rita’s Kabin. No one has felt ready to remove it, and probably never will.

Her death from cancer aged just 60 came as a shock to so many on The Street. Few, not even her on-screen husband of nearly four decades, Bill Roache , knew of her battle.

Today, he explains the room is now used by Anne’s close friend, actress Beverley Callard, who plays Liz McDonald, but will always be Anne’s.

“Anne is a constant presence here,” he says, gently, describing how Deirdre’s infamous wonky pottery and framed photographs also remain in his ­character Ken Barlow’s living room, meaning she’s never far from the minds of cast and crew.

Bill Roache and Anne Kirkbride were a legendary duo as Ken and Deidre Barlow

Today, the 87-year-old actor, who has played Ken since the soap launched almost 60 years ago, is reflecting on the woman he grew to love after decades of TV matrimony.

To him, married twice in real life –while Anne married husband actor David Beckett in 1992 – their ­relationship was in many ways a third nuptials. And mourning her death has been a painful road, especially as he inhabits the TV “home” they shared, most days.

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But, he says, remembering her has become a happier experience.

“Grief is a continuous thing but it becomes a more joyful thing, I’m not one for sad memories, it’s about enjoying the person as much as you can,” he says.

“You were never short of a laugh with Annie and that’s what we remember about her most.”

He adds: “Funnily enough, the actor who married us was an ordained priest. It was complete coincidence.

Deidre had a dramatic love life in Corrie

But I really loved her and she loved me, in a really good sense. We had our private lives, but on screen you couldn’t have had a closer thing to a real marriage, which was lovely. All the happy side – well, we had a lot of the unhappy side, but we enjoyed that!

“We would always have a laugh, even during rowing scenes.”

Anne joined The Street in 1972 as a teenage actress and never left.

The Oldham lass, the daughter of a cartoonist for the local paper, started out as bit part Deirdre Hunt, but quickly became a favourite, embarking on numerous flings, marriages and affairs.

It was the love triangle between her, Ken, who she married twice, and factory boss Mike Baldwin, played by Johnny Briggs , which kept the nation gripped.

Her first marriage to Ken, in 1981, got higher ratings for ITV than that of Diana and Charles, two days later. The cast, even Bill, had no idea of her illness when she left ­Coronation Street in late 2014.

The gripping love triangle of Mike, Deidre, and Ken had the nation hooked

Anne, having overcome Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and ­depression following that diagnosis, led Bill to believe it was the latter she was struggling with, and she would return in a few months.

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Tragically, she had been ­diagnosed with breast cancer and it had spread. He was called to say goodbye to her in hospital the following January.

He says: “It was a privilege to say goodbye. It was the day before she died and she wasn’t conscious but looked very beautiful. She’d lost a lot of weight but her bone structure was so good she looked really lovely.

“I just held her hand for a little while and wished her well. I’m sure on a higher level she’d have known. She was a great believer in life after death, we used to chat about that, she loved angels. I don’t think there’d have been fear there.”

Ken Barlow played by Bill Roache and Deidre Barlow played by Anne Kirkbride
Ken Barlow played by Bill Roache and Deidre Barlow played by Anne Kirkbride

Now he remembers the support she gave him, especially when his second wife, Sara, passed away in 2009, at 58. “She was always ringing to see if there was anything she could do to help, I’ve never known anyone like her from that point of view. She’d just let you know she was there, sending you love.

“You really felt she shared your grief or loss, that she was in it with you.” He adds: “She was incredibly sensitive, and I think it was difficult for her. Things affected her deeply, she couldn’t bear to see anyone else upset.

“She used to love hugs – if someone needed one, or she needed one. She was all the time hugging, pretty well – when you meet, when you finish a scene, start a scene.”

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Coronation Street actor Bill Roache talking to the Mirror about his former work colleague and fellow actor Anne Kirkbride a year on from her death last year.

Did she often ask for a hug, then?

He chuckles. “She’d just come up and grab you, just take it!”

Speaking as his book Life and Soul: How to Live a Long and Happy Life launches in paperback, Bill explains Annie was a very loving person, always chatting to everyone she met in the Green Room and on the way to set.

Nowhere was that nurturing side more apparent than in her handbag.

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“We used to joke about her hand-bag,” he says. “If you said, ‘I feel like a cucumber sandwich’ she’d bring out a knife, cucumber and loaf of bread!

“She’d everything you could possibly want, from sticking plasters, aspirin, you name it. It was like Mary Poppins.

“She was always cleaning,” he remembers. “She’d put her marigolds on. We used to laugh about that.”

Now, he can recall this with a smile.

“I miss her company, you felt better for being with her.

“But we have a laugh about her and the things she did. We have happy memories of her here.”





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