Published: Saturday 30th May 2015 by The News Editor
Coronation Street stars past and present have paid tribute to the “caring, loveable and funny” Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow in the soap for more than 40 years.
Smiles and laughter were the theme at Manchester Cathedral in a celebration of the life of the popular Oldham-born actress, who was hailed for creating one of television’s “truly great characters”.
The memorial service, attended by up to 600 people including members of the public, heard that all Kirkbride “ever wanted to do was make people happy”.
Her close friend, Beverley Callard, who plays Liz McDonald, and her on-screen granddaughter Elle Mulvaney (Amy Barlow) gave affectionate tributes, as did her brother, John, the ITV1 show’s executive producer Kieran Roberts and crew members.
Long-term on-screen husband William Roache (Ken Barlow) gave a reading of the David Harkins poem She Is Gone.
Kirkbride, 60, was one of the show’s best-known performers and was loved by millions for her portrayal of husky-voiced Deirdre, famed for many years for her oversized spectacles.
She died in January after a battle with cancer.
Callard told the service it was “fantastic” that there was “so much love in one room for one person”.
She said: “She would absolutely hate this event and she would have said ‘they will understand why I can’t go’ but she would also be really, really proud.”
She recalled Kirkbride’s renowned passion for guessing people’s star signs when they first met at Granada Studios 28 years ago and she announced: “You are an Aries, we will get on.”
Kirkbride was like “a stick of dynamite” in that everyone would know when she arrived in the building, she said.
Callard said her friend had found the on-screen “man of her dreams” with Roache and also off-screen when she met her future husband, David Beckett, when he joined the show in 1990 to play her handyman boyfriend.
She said: “Dave made Annie’s life complete. Not only was he her husband but also her dearest friend.
“That meant everything. It made her an even better actress because she always knew at the end of the day she could go home and be herself, and be loved, and be enveloped in her gorgeous family.
“We are so thankful she has been in our lives.”
She quipped: “That smoking shelter at work will never be the same again.”
Mulvaney, 12, said: “Today as I stand here, I’m not just remembering my on-screen grandma. I’m also remembering my friend.
“Annie was caring, lovable and funny.”
She continued: “Annie was always making everyone laugh on set, the hours soon passed by very quickly.
“Annie always had everyone laughing and groaning at times when she was singing on set at the top of her voice.”
She concluded: “Annie is now one of God’s many angels and will be missed. But I know for me she isn’t truly gone and she will always be in my heart.”
Crew members Paul Sparrow, Stephen Polack and Ciaron Hatzar said Kirkbride made work “feel like home”.
They said: “Each and every day she arrived with such a presence. Dare I say sometimes a few minutes late, and this was simply because she’d got caught in conversation along the way – very often with people she’d never even met before or catching up with someone who’d not been around for a while.
“If you were that very fortunate guest to the studio, perhaps someone’s family member visiting on a special occasion, you too would be pulled in the world of Annie and always, every time, without fail, she was able to work out your star sign within a matter of minutes.
“We’d like to share a common and yet very often under-appreciated saying that Annie used on a daily basis. After greeting or leaving you with a massive Annie hug, and seriously that was one hell of a bear hug, Annie would say with great sincerity ‘I luuuuv youuuuu’.
“Annie did love so many people.”
The show’s executive producer Mr Roberts said Kirkbride was “warm, kind-hearted, generous, spirited, talented and fun-loving”.
He said: “Anne was a very private person so not much was ever written about her in the newspapers and she shunned the bright lights, award ceremonies and glittering premieres.
“In fact we once asked her if she would like to attend a prestigious Bafta ceremony at the lavish Grosvenor House Hotel and without hesitation she replied ‘I’d rather stick pins in my eyeballs’, which was a typical riposte which made us love her all the more.
“Because the Annie we knew never lost touch with her Oldham roots and remained down to earth with no airs and graces throughout her life.
“With long-term colleague and friend Bill Roache she created a truly iconic Corrie couple. The ups and downs of Ken and Deirdre’s relationship kept the nation gripped for decades.
“And in Deirdre, Anne created one of the truly great characters not just in the history of Coronation Street but, I believe, in the entire history of British television.”
He described her as “a consummate professional” who had the gift of making everyone feel special around her.
He said: “On behalf of everyone who works at Coronation Street, everyone who worked with Anne during her amazing 42 years with us, and on behalf of the many millions of viewers across the UK and around the world who have followed the programme and Deirdre throughout those years, Annie we thank you for bringing so much light, laughter and love into all our lives for all those years.”
In an eulogy from her brother, John, read by family friend Philip Hampson, he remembered growing up with his sister who he called Dips.
She would make the mundane seem mysterious and the dull appear delightful, he told the congregation.
And Dips continued to spread that “magic” to her nephews, Samedi and Alphin, he added.
He said: “All Dips ever wanted to do was make people happy, and everything she did she did with so much love.
“The world was a better place when Dips was in it and now that she’s gone to another, even more beautiful, place it’s up to those of us who were privileged to have been loved by her to continue her legacy.”
Beckett ensured his late wife had the last laugh of the service when the opening bars of the EastEnders theme tune belted out of the speakers before the real closing music was played.
Two self-filmed video clips of the actress joking around in her living room by singing and playing the harmonica were also played.
Photographic images of the actress in her role as Deirdre and photographs taken with her real life family were on display in the cathedral.
A small exhibition of artwork which Kirkbride photographed and painted throughout her life was also on view.
The service was conducted by Canon Philip Barratt with hymns performed by Manchester Cathedral choir.
Music included a recording of Il Dolce Suono performed by Maria Callas, a live rendition of Caruso from classical tenor Tom Spence and a performance of Mozart’s Sonata in G by Chetham’s School of Music pupils Roman Lytwyniw and James Ellis.
Published: Saturday 30th May 2015 by The News Editor