The blonde curls and foghorn voice of soap opera’s most recognisable loudmouth, Vera Duckworth of Coronation Street, made Elizabeth Dawn a star. Her mouth was once described as “wide and sexy as a glowing steel furnace” and the actress appeared in front of the cameras with no pretensions, bringing her Northern roots to the character of Vera. “I’m nowt but a working-class lass playing myself,” she once said. “I am Vera.”
Dawn’s screen partnership with William Tarmey as Vera’s husband, Jack, was one of the great comedy double acts in Coronation Street’s long history. The couple bickered constantly and Vera even walked out on Jack several times and had affairs, but no one ever believed they would ever part for good – they were made for one another. Jack thought he could get one over on his wife, having a flutter one way or another – with his pigeons or trips to the betting shop – but Vera was always one step ahead.
When Dawn talked about her character, it was as if her screen alter ego was real, perhaps a reflection of what she took to it from real life. Explaining why the marriage survived, Dawn gave Vera’s perspective: “It works because she knows him better than he thinks he does. Any man who thinks he’s the boss has got a very clever wife.”
Dawn was first seen in Coronation Street, minus Tarmey, in 1974, when Vera worked at the Mark Brittain Warehouse, which was replaced by Baldwin’s Casuals, where the troublemaking machinist goaded her shop steward friend, Ivy Tilsley (Lynne Perrie), into union battles with their boss, Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs). Later, she stacked shelves at Bettabuys supermarket.
Dawn was awarded an MBE in 2000 (PA)
Tarmey appeared on and off from 1979 and, four years later, Vera and Jack, along with their ne’er-do-well son Terry (Nigel Pivaro), moved into No 9 Coronation Street. Terry gave his parents a lifetime of grief, fathering children by three different women and returning home only when he wanted money. Unlike Jack, Vera continued to look out for her son but finally disowned him on discovering that he had sold her grandson, Tommy, to the boy’s other grandparents.
Unlike Dawn, Vera always had pretensions to grandeur and allowed herself to believe a tale from the man who claimed to be her father. Joss Shackleton (Harold Goodwin) insisted she had royal blood in her veins because his own father was the illegitimate son of Edward VII. Nothing Jack said could dissuade her,…