A story that slipped in under the TV Today radar in the midst of all the TV deception hoo-ha was actress Elizabeth Dawn announcing her retirement from Coronation Street at the end of the year. Yes, come December, the legendary Vera Duckworth will say goodbye to the famous cobbles, leaving behind a legacy stretching all the way back to 1974.
Vera Duckworth comes from that grand tradition of tough, brassy soap women, cut from the same cloth as the great Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner (if that’s not too bold a statement). Dawn arrived in 1974 as little more than extra working in Mike Baldwin’s factory, but little by little, her role was expanded. In 1979, Vera gained a husband, Jack, and then, in 1983, the Duckworths were entered into the higher echelons of the Corrie roster when they moved into the Street.
The partnership of Liz Dawn and Bill Tarmey has been one of those enduring soap partnerships that will be difficult to forget, natural successors to Stan and Hilda Ogden’s place in the nation’s affections. They are larger than life characters inhabiting the fabric of a soap yet feeling utterly real at the same time.
Dawn, who was diagnosed with emphysema three years ago, is retiring for health reasons, but it is likely the character of Vera will make occasional guest appearances following the actress’s departure. However, it is expected that Bill Tarmey wall continue in the role of Jack for the foreseeable future.
But from September, there will be a Vera Duckworth shaped hole in the fabric of the Street that will be difficult to fill.
With Liz Dawn’s departure, let’s not forget that strong women are the lifeblood of the soaps. Whether it’s an Annie Walker, a Kat Slater or a Kim Tate, it’s the women who are remembered more than the fellas in the years following their leaving scene. It will be 20 years this Christmas since Hilda Ogden left Coronation Street, and still she’s spoken off in hushed, awe-struck tones. Charlie Stubbs? Who’s he?
And now we have the latest arrivals in Albert Square in the form of the bolshy blonde Mitchell sisters, Ronnie and Roxy. And you know what, on first appearances, they ain’t half bad. They’re in the same tradition of strong soap women that ‘Enders seems to have been lacking since the exit of Kat Moon (nee Slater). Rita Simons as Roxy seems born to the Walford way (well, she does live across the road from the EastEnders studios), and Samantha Janus brings a calm but firm presence to the table as Ronnie.
This pair can only mean good things in general for EastEnders. Characters like Carly and Chelsea are just a bit too nondescript and vague to be truly memorable. Within an episode, Roxy and Ronnie look right at home. Hopefully they’ll provide the likes of Pat and Shirley with more robust sparring partners than they’ve been used to in recent years.
What, with a couple of healthy ratings victories in the soap league table since last Friday’s climactic Phil/Stella wedding drama, and the introduction of a couple of new characters with some fire about them, is this a sign of a leaner, fitter EastEnders punching at its old weight again?
Let’s hope so!