Saturday, January 19, 2008

RIP Vera Duckworth

This has been flagged up on British T.V. for months. The Elder Statesman of British T.V. soaps, Coronation Street, set in Wetherfield, a mythical area somewhere in Manchester, has lost one of its best loved characters, Vera Duckworth, in a piece of television which should earn it a basketful of awards for writing and acting. I was deeply moved. This is a lesson that soapland doesn't have to be a byword for rubbish. Coronation Street has kept faith with the public for over forty years largely because of its gentle humour, humanity and excellent writing. Who says soap actors can't act? Bill Tarmy deserves an OSCAR: The grief was palpable.

A queen of Corrie bows out
Nancy Banks-Smith
The Guardian,
Saturday January 19 2008

"Don't tell us how she goes!" said the obituary writers, who of all people you might suppose would be eager to know. Well, Vera Duckworth (played by Elizabeth Dawn) died last night and you don't have to believe it if you don't want to.

Coronation Street's brass brand, that mellow bellow that calls the nation back to the living room, has seldom sounded more appropriate. Vera has been in the street since 1974. Husband Jack joined her five years later but as far as we are concerned they have been married for 50 years. Only the Queen - a distant relative, according to Vera - has been married longer. Most people in the street aren't married at all or are married to a murderer or married incessantly. The Duckworths were different. "We'll be as happy as Jack and Vera," Tyrone, their lodger, promised Molly, his intended. That's a joke and, at the same time, the truth. "Fifty years and never a cross word?" a paramedic asked Jack last night. "Nothing but, son," he replied.

Jack and Vera were written as a stock comedy couple but, with time, you came to look at them with something like astonished envy. They bickered incessantly but it worked for them like the blades of a pair of scissors. He liked a pint, a bet and kept pigeons. She called No 9 Coronation Street The Old Rectory, dealt the cladding industry a mortal blow by stone cladding the front and dreamed for years of retiring to a nice little bungalow in Blackpool.

Jack (Bill Tarmey) is a bit of a bar-room baritone. When I was a child, I would stand on the stairs of my parents' Lancashire pub and listen to those hoarse, sweet, soaring Irish tenors promising to take Eileen home again to where her heart would feel no pain. Last night, with his fingers entwined in Vera's cold hand, Jack sang to her as though he had truly taken her to her land of heart's desire, Blackpool. "Oh, my lass! My lovely lass! You're all right now. That's us. Allus was ... Nothing to mar our joy. There will be such wonderful things to do. I will say such wonderful things to you. If you were the only girl in the world. And I were ..." Then his voice failed him.

He brushed her hair ("Pretty as a picture"); put on her bedroom slippers ("There you go, Cinderella"); laid his coat over her ("I don't like her cold. She hates it cold"); and, holding the world at bay for a few minutes, told no one else.

The first caller was a pigeon. "She always made out she didn't like them," said Jack. "It was the mess. I knew she used to sneak out to talk to them. I used to pretend I didn't know." And he gave the pigeon a message to carry. It was something he had never said directly to Vera: "Oh, you are beautiful! You are a pretty one! I love you."

In the closing credits of Coronation Street you see a couple of pigeons fluttering about on the cobbles. Always together. As near as dammit a pair of turtle doves.

Nancy Banks-Smith is a television critic for the Guardian. She is a very witty writer.