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Obituary: Bill Tarmey, actor, Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street

Bill Tarmey, who played Jack Duckworth

Bill Tarmey, who played Jack Duckworth

Born: 4 April, 1941, in Manchester. Died: 9 November, 2012, in Tenerife, aged 71

BILL Tarmey played the jovial, slightly raffish and roguish, Jack Duckworth on Coronation Street for more than 30 years. His marriage to the outspoken and raucous Vera (Liz Dawn) was one the central focuses of the soap throughout those years: whether it was Jack’s devotion to his pigeons – housed at one point, to Vera’s fury, in their loft – his much-derided blue and yellow stone-clad house or his total belief he could pull all the young girls in Weatherfield. It all made the irrepressible Duckworth character ideal to be involved in major story lines. The fact that Tarmey displayed a shrewd judgment of how to play the role and never made Duckworth ridiculous or laughable, reflected Tarmey’s canny understanding of his craft.

There were two outstanding scenes in which Tarmey will be forever remembered. In the first, Duckworth got dolled up in full drag so that he could attend a social event at the local ladies’ bowling club. It was a riot and a demonstration of Tarmey’s ability to play the comedy at full throttle, but never to overdo it.

The other Duckworth classic was when he fixed up, through a dating agency, a blind date (“Hi. I’m Vince St Clair”). Unfortunately, it was with Vera. He entered the Rovers with jacket casually over his shoulders, shades on and a box of chocolates looking cool and debonair. He chatted up the redhead at the bar, who turned round to scream and shout in best Vera-fashion at her errant husband.

Bill Tarmey (born William Piddington) was educated at Queens Street School in Manchester. Following his father’s death during the Second World War, his mother remarried a builder and Tarmey’s first job was as an apprentice to his stepfather in the building trade.

Tarmey was keen to follow a career in entertainment and built a considerable following for his singing of middle-of-the-road ballads in working men’s clubs around Manchester.

Before joining Coronation Street in 1977, he was an extra (often as a background figure in the Rovers Return) and played small parts in numerous Granada TV dramas – most notably in the1986 King Lear that starred Laurence Olivier.

Despite suffering a serious heart attack in 1976 and a stroke in 1977, he was offered the role of Jack Duckworth

And it was as Duckworth that Tarmey became a Street institution. The spectacles held together with Elastoplast, his constant bluster and having to cover-up any misdeeds and, worse, all the screaming matches with Vera. Many were caused by their ne’er-do-well son Terry (Nigel Pivaro), who Liz supported and Jack heartily disliked.

Tarmey changed the Duckworth personality to a more sensitive and credible character in his last few years in the soap. He and Liz became altogether more sympathetic characters and almost adopted Tyrone Dobbs (Alan Halsall), the young mechanic in the garage. It was, as if, he was the son they had never had. Tarmey invested the relationship with a tenderness and genuine facility that demonstrated his breadth as an actor.

But the public will forever recall the wise-cracking, boasting, philandering know-all that Tarmey played with gusto. Indeed, the character recaptured the original essence of the soap: undeniably working class and proud of it. The women were in the snug with their port and lemon and the men in the pub with pints of ale. Duckworth epitomised that image. Tarmey did it with an authentic relish and subtly brought a loving humour to the role that endeared him to millions of Corrie fans.

By the time he left the show, Tarmey was the second longest-serving actor on it, behind William Roache (Ken Barlow).

Because of his own ill health (and to spend more time with his severely ill son), Tarmey left the soap in November 2010. Jack died asleep in his chair after celebrating his birthday in the Rover’s Return during an episode that was part of soap’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

When asked if that final scene was emotional and difficult to perform Tarmey replied: “Yes it was. I carefully worked out the way I was going to do it. In fact I was very emotional before and after the shoot – but I kept control during it.

“As I left the studio, the entire crew broke into applause. I was not only leaving Jack, but leaving the Corrie family.” Tarmey added with a cheerful smile, “I have had the most amazing 30 years playing Jack.”

Tarmey remained devoted to his career as a nightclub singer. He loved singing the songs of Sinatra, Crosby and Cole Porter. He released several albums: three of them, A Gift of Love (1993), Time for Love (1994) and After Hours (1996)) made the charts.

During the filming of Olivier’s King Lear, Tarmey accepted background work as he did not know if the Coronation Street contract would be renewed. As he left the Granada studios, the great Sir Laurence walked to his car unnoticed by fans and autograph-hunters. Tarmey was mobbed.

He and his wife Alma lived for many years in Ashton-Under-Lyne. Tarmey had been married to Alma, whom he met at a local youth club in 1955, for more than 50 years. She and their two sons survive him.

ALASDAIR STEVEN

 

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