Coronation Street actress Betty Driver has died at the age of 91.
Best known for her performance as barmaid Betty Williams, nee Turpin, Driver was one of Coronation Street’s longest-serving stars.
An ITV statement said Driver “died peacefully in hospital” early on Saturday morning. “She will be sadly missed by everyone who knew her.”
Driver joined the ITV soap in 1969 on a three-month contract, but ended up staying behind the bar at the Rovers Return for more than four decades.
Her career in showbusiness began during childhood, with amateur theatre work leading her to tour the country as a singer in variety shows by the age of 12.
Building a solid career on the stage in the West End in the 1930s, Driver appeared in a number of pre-war films including Penny Paradise and Let’s Be Famous.
In the 1940s and 1950s, she became a noteworthy big band singer and travelled the world, continuing to act in a range of productions.
After unsuccessfully auditioning for the part of Hilda Ogden in 1964, Driver went on to work opposite Arthur Lowe in the Corrie spin-off Pardon the Expression. Five years later she joined the full series as policeman’s wife Betty Turpin.
In a January 2011 interview, she said: “I just love working and I will never retire – ever – they’ll have to shoot me to get rid of me… I just love people, you see, and I love the cast.”
Former Coronation Street star Julie Goodyear, who played another iconic barmaid, Bet Lynch, described Driver as “the very foundation of the Rovers Return”.
“It was an honour and a privilege to work with Betty Driver for 25 years,” Goodyear said. “We laughed together, we cried together and never once had a cross word. She was a totally professional actress. A true icon and legend and a very dear friend. She will be missed and remembered by millions.”
Barbara Knox, who plays Rita Sullivan in Corrie, said: “I have lost a very dear friend and the Street has lost a very great character, a professional to her fingertips – she will be greatly missed.”
Listen to Betty Driver talking about her life and career with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs