Why Deirdre Barlow was queen of the crisis on Coronation Street
Following the death of actress Anne Kirkbride, David Brown looks back on four decades of misfortune for Deirdre
Deirdre Barlow was never one of those Corrie heroines for whom adversity bred backbone. Indeed, she was almost the antithesis of the blowsy Bet Lynches and Elsie Tanners of this world. You’d never catch Deirdre dusting herself down and plastering on a smile. No way. She’d prefer to stand on her back step, wreathed in a fug of cigarette smoke as she fretted about her latest marital bust-up.
In fact, it was her crises that made Deirdre so compelling. The affair with Mike Baldwin, the death of Moroccan lover Samir Rachid, her duping by fake pilot John Lindsay. She was a woman who lurched from calamity to catastrophe, a character perennially defined by her sour relationships with men. But not all the women of Weatherfield can stalk down the street in a blur of leopardskin with their head held high. Some are born to suffer. And Deirdre certainly had the angst factor.
For long-time Corrie fans, the most indelible Deirdre image is of her being pinned up against the door of No 1 by Ken – William Roache’s unrehearsed throttling of his on-screen wife causing a throaty yelp from a startled Anne Kirkbride. For newer viewers, it’s the sight of Deirdre being carted off to prison that lingers in the memory. Both moments of complete humiliation for a character whose watchwords were misfortune and martyrdom.
But an added poignancy to Anne Kirkbride’s passing comes from the fact that Deirdre had recently been teetering on the edge of liberation. During William Roache’s time away from the show, the scriptwriters found Deirdre’s funny bone. Just think of that recipe for stuffed marrow, her drunken heart to hearts with Liz and Eileen, and – most hilariously of all – Deirdre becoming the unlikely emblem of backstreet diplomacy. “Just think of me as Switzerland in glasses,” was how she put it.
Who knows how she’d have fared in the wake of Ken’s return? No sooner had he come back from Canada than Deirdre was out the door, the remains of a trifle that she’d just lobbed still sliding down the wall. But you have to wonder whether that marital unshackling would have survived. My guess is that she’d have eventually been out by that back gate, chain-belt glinting in the moonlight, smoking her way through another disaster at the Barlows’. But how upsetting it is that we’ll never get to see Deirdre’s anxiety in action ever again.