Tributes have flooded in for Coronation Street star Anne Kirkbride, who played the part of the “legendary” Deirdre Barlow, following her death after a short illness.
Kirkbride, 60, who starred in the long-running soap for 44 years, died in a Manchester hospital.
William Roache, who played her onscreen husband Ken Barlow, said: “I feel Anne’s loss so personally having worked closely with her for over 40 years.
“She was such a loving and vibrant person. You always knew she was there because her laugh was never far away.
“She was an impeccable performer with superb comedy timing and an immense gift for really heightened drama. We had some rows over the years as Ken and Deirdre and it was wonderful to play those scenes opposite her.
“Coronation Street has lost one of its iconic characters and Anne will be greatly missed.”
A statement on the ITV website last night said her husband David Beckett and the programme’s cast and crew were “heartbroken and deeply saddened”.
Executive producer Kieran Roberts said: “There are no words to describe the sense of grief we feel at Anne’s passing.
“We know only too acutely how much Anne meant to the millions of people who watched her create the legendary character of Deirdre Barlow.
“She will be greatly missed by the Coronation Street team who share happy memories of working with her. We feel blessed and honoured to have known her. Our thoughts are with David and their family.”
ITV director of television Peter Fincham said Kirkbride had “created a unique and unforgettable character” and said she had been “a truly loyal servant to Coronation Street since joining the programme in the early 1970s”.
Coronation Street’s creator Tony Warren said: “Anne was very easy to love. Her talent over the years made a massive contribution to Coronation Street.”
Kirkbride had fought throat cancer in the past, but underwent an operation and had chemotherapy treatment.
The statement from her family and the show did not disclose the recent illness the actress had been suffering from.
Kirkbride is survived by her husband David, her brother John, and his family.
Kate Ford, who plays Deirdre’s daughter Tracy Barlow in Coronation Street, said she was “heartbroken”.
The actress tweeted: “Heartbroken at the loss of my friend and beautiful on screen mummy. The most crazy funny 100 per cent human. My life was enriched by her.”
Other Coronation Street stars who have paid tribute to Kirkbride, whose character was known for her large spectacles, include fellow Corrie veteran Beverley Callard.
Known for playing Rovers Return barmaid Liz McDonald, Callard tweeted: “My beautiful darling friend, Anne Kirkbride, passed away in a room filled with love. God Bless, my Darling Girl! Peace and rest!”
Michelle Keegan, whose character Tina McIntyre made a dramatic exit last year, said: “The nation is now in mourning...”
Ian Puleston-Davies, who plays Owen Armstrong in the soap, said he felt “numb” on hearing the news of her death.
He told Phil Williams on BBC’s 5 Live: “She was such a colourful character on and off set – very different but very alike in so many ways.
“To meet her in person she shone brighter than even Deirdre did.”
He recalled his first days on the show, saying the veteran actress had spotted he was nervous and thrown her arms around him with the reassuring words: “It’s alright kid, we’ll look after you.” Puleston-Davies added: “It could’ve been a scene in the Rovers, she oozed Coronation Street.”
Ken Farrington, who played Billy Walker – Deirdre’s first fiance in the soap - recalled her theatre performances in Manchester.
He said: “She had an incredible variety of abilities and I kept trying to persuade her to, I shouldn’t say this, but to leave the Street because I thought she could go on and do really big things like Sarah Lancashire and Anne Reid (two former Coronation Street actresses).”
He said Kirkbride had become “quite angry” at the suggestion and said she was happy where she was.
“She was a bloody good performer,” he added.