• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Bill Tarmey

Coronation Street star;

Born: April 4, 1941; died November 9, 2012.

Bill Tarmey, who has died aged 71, was one of Britain's best-loved soap actors. He played Jack Duckworth, Coronation Street's occasional window cleaner and consistent artful dodger, a workshy, duplicitous layabout with a capacity for being opaque. Yet, such was the actor's performance, his character was loved by the nation.

While Tarmey's performance of the tape-spectacled character was virtually note-perfect, his career as one of Britain's most popular soap stars began almost by accident. Little William Piddington was born far removed from the life of showbiz in Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire. His father, William Snr, was an ambulance driver who was killed by shellfire as he ferried casualties to a field hospital in Holland when Bill was just three years old.

On leaving school, Tarmey worked in the building trade as an asphalt spreader and married his childhood sweetheart Alison, to whom he remained married for 50 years. The couple had two children and 1960s life was harsh as one incident involving his young son Carl highlights. The little boy came home upset because he had been dropped from his football team.

"I couldn't understand it and went to see the trainer," Tarmey recalled. "He told me Carl had been dropped because he wouldn't take goal kicks. Turned out his football boots were too small, but he was too afraid to tell me because he knew I couldn't afford a new pair. I went home and cried that night. I vowed that I'd never be poor again."

Tarmey worked hard to make sure that wasn't the case. He had talent as a singer and in 1968 left the building trade determined to make it as a crooner. Just managing to eke out a living in working men's clubs, in 1977 he took a job as an extra at Granada Television to supplement his earnings. That was his first entrance on to the cobbled streets of the soap but producers spotted his potential and Tarmey landed the career-defining role of Jack Duckworth two years later.

What made Jack so special? His sneakiness was understandable. Every hen-pecked man in the country could identify with the Duckegg, as he was nicknamed, because he was married to Vera, a wife who took nagging to Olympian levels. And women could appreciate that Vera often pushed her put-upon husband to the limits.

But the pair had real chemistry. Who could forget the magic piece of television created when Jack signed up for one of the first video-dating services, in which he reinvented himself as night club singer Vince St Clair in order to woo women? And who can forget the comedy which ensued when Vera discovered his scheme – and posed as a St Clair admirer?

Yet, below the surface of caustic conversation viewers knew the couple were soulmates. They knew that underneath all the complaint about the dragon in doors, Jack was a true romantic. Indeed, the couple provided the soap with one of its most heart-warming episodes two years ago when Jack dressed up and treated Vera to a candlelit dinner of fish and chips – in his allotment – to celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary.

Certainly, Bill Tarmey's creation was far from being one-dimensional; he was a simple, yet conniving Northern soul who loved his pigeons almost as much as his wife. And he loved his son, despite the fact Terry Duckworth turned out to be worse than a bad hotpot.

And during Jack's stint in Weatherfield for 31 years, his character's ducking and diving was often counterbalanced by his offering the voice of reason to the younger generation, to Curly Watts or young Tyrone.

Yet, while Tarmey had achieved his dream of financial stability, earning in excess of £100,000 a year, he wasn't blessed with good health.

A heavy smoker, like his screen wife Liz Dawn, Tarmey suffered a heart attack at the age of 35, followed by a stroke a year later. The actor underwent a quadruple heart bypass in 1986, and then another bypass operation in June 2002 which saw him fitted with a pacemaker.

Afterwards, Tarmey admitted: "I'm deeply worried. I have cheated death so many times I feel like a cat running out of lives. I've already died twice and the last time they brought me back to life using a medical version of jump leads."

But he wasn't worried enough to give up smoking. "I could make it easier on myself. I could give up," he reasoned. "I could go and sit in a rocking chair. But that wouldn't be me. That would kill me sooner than the old ticker would."

And he had no regrets about the life he had led. Interviewed a decade ago, prior to his second bypass operation, Tarmey remarked: "If I die tomorrow, they will have to prise the smile off my face because I've had such a good life."

Part of the good life came from his continued love of music. Thanks to his TV fame, he released a host of cover versions and big band numbers. But he knew his real job was working on Britain's most famous street.

Despite ailing health, Bill Tarmey, who died in Tenerife, managed to film Coronation Street until 2010, bowing out ahead of the 50th anniversary celebrations to spend time with his son Carl, who had a brain tumour. And the actor, who became a Patron of the charity Brain Tumour Research, made sure his final episode was as tender and poignant as a Frank Capra ending.

In his final episode on November 8, 2010, Jack died as he slept in his chair and viewers saw him kiss an image of the ghost of Vera.

But did Bill Tarmey ever feel constrained, typecast by his character? Not a jot. "People often ask me if I like Jack Duckworth," he said. "Like him? I bloody love him."

Bill Tarmey is survived by his wife Ali, his son Carl and daughter Sara.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

124804