Born: January 16, 1930;

Died: December 1, 2019.

PAULA Tilbrook, who starred in Emmerdale, was a favourite of Ken Dodd’s and once played the headscarf-wearing wife of Andy Capp on television, has died from natural causes at the age of 89.

It is rare when news of an actor’s death is delayed for seven months – Tilbrook’s family chose to release the information only recently – but such is the impact she made in her entertainment career that the time-gap has not diminished the sadness felt by her legions of fans.

Perhaps the reason for the devotion built up over a career that ran to almost seven decades is that Tilbrook did not simply perform a role. She defined the term ‘character actor’ – a naturally effusive woman who brought with her a suitcase-load of powerful traits when she arrived on stage and at a television studio.

When her Betty Eagleton, a former Tiller Girl, turned up in Emmerdale Farm in 1994, she was an immediate hit. Her Betty soon revealed herself as an international-class soap gossiper, a role which relies upon a level of acting confidence displayed over the years by the likes of Violet Carson as Coronation Street’s Ena Sharples, Gwyneth Guthrie as The High Road’s Mrs Mack, and, more recently, Malcolm Hebden as Corrie’s Norris Cole.

It’s no surprise that Betty remained in the Dales for an incredible 21 years, before Tilbrook herself asked to be written out.

It’s also no surprise to discover Tilbrook was never likely to work in any other field than acting. Growing up in Salford, she was bitten by the acting bug aged just four when her Sunday School recognised that the bubbly little blonde girl was perfect to star in a tiny tots production of Jack and Jill. “Something came from the audience that I will never forget - approval and warmth. It was love from that very second. I was hooked,” she recalled.

When she was 11 her parents Olive and James - he was a foreman in an engineering company – were happy to send their highly charged, all-singing, all-dancing performer child to a stage school in Manchester. When she left, she began er working life, as was the case with so many acting hopefuls of the time, working in repertory theatre as an assistant stage manager.

Her time at Colwyn Bay was essentially a floor-sweeping, scenery-shifting job, but the experience allowed for hopefuls to watch and learn, and be offered small roles along the way.

She learned fast and soon landed key theatre roles yet no sooner had she found herself on the carousel than she decided to step off for a very different role - of wife and mother. She married Leslie Hall in 1952, later giving birth to their son and daughter, Greg and Gaynor. “I would never allow anyone else to bring them up,” she said in one interview, “so I stayed at home.”

But there was, she conceded, “something missing from my life”. The stay-at-home mum signed up to perform with her local amateur dramatics society; and once the children started school she was slid effortlessly back into professional theatre.

Her re-emergence was noted by producers and director and she worked continuously in the likes of Mike Leigh’s 1973 play Hard Labour and Alan Bennett’s 1979 production of All Day on the Sands.

In 1984 Tilbrook appeared alongside Brigit Forsythe in BBC sitcom Sharon and Elsie. In 1988 she starred in Keith Waterhouse’s Andy Capp as Flo, the battle-worn wife of the idle Andy (James Bolam.) She also proved her worth in weightier dramas such To Play the King (1993), the second in the House of Cards trilogy, as the Commons speaker, which echoed the achievement of fellow northerner Betty Boothroyd in becoming the first woman to hold that position.

But it was in TV soap that Tilbrook seemed to find her natural world, perhaps because the medium allowed for her natural ebullience to shine through. Between 1967 and 1993 she played a remarkable 11 characters in Coronation Street, inbetween times joining Brookside, as Betty Hughes.

She first appeared with comedy legend Ken Dodd in the TV series, Ken Dodd & the Diddymen in 1969, and worked with him into the eighties.

Yet it was in Emmerdale that she really made her mark. Almost as soon as she arrived on the farm as girlfriend of Seth Armstrong (who had been her wartime sweetheart) she became a national treasure. “I liked the idea of two people in their autumn years,” she said of the glorious role. “I always say [to young actors], ‘Just relax and enjoy it.’

“If you’ve been in a series before where you’ve had to watch your own back because there were a lot of jealousies, you don’t have to do that here. It’s a team and that’s a very nice atmosphere to work in.”

She made sure that young actors appreciated the chance they had been given. The tough-talking woman we saw on screen wasn’t far removed from the actor who played her.

Award-winning actor Danny Miller, who plays Aaron Dingle in the soap, has revealed that Tilbrook was determined to keep his career on track during his early years on the show. “I’ll never forget the b******ing (rightly so) she gave me for having been late and, consequently, unprepared” he said. “She said to me, ‘Fail to prepare. Prepare to fail, chuck! Now let’s get on wi’ it!’”

When Paula Tilbrook retired in 2015 to her home in Altrincham, Inside Soap magazine remarked of her final episode that she was “Funny, feisty and smart as a whip.” It was a perfect summation of a character actor who herself was larger than life and had immense presence.

Mark Charnock, who plays Marlon Dingle, agrees. “I first saw the wonder that was Paula Tilbrook on stage at Oldham Coliseum and never before or since have I seen any actor hold an audience so completely in the palm of her hand.”

Tilbrook was pre-deceased by her husband in 1985. She is survived by her children.