Born: September 5, 1935;

Died: February 28, 2021.

IF television soap actors don’t start out playing characters close to their own personality, they eventually end up doing exactly that. Scriptwriters tend to note personality traits, behavioural tics, the mindset and motivations.

But it’s fair to say that from his arrival in Coronation Street in 1976, Johnny Briggs, wasn't too far away from the character he played, the roguish Cockney underwear-factory boss, Mike Baldwin.

Once, while extolling the merits of his Floridian holiday home, Briggs said; “I can be me here, not Mike Baldwin.” And then added poignantly. “Although sometimes it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.”

Mike Baldwin was a womanising, fast-living type who had a different woman on his arm almost as often as he had a cigar in his mouth. He managed to woo 25 women and marry four times. One of his affairs was with the married Deirdre Barlow (it drew TV audiences of more than 12 million). And, to grind salt into the wound, he went on to marry Ken Barlow’s daughter.

Yet Brigg’s private life was even more colourful. In one newspaper interview, the twice-divorced father-of-six responded to Corrie co-star’s Bill Roache’s claims that he had slept with 1,000 women. “I was a bit of a ladies’ man myself,” said Briggs. “I don’t know if I can say how many I’ve bedded, but it’s probably more than him.”

Was he joking? Probably not. Briggs’ one-time co-star and long-time friend, Amanda Barrie, who played his on-screen wife, Alma, agreed that Baldwin and Briggs could have been drawn by the same artist. “If you merged Mike Baldwin to Johnny Briggs you wouldn’t know where the join was,” she said. “He was like a very naughty schoolboy.”

So naughty, that Briggs’s second wife often asked Barrie to make sure her husband didn’t stray. There’s little doubt Briggs was hugely charismatic. Coronation Street’s managing director John Whiston said recently; “It made it very difficult to look at anyone else when he was on screen.”

Briggs was also a very talented actor with a great range. He could convince as the sly fox and the borderline-dodgy businessman, but the man with the winning smile could also reveal a heart. And his final scenes, in which his character suffered from Alzheimer’s, saw him leave the show to deafening applause.

It seems that Battersea-born John Ernest Briggs, the son of a carpenter, was never set to be anything but a performer. His acting talent was spotted by teachers and rewarded with a scholarship to train at the Italia Conti stage school, where his classmates included Anthony Newley, Nanette Newman and Millicent Martin. Aged just 13, he landed a role in George Cole film, Quartet.

Briggs went on to work as stagehand at the Windmill Theatre until National Service in 1953 confined him to a tank regiment in Germany for two years.

On his return, the handsome young actor picked up where he left off, landing a series of small parts in more than 20 films playing spivs, taxi drivers and jack-the-lads. He became a semi- regular part in cop drama, No Hiding Place. But after the run ended times were tough.

He once revealed to the Manchester Evening News he was “terrified of becoming a nobody,” and added; “I remember I’d be in the pub not able to buy a pint, thinking that if I got the bus home, I’d only be able to go so far.

“I couldn’t meet the mortgage. The bills were piling up. In the end, a friend paid my debts for me and I wasn’t too proud to accept help. I vowed to myself then that I’d never get that low again.”

The financial pressures were increased in 1961 when he married Caroline Sinclair. They went on to have two children. They divorced after 14 years and in 1975, Briggs married Christine Allsopp; they had four children together.

A year later however, the actor landed the role which ensured he’d never lack a bus-fare again. Coronation Street called and soon he was banking £200,000 a year, (plus fees for panto roles.) He would play in 2,348 episodes between 1976 and 2006.

His life on the Street was far from perfect. His family were based in the Midlands, and he chose to live alone in a flat in Manchester for all of three decades. “The stark fact is that there isn’t room in life for everything. You have to make choices,” he said in detached voice. “Money is everything. And happiness can’t buy it.”

Though the hugely popular soap provided him with the trappings of a success – a home in Florida, matching sports cars in the garage – he often spend time there alone, much of it on the golf course.

There’s little doubt the actor, who was awarded the MBE in 2007, was of singular mind. “I’ve put my work before my family, yes. Always have done. I’ve certainly provided for my children. They have never wanted for anything. But only they can say if I’ve been a good dad.”

He was also a man of strong voice. In later years he’d criticise the Street’s producers for the introduction of too many young characters and running a demanding five days a week.

“Johnny Briggs was a complex character, on and off screen, and we all adored him,” said Anthony Cotton, who plays the Street’s Sean Tully. “But I feel lucky that I got the chance to work with him in the factory. I am, and will always be, a Baldwin’s Casual.”

However, the last word in summing up Johnny Briggs, who had once worked on stage with Dirk Bogarde and Sir Laurence Olivier, should go to one of his oldest friends, Amanda Barrie, with whom he once appeared with in an early Carry On film.

“He was a silly old twit who was saved from lots of trouble by a cheeky grin,” she said. “But I was very fond of him.” She added: “Johnny, thank you for an immensely happy time. Alma was Mike’s soulmate but you treated Amanda better.”