Friday, 23 January 2015

Deirdre Barlow: A Special Legacy

What a sad start to the week it was when we learned of the shocking news that Anne Kirkbride had passed away. The intervening days have been filled with well deserved and fitting tributes and outpourings of respect, admiration and love for the actress who, for over 40 years, touched so many lives both as Anne, and in the form of Deirdre Barlow.

Much has already been beautifully articulated by others who lament her passing, but I would like to add my own humble contribution to remembering her. I didn't know Anne, but I knew Deirdre Barlow well.

As viewers and media alike looked back on her character this week, recurring highlights have included Deirdre's relationship with Blanche, her marriages to Ray Langton, Ken Barlow and Samir Rachid, her affair with Mike Baldwin, her incarceration at the hands of Jon Lindsay and the public campaign to “Free the Weatherfield One”. All are examples of great Coronation Street storylines in which she performed her central role brilliantly, and while I have enjoyed watching them all, I think that her performance over the past year is how I would like to remember Deirdre best.

Deirdre began 2014 in the absence of Ken, and having her house deliberately trashed by Tracy and Rob to make her fear living alone, and agree to Rob moving in. She was canny enough to realise who the culprits were straight away, and despite being furious, allowed Rob to move in anyway, but on her terms. This act would set the tone for a year which saw her put those she loved before herself while at the same time taking action and making decisions as she saw fit.

Deirdre Barlow took centre stage last year, and to my mind embodied the best qualities of the Coronation Street matriarch. She was selfless yet strong, humorous yet solemn, made tough decisions and defended them to the last, and did all in her power to keep things going and hold her family together as everything around them fell apart in the aftermath of Tina’s murder. She stood by Peter and believed in him when nobody else did, suffered for her efforts to spare Ken any pain, and agreed to go on a caravan holiday she was dreading, despite her dreams of sun and sand, all for her love of Ken.

What made Deirdre the everywoman who was so easy to identify with was the normalcy she maintained against the soapland backdrop of murder, deception and false imprisonment. She was an ordinary woman reacting ordinarily in extraordinary circumstances, and this is where the realism in any good soap must be found. 

Alongside her sacrifices and hardships, her grounded nature and representation permitted the motherliness at her core to shine through like a beacon. Allowing Rob to get some ‘posh crisps’ from the cupboard after recovering Uncle Albert’s medal, and preparing a parcel for rehab-bound Peter containing his Easter egg and a threaded needle are small but beautiful and very important details which brought her to life, conveyed who she was, and were central to why so many could relate to her, loved her, and felt they knew her, as she was representative of many beloved women in our own lives who we know would do the very same.

To these lovely details we can add her marrow, her belts, her sneaky ciggies, her pottery, her glasses and her special trifle, for after all, no matter what happens to us, these are the details that make up who we are, that constitute a life. Across her 42 years on Coronation Street, that life played out alongside ours, and this is a remarkable and very special thing.

Deirdre’s visits to Liz in The Rovers were another endless source of joy for me. I can see her with a glass of red in front of her at the side of the bar, pondering how wine is not quite the same without pork scratchings, and confiding, sharing, laughing and chatting about life with her best friend. This was one of Deirdre’s pleasures, and consequently ours.

It's hard to imagine Coronation Street without Deirdre Barlow, but she leaves a very special legacy in that it is not just made up of memories, but the sense of what it was to know her. For a fictional character to leave not just recollections but feelings is a testament to Anne, and we have her to thank for the gift of Deirdre, a woman who illuminated both our televisions and our lives.

May she rest in peace.

By Emma Hynes
Twitter: @ELHynes

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Anonymous said...

Smashing tribute. Left me silently weeping for the umpteenth time this week. Deirdre joined Coronation Street in the year of my birth. She's been there my whole life and I can't begin to imagine Weatherfield without her.

I've long championed Deirdre as Queen of the Street, she had it all, drama, tragedy, humour and a heart as big as an ocean. Deirdre, I'll miss you terribly.

Humpty Dumpty said...

Deirdre came into her own this last year when she was Ken-free and most of us were hoping that she'd stay strong after his return. Tragically, we'll never see what future had in store for them. I do regret that Deirdre and Liz didn't have more scenes together. They should have been having disgraceful nights out, feeling thoroughly ashamed in the morning.

It's very early days to be thinking about exit stories but her absence will have to be explained somehow. I wish Deirdre would simply go off into the sunset, leaving Weatherfield for pastures new. However, if we must have a traditional and sombre exit, I'd love Deirdre to have arranged an amazing wake at the Rovers along with a team of male strippers.

Llifon said...

Great tribute! Thanks Emma! :)

Frosty the Snowman said...

Lets hope that part of the legacy is that Tracy turns her life around and stops behaving like a physco bitch with everyone. Approaching middle age, she is the next matriach up in the chain. If what is left of the Barlows is to survive in the Street then Tracy's behaviour seriously has to change now or the Barlows just have to go I am afraid. Without Blanche or Dierdre there will be little point to them any longer.

Anonymous said...

I hope they eventually store Deirdre's ashes in one of her home-made pots.

BarrieT said...

I've watched Deirdre since 1980. I loved her at the corner shop where she worked for many years (much better than sour faced sophie) and people used to come in and chat. I agree that she came into her own in 2014 whilst Ken was Way. I'm wondering if the writers had started to write Annies real personality into Deirdre at this time. She was certainly written as more of a comedy character than had previously been. I was a bit suprised when Liz came back last year the writers completely ignored her friendship with Deirdre. The Last time we saw Liz she was Deirdres best friend but when she returned she didnt even mention her. It's a shame that the writers are so inconsistent these days that they ignore much of the history of the characters. It appears that Beverley Callard and Anne Kirkbride were best friends in real life as she held her hand til the very end. I hope Deirdres passing will be quick and simple and not overly dramatised. A few kind words from the older members of the street will suffice, like Emily, Roy, Audrey, Gail, Eileen. She was closest with Eileen and Liz mainly and Emily was like a surrogate Mum .

Beth said...

A beautiful tribute Emma, thank you. All the memories of what Deidre was about and her story lines from the small to the big came flooding back.

My earliest memories of Coronation Street are in fact of Deidre when she confronted Ray's bit on the side in the cafe and then threw him out. Later when the lorry crashed into the Rovers and Deidre feared Tracey was under the rubble. I was a little girl and I remember being on the edge of my seat and scared!

I also loved her in the corner shop with Alf. She had real warmth and great and people chit chatted.

The Barlow's won't ever be the same. The family will seem empty without her. It already does if you notice.

Rosie said...

I have to agree with Frosty, Tracy needs to change now, perhaps she could meet someone who will turn her life around and give her some purpose ( it nearly happened with Rob) or I'm afraid it will really will be the end of the Barlows.

Dame Edna said...

Lovely, funny Deirdre.

Our Lady of the Barge and Wendy flamin' Crozier couldn't hold a candle to her ~ none of your pretentious pussyfooting around for this woman of the North. Although, if I'd been writing for her, I wouldn't have made her pottery dodgy. I'd have shown an unexpected talent that rocked the Guardian-clutching Ken back on his heels...showing him that you don't have to float about like The Lady of Shalott to be "artistic". Belts are better than scarves, anyway.

Her sojourn in Wales was hilarious ~ the side-eye she gave Ken as he tried out his Welsh on some random couple....or was it the sheep, I can't quite remember.

Anyway, Emma.....I was fine until you mentioned Peter's Easter egg. No ginnels where I am.....but a quiet backyard in Oz is as good a place as any to shed a few tears for a woman I never met (but I knew, just the same).

Many thanks Emma, for such a lovely, evocative piece.

Anonymous said...

With regards to Liz's and Deirdre's friendship,I think they became estranged when Peter was arrested for Tina's murder and Liz [along with everyone else] believed he was guilty.Even Emily despite her close friendship with the Barlows took the side of Peter being guilty until proven innocent.That being said,I would like to see perhaps either Carla or Emily take Tracy under their wing to reforn her for the better.

Sally Dee said...

Oh Emma, I'm crying! You really, really crafted the how and why of Dierdre's impact on so many people's lives. Yes, we don't know Anne but what a gift she gave us, so of course we mourn her passing and wish her peace and her family comfort. XX

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