You’d think Ardwick actor and night-club singer Bill Tarmey would have little in common with Britain’s greatest classical thespian Laurence Olivier, wouldn’t you?
But you’d be wrong.
Tarmey, most famous for playing loveable rogue Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street for 31 years, actually shared the stage with Lord Olivier in 1983.
The occasion was the acclaimed Granada TV production of King Lear. Olivier earned an Emmy for his brilliant portrayal of the title role while Tarmey was one of the extras.
To be fair, he’s not easily recognisable with a full wig and a beard in ancient British costume – and there’s no sign of Jack’s trademark vest or glasses taped up with Elastoplast either!
Nevertheless he was there when Oliver, at the age of 75, gave one of the most moving and powerful performances of his outstanding career.
Tarmey was not the only Mancunian in the production. Crumpsall actor David Threlfall played the Duke of Gloucester’s son Edgar – a role light years from Frank Gallagher in the TV series Shameless.
The rest of the cast read like a who’s who of British theatre. Dorothy Tutin was Goneril, while Diana Rigg played Regan. John Hurt was the Fool.
Leo McKern was the Duke of Gloucester, Colin Blakely the Duke of Kent and Robert Lindsay portrayed Edmund. Cordelia was played by Anna Calder-Marshall.
It was all a far cry from the cobblestones of Coronation Street, even though the studios were close by.
Born in Ardwick in April 1941, Tarmey worked as an apprentice asphalt spreader and builder before becoming a full-time nightclub singer and entertainer.
He had a good voice. Three of his albums made the UK charts in the 1990s.
Tarmey was an extra in a number of TV shows before getting his big break as Jack Duckworth at the age of 38 in November 1979.
He made his first appearance on the Street when his on-screen wife Vera, played by Liz Dawn, forced him to attend the wedding of Brian Tilsley (Christopher Quinten) to Gail Potter (Helen Worth).
Brian was the son of Vera’s best friend Ivy, played by Lynne Perrie. They worked together stitching knickers in Mike Baldwin’s Underworld factory.
Tarmey did not become a regular until 1981, cementing his role in 1983 when the Duckworths moved on to the Street – much to the dread of the rest of the residents!
The pair had already established themselves as a raucous and argumentative couple – albeit with hearts of gold. Work-shy Jack moved from one scheme to another with increasingly chaotic results.
In a sense, they took up the comic mantle of Stan and Hilda Ogden, superbly portrayed for decades by Jean Alexander and Bernard Youens.
In 1983, Jack and Vera provided one of the Street’s most hilarious confrontations when Jack signed up for a dating agency posing as smooth alter ego Vince St Clair.
Little did he know that barmaid Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) had already tipped Vera off!
Vera then joined the same agency under the guise of glamorous widow Carole Munroe and arranged a date with Jack.
The result was pure TV gold. Jack exclaimed: ‘You’re no flamin’ widow!’ while Vera clouted him with her handbag replying: ‘No! But I will be after ten minutes when I get you home!’
The Duckworths were at it again in 1998 when an unlikely inheritance allowed them to buy the lease for the Rovers Return.
Predictably, the pair soon ran into financial problems allowing former landlord Alec Gilroy (Roy Barraclough) to snatch the pub back from them.
The situation descended into farce when the pair barricaded themselves in and refused to come out, being supplied with food and drink from a ladder to the upstairs window!
There was another hair-raising showdown when Jack had an affair, which he later regretted, with barmaid Bet and Vera found out.
In a spin-off video special, Vera and Jack had their marriage blessed at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.
After many more scrapes, including a few with the Duckworths’ wayward son Terry (Nigel Pivaro), Tarmey left the Street in November 2010.
He’d suffered from health problems, including quintuple heart bypass surgery in 1987, and was having breathing difficulties.
Jack’s death scene, in which he enjoyed a last dance with a ghostly Vera, was described as one of the most moving ever witnessed on a soap. It was watched by more than seven million viewers.
In real life, Tarmey was married to wife Ali from 1962. The couple met at a youth club in 1955 and made their home in Ashton-Under-Lyne.
Tarmey died of a heart attack in Tenerife in November 2012. He was at 72.
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