Commuters catching the train from Southport to Manchester in the 1980s probably paid little attention to the TV star in the same carriage.
After all, they saw her every day.
For the neatly dressed woman doing the crossword was none other than Liverpool actress Jean Alexander, who played Hilda Ogden in the long-running soap Coronation Street.
Alexander took the train from Southport station to Manchester Victoria to film the popular series at Granada’s TV studios. She played Hilda from 1964 to 1987.
Alexander was born Jean Mavis Hodgkinson in Rhiwlas Street, Toxteth, in 1926. Alexander was her stage name. Her father, Archie, was an electrician.
Educated at St Edmund’s College for Girls in Princes Park, Toxteth, Alexander spent five years as a library assistant before she started acting full time.
Her first stage role was Florrie in Somerset Maugham’s play Sheppey at the Adelphi Guild Theatre, Macclesfield, in 1949.
She worked in repertory theatre in Oldham and Stockport for nearly a decade and made her TV debut in the Merseyside police series Z-Cars in 1962.
Alexander was first seen as Hilda on Coronation Street on July 8th 1964 – but she nearly missed out on the part altogether.
Betty Driver, who later played barmaid Betty Turpin, also auditioned for the role. She was turned down because producers reportedly wanted ‘a more slender’ actress to play Hilda!
Alexander lost no time in making the part her own. The character came about because producer Tim Aspinall thought the series needed a shake-up four years after its launch.
A new family was planned around Irma Ogden, played by Sandra Gough. Aspinall wanted to push back the boundaries and give the newcomers a rougher edge.
In came Alexander as Hilda, the raucous, nagging wife of layabout lorry-driver Stan (Bernard Youens) and Irma’s three siblings Trevor, Tony and Sylvia.
Trevor was played by Jonathan Collins, but Tony and Sylvia never actually appeared in the programme.
Actor Willie Smith rehearsed for the role of Tony for episode 372, but it was never recorded due to the 1964 ITV strike.
The two characters were then dropped altogether and Hilda was heard to mention that she only had two children instead of four.
Youens and Alexander formed a formidable double-act as Stan and Hilda – and the two actors became lifelong friends.
Their on-screen loyalty was unswerving. Although they’d bicker and fight incessantly, they’d defend each other to the hilt if anyone dared to say a word against either of them.
It was no surprise that Alexander won the 1985 Royal Television Society Award for her reaction to the death of her TV husband in 1984.
The scenes are still regarded as some of the most moving on British television.
Alexander’s own final episodes in 1987 attracted nearly 27 million viewers – the highest in the show’s history.
After 23 years as Hilda, Alexander played thrifty junk-shop owner Auntie Wainwright in Last of the Summer Wine from 1992 until the end of the series in 2010.
Jean Alexander died in Southport hospital in October 2016 – three days after her 90th birthday. Thousands mourned.
As Hilda Ogden she had been nothing short of a national treasure.
Little wonder that a UK TV Times poll voted her the Greatest Soap Opera Star of All Time.