Meeting Jack Duckworth

In 1992 I went to Manchester to research Coronation Street for a CBC Radio Ideas documentary on British and American soaps.

Vera and Jack Duckworth in RoversAt Granada, I watched the taping of a scene on the street and interviewed writers, production people and cast members.  When I was told the names of two actors I was about to meet, I was struck dumb with awe and terror – Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn aka Jack and Vera Duckworth.  Like pretty much everyone who has watched during the past 30 odd years, for me, Jack and Vera were Coronation Street.

Vera DuckworthI went first into Elizabeth Dawn’s dressing room.  She and Bill had just finished their scenes for the day and she had to leave soon for a family function.  She was sitting in front of the mirror taking off her makeup when I kind of stumbled my way in the door.  “Sit down, dear, and don’t mind me.  We can talk while I do this.”  Instantly, I felt at home, felt like I was with someone I’d known a long time.  And I was in a way.  She was wonderful – not Vera, yet Vera.  She took off Vera’s makeup and put on her own.  She brushed out Vera’s hair into her own.  She looked Elizabeth Dawn in real lifedifferent.  We talked a long time, then she said she had to run.  She told me where Bill’s dressing room was and just to go on there when I was ready, then with a ‘ta-ra’ she was out the door.  Before I got everything picked up, she was back in laughing.  “I’ve got Vera’s coat on.”  She shucked off the familiar looking black cloth coat, grabbed another more stylish one, laughed, waved and was gone again.

Then to meet Jack.  My nerves came back.  Hand shaking, I knocked on his door and a familiar gruff voice told me to come in.  He too was Bill Tarmey 2010removing Jack and becoming Bill.  He leaned back in his chair and just talked.  He asked me a lot of questions, where I lived, what I did, about my family.  He told me about his family, pointing out who was who in the photographs around his dressing room.  It was nice.  He was an easy man to talk to.  So much so I would forget why I was there – to get him on tape talking about being Jack.

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey cd Incurably Romantic
Click for Amazon link

So he told me about Jack and him – how he came to be on the show, first as a short-term bad guy, then brought back as Jack when the writers created the Duckworths.  He told me about his career as an actor and primarily as a singer.  He said when the writers had Jack sing once – badly – he, Bill, found his singing gigs drop off and even bookings cancelled.  If that’s how Bill Tarmey sings, he laughed, they didn’t want him performing.

He wasn’t likely telling me anything he hadn’t told hundreds of interviewers before, but he made it seem personal.  Just him and me talking about stuff.  It wasn’t slick, like a performance piece, just good conversation.  He talked straightforwardly and was engaged in the discussion, talking and listening.

He reminded me of my father, as Jack Duckworth always has.  “Rough, tough and hard to Bill Tarmey, outside Rovers, upon retirementbluff” as my dad would say about himself.  That’s what Jack is like, with a lovely soft heart.  That too is what Bill Tarmey is like.  And my dad.  I can think of no higher compliment to any one of them than being compared to each other.  Bill, if you are reading this, you and Jack will be greatly missed.  I hope you have a wonderful retirement.  Cheers!

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey book on Jack DuckworthClick the image to left for an Amazon link to Bill Tarmey’s book on being Jack and the ‘Incurably Romantic’ image above for link to his music.

 

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2 thoughts on “Meeting Jack Duckworth”

  1. So glad I caught this, Dorothy! Jack and Vera are legend. I can’t believe you got to meet them, properly like that. It’s lovely to hear how they are as regular people, too. No wonder their final moment together on the show, as Jack goes to meet Vera at the end, is so sentimental for you. I went to the Granada studios with college, some art exhibit going on nearby. I seem to recall having a pint in the Rovers Return set… ? Or did I dream it? :)

    1. Hi Carrie, you may well have had a drink in the Rovers – probably the replica one on the studio tour lot. A photo of it is in my post on Coronation Street’s 50th. They served Newton and Ridley – brewed by a major brewery in England, can’t recall which one – and packaged under N&R name for Corrie St. In the gift shop, you could also buy N&R bar mats and, I think, little gift bottles. Can’t remember if it was actual alcohol or not. That Rovers was on a ‘street’ that was part of the Granada tour where you also toured the Granada and Corrie St museums, production facilities, other outdoor production sets (Baker St. for Sherlock Holmes, 10 Downing St. etc.). You’d end the tour at the CS gift shop and then the Rovers. All that was up behind the big wall that used to be at the Rovers end of the Street.

      The exteriors on the street had nothing inside them – just beams and unfinished walls. Only if there’s a scene where you can see inside and outside, like someone opening their door, do they dress the entrance way into the “house”. All interiors, including the Rovers, were in the dedicated studio over behind the factory and Kev’s garage. There were working beer taps in the Rovers set, but it wasn’t bitter that they dispensed. Coloured water or weak tea with a bit of beer to give the head.

      Yes, Liz Dawn and Bill Tarmey are truly lovely people. It would have been upsetting enough when they left the show, but, having met them, it was even more like saying goodbye to friends. Bad enough when Vera died, but then losing Jack! So it was special seeing her back for his final scene. Thanks for writing about this – makes me think of the geography of it all again. Hope they have tours of the new facility. It’s nice to actually see the places and know how it’s put together.

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