Our Little Swampduck

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 by

Coronation Street from me again, then (it remains my only TV obsession when HIGNFY isn’t on… ) and the sad news that Liz Dawn is leaving her role as Vera Duckworth after 33 years due to ill health.

I suspect that all Corrie fans thought immediately like I did when I read the news – what will happen to Jack? Reading on, and it was made clear that Bill Tarmey would be sticking around to continue playing his character. To my mind, this leaves Granada with absolutely no alternative – they have to kill Vera off.

This may be somewhat insensitive, given that Liz Dawn is leaving because she has emphysema, but the Duckworths have – despite a ratio of rows and fallouts more suited to opposite sides in a civil war – been the Street‘s most enduring and tight-knit couple. It has been programming policy for many years now that they will never be given a storyline which leads to their permanent splitting up. Every adult around them has a turbulent marital history – widowed, divorced, separated, deserted, jilted, parenting out of wedlock – but not these two. Their weaknesses have been their strength.

A 50th wedding anniversary for the Duckworths – although we’ve only had 27 years of it with the cameras on – is due this year. In typically soapish manner, this could be the time for Vera to discover something’s up with her – she has only one kidney, for example; the reminder of that is with her grandson Paul, who got the kidney a few years ago and is now getting his feet under the table – and begin the process of fading her out. Like Stan and Hilda Ogden before them, this could be the ultimate making of the Duckworth legend; we all recall the astonishing performance of Jean Alexander as she opened the just-deceased Stan’s spectacles case and finally broke down after losing the man she had spent 20 years on our screens terrorising. For all Bill Tarmey’s undoubted disappointment at waving away his sparring partner, I suspect the chance for him to do something beyond the malingering-gambling-drinking pensioner with half-repaired glasses shtick just once will be something this excellent performer will relish.

Vera started on the Street in 1974, largely in the background at the factory later to be taken over by Mike Baldwin, at which point she seeped to the front. Her running gossip sessions with Ivy Tilsley and Ida Clough were finely honed comic soap, the type of which the likes of Sean Tully, Janice Battersby (a Vera successor in most ways, except she’s still hard to like) and Fiz Brown are continuing with gusto. When not sewing flared denims, she was in the Rovers continuing the tirade, or – like the then unseen Jack – having discreet liaisons with other men. Once Jack became a real person with Tarmey’s elevation from extra to speaker in 1979, we learned the truth about the Duckworths – they had eyes elsewhere, but ultimately couldn’t be without one another.

Vera was sacked by Baldwin, then reinstated after a plea from his trophy wife Susan, then sacked again. She tried running the Rovers, but was as a bad an accountant as she was a leader and delegator. She learned to drive (infamously with a Vera lookalike in the long shots, as Liz Dawn had never even sat behind a wheel before) after winning a car, and her constant belief that she is loosely Royal thanks to a spot of illegitimate fumbling on a red carpet somewhere has always been a delight. The application of that ugly stone cladding and the renaming of her house as The Old Rectory emphasised her unquenched desire to rise a level. Her dogged belief in her villainous son, Terry, has also brought out the best in Vera, even though she really should have aimed such belief in her husband, although her subsequent surrogate motherhood to the likes of Curly Watts and Tyrone Dobbs at least partly cleansed her sense of failure, along with the good relationship she enjoys with the two remaining mothers of the three grandsons which Terry spawned and then left.

But ultimately, it’s still that very partnership with Jack which has been Vera’s saviour, her constant, and therefore – just like the most solid relationships in real life – it has to end in the way the vows intend and death must do them part. It’ll be sad to close the door on another long and distinguished chapter in Corrie‘s history, but with the older characters there’s only so much room for sentiment – after all, there’s high class drama to had, first and foremost. Let Vera go with dignity and style – so no sudden heart attacks to prevent the expected cause of death, like the cop out over Mike Baldwin – and let’s hope that Liz Dawn’s battle against emphysema is a long and unharrowing one.


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