RIP Anne Kirkbride. She was a 'Coronation Street' legend and a household name, of this there's no doubt, and it's an insurmountable tragedy that she's gone at such a young age. But please let us not get carried away by calling her 'one of Britain's greatest actresses'. Much loved, yes. Great, no. She played the same part for over 40 years, so far as I know she never played any other, and so far as I know she never appeared on stage. She was not Judi Dench or Peggy Ashcroft. She was a soap star. Not that it makes her death any easier to bear.
Almost all of the older actors and actresses in our soaps—and I figure the same applies to America—have been stuck in the same role for the entirety of their careers. Good they may be, convincing they certainly are, but they are never versatile because all they are playing are extensions of themselves: Bill Roach, Eileen Derbyshire, Michael LeVell, Adam Woodyatt et all have never been given the opportunity to expand whatever talents they may or may not have. Anyone could have been plucked from a queue of extras to play their parts, and done so with equal conviction. And how many of these soap stars have left to attempt other ventures, only to find that they are incapable of being not stuck in a rut and return to their soap? How many times do you see these people appearing on quiz and chat-shows, billed under their own name—but without exception with the name of their soap character in brackets next to this, because they are known only for playing that one part?
Barbara Windsor, the quintessential English all-round legend, will be primarily remembered for ‘Eastenders’ when she leaves us, and not for the myriad of other things she has done. So, let us by all means mourn ‘Dierdre’, but for what she was—a beloved character in a television soap, and not Manchester’s answer to Bette Davis. Anne Kirkbride herself would not have wanted this.