Obituary: Bill Tarmey
Obituary by Jack Foley
ACTOR Bill Tarmey, best loved for playing Jack Duckworth in long-running ITV soap opera Coronation Street, has died at the age of 71.
His family confirmed that he died in Tenerife, Spain, on Friday (November 9, 2012), and have asked for “privacy as they grieve for a wonderful husband, father and brother”.
Tarmey left the soap in 2010 after more than 30 years in the show, to both look after his own health and to help care for his son Carl, who was battling a brain tumour.
He told ITV Granada earlier this year: “If this hadn’t happened, they would’ve had to drag me out of there screaming. It was a wonderful bloody job, especially for an old coffin-dodger.”
As a measure of his popularity on the show, Tarmey’s final scenes on Coronation Street were watched by 11m people and prompted the Daily Mirror’s Jim Shelley to refer to his exit as “one of the most moving scenes ever seen in soap”.
Born on April 4, 1941, in Ardwick, Manchester, Tarmey suffered early tragedy when his father was killed in the Second World War. His mother Lilian remarried, to Robert Cleworth.
Tarmey attended the Bradford Memorial School and the Queens Street School and, upon leaving, became an apprentice to his stepfather, who was an asphalt spreader by trade. He also worked in the construction industry for a number of years.
But in 1968, he gave up his job in the building industry to work as a nightclub singer and entertainer, as well as becoming an extra on shows such as Coronation Street to supplement his income.
A life-long heavy smoker, Tarmey suffered a severe heart attack in 1976, at just 35, while singing on stage and had heart surgery to bypass clogged arteries at 45, having the operation redone 15 years later.
He also suffered from sleep apnoea, a condition that resulted in him jolting awake several times a night due to breathing problems.
But in spite of this, he continued to pursue his career and was eventually offered the role of Jack Duckworth in 1979, thereby creating a character who would go on to become an institution in British soap operas.
Success on the Street also enabled him to pursue his love of singing and, an accomplished singer, he released several albums, incluidng Three Of Them (A Gift of Love in 1993, Time For Love in 1994 and After Hours in 1996, all of which appeared in the UK Albums Chart.
In his personal life, Tarmey met his future wife, Alma, in the local youth club in 1955 and married her in 1962. She remained his lifelong love and they had two children: Carl (born 1966) and Sara (born 1970).
In 2010, Tarmey published his autobiography, Jack Duckworth And Me, which chronicled his life from growing up in the slums of Manchester through to his success on the Street.
He said: “I’ve loved sharing my life with Jack. I’m not sure whether he has liked sharing his with me, though!”
Tributes have flooded in from various former co-stars, all of whom spoke of their sorrow at the news and their warmth of feeling for him.
A statement from Coronation Street said the cast, crew and production team were “devastated” to learn of his death.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill’s wife and soulmate Ali and their family at this very sad time,” it said.
Liz Dawn, who played his nagging on-screen wife until 2008, said: “I am totally bereft. He will always be remembered by everyone he came into contact with because he was such a kind and generous man.”
Nigel Pivaro, who starred as Jack’s wayward son Terry, described Tarmey as “a very wise and dignified man who taught me a great deal”.
And William Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since the soap started in 1960, praised Tarmey’s “amazing comic timing” and said he was “a genuinely warm and wonderful human being”.
And Vicky Entwistle, who appeared as Janice Battersby, added: “e was just such a lovely man to have around,” she said. “So warm and always full of fun. The character of Jack was such a jack the lad, there was that wonderful mischievous side to him. He was so well loved by everyone – just a beautiful kind man.
“We all used to look up to him and learn from him and watch him because he made everything look so easy.”