'Ta-ra Jack' - Coronation street stars gather to pay emotional final tribute to Bill Tarmey
HEART-warming tributes were paid today to "humble man" Bill Tarmey who played loveable Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street for three decades.
Stars of the ITV1 soap from past and present joined Ali, his wife of 50 years, their two children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson at his funeral service.
Among the 700 mourners packed into Albion United Reformed Church in Ashton-under-Lyne was his former on-screen wife, Liz Dawn.
Together as Jack and Vera, their endearing, comically turbulent marriage was one of the most popular in soap history and won the hearts of millions of viewers across the world.
Mourners were told that Dawn, who attended the service in a wheelchair, was "devastated by Bill's loss".
Both stepped down from the soap in recent years due to health reasons.
In a eulogy, their ex-colleague, Samia Ghadie, who plays Maria Connor, said the pair were "a truly unforgettable and formidable partnership, and I doubt we'll ever see that again".
She added: "They were simply iconic and Jack Duckworth will forever be a Coronation Street legend.
"On behalf of everyone who works at Coronation Street and has worked on the programme for 52 years, and the loyal viewers who have followed the programme throughout these years - Bill, we salute you."
She spoke of Tarmey and Dawn as being "truly talented actors".
"Their timing was perfect and they had this most amazing bond together," she said. "They were almost telepathic in their approach."
She continued: "Liz, I know, is devastated by Bill's loss. He was so kind to her during her last filming days at Coronation Street."
Fighting back tears throughout, she said Tarmey was "wise, kind, honest, warm-hearted and had the most generous spirit".
Similar sentiments were expressed by former Street star, Nigel Pivaro, who played Jack and Vera's tearaway son, Terry.
He said: "Behind the character was the man. Bill's huge generosity of spirit, his warmth, his wit, his patience, his wisdom.
"I think those qualities that he had in abundance we will keep them in our hearts as his legacy.
"Today the world is a little poorer for not having him with us and heaven is a little richer."
Tarmey died at his holiday home in Tenerife on November 9, aged 71.
The former asphalt spreader and builder dreamed of becoming a singing star and was eking out a living as a crooner in working men's clubs before joining Coronation Street in 1977 as an extra to supplement his earnings.
Tarmey landed the role of Jack Duckworth two years later and despite his modesty about his acting ability, a Street legend was born, to the extent he did not leave the show until 31 years later.
A heavy smoker, he underwent a quadruple heart bypass in 1986, and then another bypass operation in June 2002 but he long refused to give up smoking.
The Rev Paul Stringer told the congregation that William Cleworth-Piddington, his real name, was born in Ardwick, Manchester, the eldest of five.
He met his wife at Ebeneezer Methodist Church in the city at the age of 14 and she became his "soul mate".
"You (Ali) were his rock. In recent years you were Bill's accountant, agent and pill dispenser," said Mr Stringer.
The congregation was also let into a couple of family secrets.
Unlike his gambling, pigeon-fancying character, Tarmey had hardly ever visited a bookies and he was not that keen on pigeons.
Tarmey had struggled with his health but as his heart surgeon told the actor on his This Is Your Life episode: "I knew that Bill has a heart of gold because I have held it in my hand."
Mourners heard that Tarmey worked hard to develop his acting skills by watching others.
Mr Stringer said: "As Bill's family say, he was never quite as convinced he was as talented as he was.
"Essentially he was a humble man. He always used to say 'I'm not a legend, I'm a leg-end'."
Self-penned poems were read out by Tarmey's granddaughter Naomi and grandson Matthew.
His daughter, Sara, was among the pallbearers.
In the order of service, the family asked for donations to Brain Tumour Research.
Tarmey's son, Carl, has been battling a brain tumour.
Some fans of the soap were allowed into the service while several hundred more listened outside via loudspeakers.
A private committal followed the ceremony.