Tuesday 25 October 2016

Tributes flood in for comedy 'genius' Caroline Aherne

Published 03/07/2016 | 00:06

Caroline Aherne had battled lung cancer
Caroline Aherne had battled lung cancer

Tributes have poured in for comedian and actress Caroline Aherne after her death from cancer aged 52.

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The star was best known for hit sitcom The Royle Family and the riotous chat show The Mrs Merton Show, which both won a string of awards.

Aherne, who more recently narrated Channel 4 show Gogglebox, had been battling lung cancer and had previously been treated for bladder and eye cancer.

After her death was announced on Saturday her Royle Family co-star Sue Johnston, who played her on-screen mother, said: "I am devastated at her passing and I am numb with grief."

Alan Partridge comic Steve Coogan hailed his "incredibly funny" long-time friend, telling ITV News: "It was almost like an honour to have her make fun of you because you couldn't help but laugh. It's hard to imagine not hearing that laughter."

Aherne gained public attention as the Checkout Girl in The Fast Show. But she became a household name as straight-talking blue-rinse granny Mrs Merton in The Mrs Merton Show, which first aired on BBC Two in 1995 and won the best talk show Bafta in 1997.

The Royle Family was born after she and friend Craig Cash, who played gormless Dave Best in the show, threw themselves into their work after a suicide attempt, which she described as her lowest ebb.

It is considered to be a classic British sitcom, despite the unusual format of a working class family sitting in a living room.

The BBC show was the toast of the 1999 British Comedy Awards, scooping four trophies including best actress for Aherne.

It went on to take home the best sitcom Bafta in 2000 and 2007.

Aherne was nominated for Baftas for her performance in both shows, as well as her directing of The Royle Family in 2001.

BBC director general Lord Hall said: "She was a brilliant, award winning comedy writer and performer, much loved by audiences - especially for The Royle Family and Mrs Merton and for her wonderful voicing of many shows. Our thoughts are with her family and friends."

Ralf Little, who starred as Antony Royle, brother to Aherne's Denise in The Royle Family, tweeted: "Sorry for silence - I just ... don't know what to say. What a sad, sad day. We've lost another one of our best.

"A character. A legend. A boss. A sister, real and (for me) fake. A boss. A writer. An actor. A genius. A friend. Big, big heart. Goodbye. X"

Aherne's death was announced by her publicist Neil Reading, who said she died on Saturday at her home in Timperley, Greater Manchester.

The star, who had been a smoker, struggled with health problems for years.

Born to Irish immigrant parents in London before being raised in Manchester, she was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the retina as a child - like her older brother Patrick.

She was sent to Lourdes in search of a miracle cure but was left with severely impaired sight in one eye.

She later fought depression and drink problems - giving a rambling and slurred acceptance speech at the British Comedy Awards in 1996 after being named best female performer.

She spent time in the Priory clinic following a suicide attempt, before moving to Australia to avoid the glare of publicity.

The star also had a string of failed relationships - her marriage to former New Order guitarist Peter Hook ended and she began a romance with TV researcher Matt Bowers.

They split, but she was devastated when he died of cancer at the age of 28.

She once admitted alcohol was an attempt to block out her problems.

Debbie McGee, the widow of magician Paul Daniels, said that Aherne's death was "very sad news".

She was on the receiving end of one of Mrs Merton's most famous lines, when she was asked in a 1995 episode: "What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?"

McGee tweeted on Saturday: "Just heard the very sad news about Caroline Aherne, she was wonderful especially as Mrs Merton. My interview will be a treasured memory RIP."

In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, Ricky Tomlinson, who played her character's father on The Royle Family, said he was "so bloody shocked" at her death.

"She was absolutely wonderful and amazing to work for. Kind, funny, witty. A true professional and one of the most generous people I have ever worked with," he told the paper.

Tomlinson, 76, revealed how Aherne over the two years she was battling the disease "never talked about her health" and that he could "never, ever remember her complaining".

He added: "She must have gone through a lot but I never saw her looking unwell. She never flagged in work and the atmosphere when she was writing and acting was brilliant."

Recalling his time of working with her, Tomlinson said Aherne would always make sure the cast would have a beautiful dressing room filled with flowers, a card and a bowl of sweets, and would often sending out for takeaways if they filmed late.

He added: "Every week when you finished filming there would always be a little present. A little bag of goodies and a Lottery ticket for everyone. It was those little things I loved her for. She was one of a kind."

John Thomson, Aherne's co-star on The Fast Show, said his friend had "raw talent" and "no agenda".

He said: " We've lost a great comedienne, actress and writer and sadly I've lost a very dear, very old friend.

"When I say lost, sadly a lot of us lost Caroline years ago. Thanks to the cumulative effect of the regular intrusion into her private life and particularly her personal relationships, Caroline opted out and became a virtual recluse, only to bless our screens at Christmas in the latest rendition of the Royle Family.

"Who can blame her? I know only too well, the pain that comes with the moniker 'celebrity'. She never wanted fame, she was a raw talent who accepted that fame was a mere by-product of her skill set."

He added: " She wasn't political, she never saw herself as a feminist or representing the minority of female comics. She didn't need to, there was no agenda, she was just funny.

"She was an incredibly funny woman on and off screen, whose raw talent and 'funny bones' never failed to make me roar with laughter."

Thomson said the last time he saw Aherne was while they were working on Sky comedy After Hours in 2014.

He said: " She'd just gone into remission again. Her hair, beneath her wig, had regrown and she was painfully thin, but despite all this she was on amazing form, the Caroline I knew and loved working with. This was the last time I saw her. I'm grateful for that fact, as that was how I would want to remember her."

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