Beloved 'Corrie' veteran Tarmey dies at age 71

BILL Tarmey, who as Jack Duckworth on 'Coronation Street' was one of TV's most recognisable faces, has died at the age of 71.

The actor, who left the soap in 2010, died while on holiday in Tenerife.

Tarmey played the loveable, pigeon-fancying rogue -- with his trademark glasses held together with sticky tape -- for more than 30 years.

A statement from the show read: "The cast, crew and production team at ' Coronation Street' are devastated to hear of Bill's death. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill's wife and soulmate, Ali, and their family at this very sad time."

His family asked "for privacy as they grieve for a wonderful husband, father and brother".

Tarmey's role in 'Coronation Street' came after a long struggle to make it as an entertainer.

His screen partnership with Liz Dawn, as the feuding but funny Jack and Vera Duckworth, was one of TV's great comedy double acts.

The pair immediately established a rapport, as Dawn explained about shooting their first scenes together on location: "I was freezing, so I stood right up against the heater and my crimplene shirt kept brushing on to it.

"It caught fire. Suddenly, Bill grabbed me and threw me on the floor and started slapping my backside.

"I screamed. I thought, this isn't in the script, he must have flipped. Bill said, 'I'm sorry, but you're on fire.' And of course we had a great laugh about that.

"It was a real ice-breaker between us because we both saw the funny side. It was the start of what has been for me a wonderful partnership."

Born in Ardwick, Manchester, in 1941, Tarmey began life as William Piddington and grew up in the working-class Bradford district of the city.

When he was three his father, William, was killed during wartime service as an ambulance driver in the Netherlands and his mother, Lilian, later married their next-door neighbour, Robert Cleworth, an able seaman.

One of the youngster's school reports read: "This boy is wasting space."

At 15, he went to building college and tried to put right those wasted years.

"I realised I was thick," he said. "Four of us went to the head and asked for extra lessons -- he couldn't believe it."

He was then apprenticed to his stepfather in the building trade.

Cabaret

Shortly afterwards, fuelled by his experience in a church choir and a rock band, the teenager started singing in clubs and cabaret in the evenings.

As well as giving solo performances, he worked with dance bands and jazz quartets. One Stockport club owner decided his name was too long to bill on a board and changed it to William Tarmey -- "after that famous American singer, Mel Tarmey". (In fact, Mel Torme).

In 1968, his wife and childhood sweetheart, Alma, who he called Ali, persuaded him to give up his work in the building trade and try to make it as a professional performer.

Guaranteed a small income from the grocery and hardware shop she ran, he helped her there by day, though they eventually lost it in a redevelopment scheme.

After suffering a major heart attack in 1976, Tarmey returned to showbusiness as a compere at Manchester City's social club.

A friend who was an extra in TV programmes suggested he could get similar work and he appeared in that capacity, as well as taking bit parts, in 'Strangers', 'Crown Court' and a 'Play For Today' production, 'Thicker Than Water'. "I was always the guy with the gun, the guy with the mad dog, the guy that got shot," he said.

From 1976 he was seen as an extra in 'Coronation Street', often throwing darts in the Rovers Return. He eventually took a bit-part as Jack Rowe (1978), who accompanied his friend, the violent and jealous Dave Barnes, on a visit to the pub to warn Ken Barlow against teaching Dave's wife to read and write. He left the show 31 years later.

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