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Obituary: Johnny Briggs

Actor who played Mike Baldwin, a central character in 'Coronation Street' for 30 years


Johnny Briggs received the British Soap Award for Lifetime Achievement and was appointed MBE. Photo: PA Wire

Johnny Briggs received the British Soap Award for Lifetime Achievement and was appointed MBE. Photo: PA Wire

Johnny Briggs received the British Soap Award for Lifetime Achievement and was appointed MBE. Photo: PA Wire

Johnny Briggs, the actor who has died aged 85, was already a well-known face in films and on television when he made his debut in 1976 in ITV Granada's epic soap Coronation Street as crafty Cockney wide-boy Mike Baldwin.

Briggs believed he fitted in at Coronation Street "because I was playing a sort of outsider anyway. Being a Londoner, a factory boss, everyone expected Mike to be a bit flash", he said. "It probably added to the image."

However, his abiding pass-ion was golf. Such was Briggs's obsession with the game that his first wife remembered him missing the birth of his first child in 1965. "He couldn't even be bothered to come to the hospital," she said. "He was out on the course."

Briggs first appeared in Coronation Street in 1974 as a van driver, and was asked back two years later to play Baldwin. He was offered a three-month contract, during which he was to have an on-screen affair with Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear).

His confrontations with his love rival Ken Barlow (William Roache) became a regular feature of the storyline, and observers believed there was something of Mike Baldwin in Briggs. The character had four marriages and countless affairs, including flings with Barlow's wife and daughter.

When Barlow was reunited with his wife, Deirdre (Anne Kirkbride), following her affair with Baldwin, the announcement "Ken and Deirdre reunited. Ken 1-Mike 0" was flashed up on the Old Trafford scoreboard during Manchester United's game against Arsenal that evening.

Briggs left Coronation Street in 2006 after 30 years.

Much ink was spilled in Fleet Street chronicling Briggs's personal life over the years. In the mid-1990s, aged 59, he had a six-month affair with a 21-year-old air hostess. In 2007, aged 72, he was caught by a British tabloid "romping" with a prostitute in Thailand, and he went on to have a relationship with a make-up artist 40 years his junior.

John Ernest Briggs was born on September 5, 1935 in Lavender Hill, Battersea, south London, the son of a master carpenter. In 1947, aged 12, he won a scholarship to the Italia Conti stage academy, enrolling alongside Nanette Newman, Millicent Martin and Anthony Newley.

Having immediately landed a role as a boy soprano with the Italian Opera Company in London, Briggs made his professional stage debut the same year and went on to appear in several operas, including Tosca, Falstaff and Rigoletto.

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When his voice broke in 1949, he appeared on stage with Audrey Hepburn in Sauce Tartare. After more opera parts, Briggs became a stage hand at the Windmill Theatre and was later promoted to spotlight operator.

In 1948, he appeared in his first film, Quartet, starring George Cole and scripted by Somerset Maugham. More soon followed: in 1953 he played Skinny in Britain's first X-rated film, Cosh Boy, featuring the starlet Joan Collins.

Having presented himself as a homosexual to avoid National Service - he failed - Briggs spent two years in the Royal Tank Regiment.

Making his stage comeback with the High Wycombe repertory company, he played roles in Dial M for Murder, Boeing-Boeing, Wait Until Dark and Doctor in the House.

During the 1950s, Briggs became a peripheral member of a group of hard-drinking actors led by Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole. "We used to drink in the Salisbury in St Martin's Lane," he recalled. "When it closed, we'd go to the Kismet Club, and from there to one of the market pubs at Billingsgate for 'breakfast'."

In 1960, he appeared in Granada's drama series The Younger Generation and took big-screen roles in Sink the Bismarck, Doctor in Love, Light Up the Sky, 633 Squadron and The Wild and the Willing, as well as comedies.

Asked what he liked about his alter-ego Baldwin, Briggs replied: "I like his approach to life, his approach to women. He doesn't start affairs, he lets them come to him. If they don't, then he's really not at all bothered. He's very confident and basically a nice guy."

In 1988, Briggs appeared in court on a drink-driving charge after hitting another car on a motorway. In court, he claimed he drove home and had been so upset by the incident that he had a drink to calm his nerves. He later admitted having downed 10 measures of brandy, seven of port and a glass of red wine.

Despite receiving more amorous fan mail than any other actor in the Coronation Street cast, Briggs claimed he had "no illusions about showbiz" and saw himself as a jobbing actor. "I go to work," he said, "get the job done, get paid and go home."

Following his retirement from Coronation Street, Briggs received the British Soap Award for Lifetime Achievement and was appointed MBE.

In 1961, he married Carol- ine Sinclair, with whom he had a son and a daughter. After his divorce in 1975, he married Christine Allsop, a teacher, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. This marriage, too, was dissolved. His children survive him.

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