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Obituary: Paula Tilbrook

Actress who played village gossip Betty Eagleton in TV soap 'Emmerdale' for 21 years


Paula Tilbrook

Paula Tilbrook

Paula Tilbrook

Paula Tilbrook, the actress, who has died aged 89, was known to fans of the ITV Yorkshire-based soap Emmerdale as the village gossip and busybody Betty Eagleton, a role she played for 21 years.

Betty joined the show as a former Tiller girl returning home to Emmerdale in April 1994 for an initial run of three episodes. Her husband, Walter "Wally" Eagleton, from whom she was separated, had died five months earlier, his body remaining undiscovered until his horse Sampson led Seth Armstrong (Stan Richards), a lovable rogue whom Betty had dated as a teenager, to the spot four days later.

Paula Tilbrook soon established Betty's character as a no-nonsense, sherry-loving northerner who was always the first to know the latest gossip. She rekindled her romantic relationship with Seth, settling in with him and hosting a 1940s theme night at Christmas. "I thought that when she met Seth again, perhaps she wished she had chosen him first time round rather than the man she did," Paula Tilbrook explained.

Although Betty and Seth planned their wedding, they decided that they did not need to get married in the modern age and were happy living together.

Over the year Paula's character played a central role in some of the soap's most popular storylines, including trying to call off Zoe Tate's (Leah Bracknell's) lesbian wedding.

Seth Armstrong was killed off by the show's producers in 2005, following the death of Stan Richards, the actor who played him. When Paula Tilbrook decided to retire from the show in 2015, her final farewell took place at the secret place where Seth was buried.

The final storyline saw Betty find new love and reveal plans to move to Australia. "I did ask our producer, bless her, not to have me murdered because I was fed up of murders!" she said. "It's a very, very dangerous place to be - you're better in the Bronx than in Emmerdale village!"

Paula Tilbrook was born in Salford on January 16, 1930. She showed an early interest in acting, playing Jill in a Sunday school production of Jack and Jill aged four. From the age of 11, she attended stage school in Manchester, taking singing, dancing and acting lessons. She began her professional career performing in theatres in the North West, before taking a job as a stage manager in Colwyn Bay, Wales.

After her marriage to Leslie Hall, she put her career on hold to bring up their son and daughter, returning to acting after her children started school.

She appeared in Jack Rosenthal's 1969 ITV sitcom The Dustbinmen and in several Ken Dodd productions, before being cast in 11 episodes of Coronation Street as Estelle Plimpton in 1977. She would return to the soap in 1980 as the Derbyshire pub landlady Olive Taylor-Brown, and reappeared as Vivian Barford from 1991 to 1993.

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Her other television credits included Tales of the Unexpected in 1979, and she played the dog-loving Mrs Tattersall in Open All Hours (1981). She played three roles in Last of the Summer Wine, and was Betty Hughes in Channel 4's Brookside in 1984-5.

In 1988 she played the long-suffering housewife Flo Capp in the sitcom Andy Capp (whose title character was played by James Bolam).

Paula Tilbrook's film credits included Yanks (1979) and Alan Bennett's A Private Function (1984).

She briefly reprised her role in Emmerdale on Christmas Day 2015, when Betty Eagleton appeared via Skype to speak to the villagers.

Paula Tilbrook's husband predeceased her. Her children survive her.

She died in December last year, but her death was not announced by her family until July 15 this year.

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