Doris Speed (3rd February 1899 to 16th November 1994)

 

As an entrenched Northerner I watch Coronation Street and I can remember when Annie Walker (real name Doris Speed) was the snooty landlady of The Rovers Return Inn. Here I am at the house where Doris lived with her mother for many years.

 

Though she was known as the uppish Mayoress of Weatherfield and doyen of the Rovers Return Inn she was an actress who toiled for decades without acclaim. She was born just before the turn of 1900 to parents who were touring vaudeville artists. They took Doris around the country with them and she started a new school every few weeks. She appeared on stage at three years old to sing a song about a golliwog. At five she made her did her first bit of proper acting in a melodrama The Royal Divorce.

 

Leaving school she started work and, for a while, was a clerk at Guinness brewery in Manchester. She was appearing in repertory and radio plays for the love of it than any fame, with a day job for most of the time.

 

This much-loved actress found fame late at 61 appearing in the 1950ís police television series Shadow Squad. The writer Tony Warren was a friend who was creating a soap opera and he wrote the part of Annie Walker for Doris.

 

There was no great love, she never married and lived with her mum in this house. She was 74 when her mum died and she continued to live alone. She wasnít the same person again - vague, distant and forgetful when delivering her lines. Julie Goodyear often wrote Dorisís lines on her arms to prompt her. After years of putting in a perfect performance she could be reduced to crying if a scene took two or three attempts.

 

She continued work on ďthe StreetĒ for another decade after her mumís death but two incidents ended the career of the Queen Mother Of Soaps. When she was 84 the Daily Mirror published a slightly wicked story revealing Dorisís was not 69 (for which they were condemned for picking on an elderly lady.) One day on the television set she fainted (probably with embarrassment) and was advised to go home to rest. The final blow came shortly after. Two thugs broke into her house while she was sleeping. She woke up, rang the police and locked herself in the bathroom. She could only listen as the burglars stole or ruined precious possession including objects related to her mum. This incident spooked her so much that she had a mild nervous breakdown and never returned to work.

 

She retired soon after. She moved out of this house and lived for another decade in a nursing home in Bury. One day aged 95 she smoked a cigarette while reading a novel "To Sir With Love" then settled down for a snooze from which she never woke up.

 

She had appeared in 1,746 episodes of Coronation Street and received more respect and fan mail than any other cast member.

 

I wasnít sure what kind of house to expect, something a little grander I suppose Ė a normal house on a normal quiet street. A net curtains twitched while I was taking these photos but Iím sure the locals are used to geeky blue-plaque-spotters.