One of the saddest episodes of Coronation Street was when Jack Duckworth found his wife Vera dead in her armchair. It wasn't long before he followed her - and then in real life. Here I am at his grave though I’d guess most folk walk passed him not knowing the famous occupant as the headstone bears his real name: William Cleworth-Piddington. The cemetery is next to Droylsden tip so I thought the next time I go to the dump (with more popped inflatable dolls) I'll go and say hello. A fellow grave-hunter had sent me a photo of the headstone but I'd left it on my desk and had to use my memory. I soon found it.
Bill was born William Piddington just three miles from this grave in Ardwick. Sadly his dad died driving an ambulance at the Battle of Arnhem during the Second World War (his mum would marry again to their next-door neighbour Robert Cleworth.) He worked for his step-dad who was an asphalt spreader by trade and then into the building trade. Aged 14 he met Ali in the local youth club. He was 21 when he got married and they’d go on to have a son and a daughter. Aged 27 - and persuaded by his wife - Bill took a new direction and worked as a nightclub singer and entertainer. This wasn’t such an odd choice as he’d been singing in clubs for years. Working at a social club a Stockport club-owner suggested a name change - William Cleworth-Piddington was a mouthful and too long to put on bill boards. He changed it to Tarmey after a famous American singer Mel Tarmey. All the time he was working as an extra on Coronation Street. He had a heart attack aged 35 and then a stroke aged 36. Aged 38 he was offered the full-time job as Jack Duckworth.
Never a healthy man he underwent quintuple bypass surgery in his forties. Over the next thirty-one years he was one half of the classic “Jack n Vera” double act and appeared in some cracking scenes. He was known for his taped-up glasses, smoky voice, being hen-pecked by Vera ("my little swamp duck”), his distaste for his poisonous son Terry, being a general loser and chatting to his beloved pigeons. I liked him best when he was the white-suited, medallion-wearing Casanova-wannabe Vince St Clair in order to pull some chicks (as usual - a failure.) He and Vera even took over the Rovers Return but the Duckworth curse was never far away and they lost it due to a £17,000 VAT bill. Outside Coronation Street he also sang regularly at The Broadoak pub in Ashton and released several albums (three climbed into the charts.)
Aged 61 he suffered a second heart attack and had a pacemaker fitted. Aged 65 he wanted to retire as his health was failing (he refused to give up smoking) but a mountain of letters from ardent fans made him stay. It wasn't for long though as his son was diagnosed with a brain tumour and given a year to live. He left the soap opera but didn’t have a long retirement, dying of a heart attack aged 71 while at his second home in Tenerife. His son Karl appeared in the newspaper to say the ghost of his dad was visiting him (he's died since.)
I sat in the car waiting for a heavy shower to blow through and soon found the headstone. Bill had done well - if he'd continued his career spreading asphalt we'd never have got to know such a well-loved character. I did a salute and left. Sorry about the short hairy legs. I'd been working in the gardens on a hot day.