As a stout Northerner I watch Coronation Street and, in the 1970s, I can remember being down Manchester and looking through a purpose-made hole in a red-brick wall at the original street itself (since demolished.)
When I drove to Middlewich in Cheshire to pick up some stone garden ornaments I thought I’d go deeper into countryside to look for the grave of Bill Waddington who was better known as pompous ex-serviceman Percy Sugden. I can remember reading in the newspaper that he was leaving the show as the storylines featured “too much sex.” I can also remember him struggling to say his lines and there were a few pauses between words while he waited for his brain to catch up.
He came to Coronation Street aged 67 after an interesting life. He was born in Oldham but his mum and dad owned seven butcher's shops and a pub and fostered out him out. He led a normal life working in one of the butcher’s shops and then got the first taste of applause when he was recruited to entertain forces during the Second World War. “Waddy” as he was called then played the ukulele and became a member of a group called The Blue Pencils.
After the war he became a comedian and worked with Jill Summers. Years later they’d meet up in Coronation Street when she’d play Phyllis Pearce. Through his thirties and forties he appeared in more than 800 variety and comedy programmes on radio, worked as a “warm up” comedian for American stars who were touring Britain - Frankie Laine, Lena Horne and Billy Daniels. His first stint on television was with Margaret Lockwood when he was 30.
Aged 32 he married his second wife and it lasted as many years until her death from cancer. He was mad about horse racing and bought a horse when he was 47. It only won a race after he’d sold it at 25-to-1 odds. By the late 1980s he owned nine racehorses most of which he had bred at his own farm.
When most men of his era were retiring he joined Coronation Street as the cantankerous, pompous flat-capped pensioner Percy Sugden. Nosy lollipop man Percy poked his nose into other people’s business claiming to be looking after their welfare and then took offence if anybody questioned his word. He drove his landlady Emily Bishop to a nervous breakdown.
There was a third wife but the marriage lasted only nine months. He married for the fourth and last time aged 79 and retired from Coronation Street a year later after fifty years in the entertainment business.
He died aged 84 in Rotherham General Hospital after suffering from Parkinson's disease and left two daughters.
You’re here somewhere Bill…