Iíve been looking for the graves of famous people for years but oddly Iíve never searched for the bones of a famous person who lived in Dukinfield where I live. Itís Kathy Staff who played harridan Nora Batty in Britainís longest running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. I donít think I ever saw her in the street or a shop (saw Audrey from Coronation Street once though.) Iíve probably not looked before as sheís buried in Dukinfield Cemetery where my mum was cremated.
I spent about forty minutes strolling around and deduced Kathy may have been cremated as there was no sign of her in the row of graves dated in 2008 when she died. However Iíve learnt that councils run out of space and bury people in other sections of cemeteries and thatís what may have happened here. Kathy was buried near people who died many years before.
Her real name was Minnie Higginbottom and she started acting aged 18, touring repertory companies in 1946 under the name of Katherine Brant. Aged 23 she got married to John Staff having met him while both auditioning for Castle Haven, Yorkshire TV's first soap opera. She stepped away from acting to raise their two daughters. In the mid-thirties she started working as an extra for Granada Television in Manchester. For six years she was Doris Luke in Crossroads and appeared in other well-known shows like Coronation Street, Open All Hours, Dawson's Weekly and The Benny Hill Show. She trod the theatre boards too and even appeared in six films.
All that seemed to be preparation for the part of northern battle axe Nora Batty who was known and loved by millions in Last Of The Summer Wine. Nobody could play the dragon with curlers, wrinkled stockings and razor-sharp tongue like she did. She played the character in 243 episodes of the Yorkshire-based comedy, beginning in the first episode in January 1973 until 2008 (the year she died.) When she played Nora she had to be trussed into a man's vest on to which padding had been sewn. "After all," she remarked, "I'm size 16 and she's a 22."
Shortly after the death of actor Bill Owen (Compo) in 1999 she said things weren't the same and left the sitcom. However she would later return and remain with the show until her death. Privately she was unlike the harridan she played - a gentle woman, enjoying collecting antiques and listening to classical music. After a contented fulfilled life she died of a brain tumour aged 80 at Willow Wood Hospice surrounded by her family.
Not far from the cemetery is St Mark's Church and thereís a wee blue plaque on the wall dedicated to Kathy. I went to have a look one evening. Here she performed in her first pantomime as a girl, attended two Sunday school sessions and two services on the Sabbath and the funeral service was held here, too. She was quite religious (leaving Crossroads as the storylines were getting too sexy.) This Northern lass was solid gold - looking after the congregation like a mother hen, visiting them when ill and arranging outings.
Being a geek I also called at Willow Wood Hospice where a good life ended (Iíll probably drop off the perch in there myself.)
A salute for a block of solid goldÖ
Willow Wood Hospice where Kathy passed awayÖ