Saturday, 12 November 2011

Remembering Betty Turpin: 1969 - 2011

With the sad passing recently of Coronation Street legend Betty Driver I thought I'd pay my own tribute to the Rovers Return's greatest & longest serving Bar Maid, Betty Turpin.

Betty Williams (nee Preston, previously Turpin) arrived in Coronation Street to help her sister Maggie Clegg run the corner shop, and has since had a number of storylines which have seen her become twice widowed, and mother to an illegitimate son. Working as a barmaid in the soap's Rovers Return Inn, Betty created a signature dish, known as Betty's hotpot. In 1995, a real-life range of hotpots and pies based on the dish were launched by Hollands Pies, and in 2007, the world's largest Lancashire hotpot was created, based on Betty's recipe. Sadly, Betty Driver died in October 2011. Coronation Street producer Phil Collinson stated on 17 October 2011 that he was working with scriptwriters on Betty's send off.
Betty was born on 4 February 1920 to Harold and Margaret Preston. During World War 2, she had an affair with serviceman Ted Farrell (Gerald Sim), resulting in a son, Gordon (Bill Kenwright; Geoffrey Leesley). Ted left her to return to his family and Gordon was adopted by Betty's sister Maggie (Irene Sutcliffe) and her husband Les Clegg (John Sharp) Betty celebrated the end of the war with her sweetheart Billy Williams (Frank Mills), to whom she had lost her virginity. The two lost touch, and in 1949, Betty married policeman Cyril Turpin (William Moore).

Betty and her husband Cyril move to Coronation Street in June 1969, helping her sister Maggie to run the local corner shop following the breakup of Maggie's marriage to Les Clegg. Maggie, however, resents Betty's interference and persuades landlord Jack Walker (Arthur Leslie) to give Betty a job as a barmaid at The Rovers Return Public House. Betty clashes with the landlady Annie Walker (Doris Speed), who fears that Jack may find her attractive, and fires Betty as a result. Betty takes a job in a rival pub, and returns only when Annie apologises. Betty becomes close friends with fellow barmaid Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear), who on occasion lodges with her, uses Betty as a chaperone on dates, and frequently seeks her advice in running her life.

Cyril's employment as a policeman causes Betty problems when Lucas, a man he has previously arrested, begins stalking her. She initially refrains from telling Cyril, fearing that he will get into trouble. When Cyril finds out, he attacks Lucas with a piece of lead piping and has to leave the police force. Betty has a breakdown when Cyril dies of a heart attack in 1974, leaving her only £859. The same year the truth about her illegitimate son is revealed, and when the community discovers this, Betty finds it difficult to face them. She busies herself by taking in lodgers, and acquiring a ginger cat named Marmaduke for extra companionship. Betty builds a relationship with Gordon, though he upsets her occasionally, particularly when he neglects to invite her to his wedding.

Betty is mugged in 1982 by Ryan Attwood from Ken Barlow's' youth club; she ends up in hospital with a broken arm. This leads to a reunion with Ted, the man who fathered Gordon, though he is unaware of his son's existence. Ted visits Betty in hospital after reading about her mugging in a newspaper. Betty agonises over whether to tell Ted about Gordon, but decides against it, preferring not to stir up the past.

On the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day in 1995, Betty is reunited with her wartime sweetheart Billy. The two marry several months later, and Gordon gives his mother away. They live happily together until Billy also dies of a heart attack in 1997. Betty becomes famous in Weatherfield for her hotpots, which come under scrutiny in the early 1990s when it is believed that they are contaminated. She is cleared of all wrongdoing when it is discovered that beer, not food, is responsible for a spate of stomach upsets. Betty acts as lady mayoress alongside mayor Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) when his wife Audrey (Sue Nichols) has no interest in fulfilling her civic duties. This includes accompanying him to receive his OBE from the Queen, much to Audrey's chagrin.

In 1999, Betty celebrates 30 years of working at the Rovers Return with a party attended by all the regulars. She considers retiring in 2002 and briefly moves to Wimbledon to be with Gordon and his wife Caroline. Feeling that Caroline does not want her there, Betty considers moving into a retirement home, however is convinced to stay in Weatherfield by her close friend Emily Bishop (Eileen Derbyshire). Around the time of Betty's fortieth anniversary at the Rovers Return, she is sacked by new manager Poppy Morales (Sophiya Haque) after clashing with her on several occasions. Landlord Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) eventually tires of Poppy's poor treatment of the staff and fires her. Betty is re-instated, and plays the Fairy Godmother in the 2009 Rovers Return Christmas pantomime performance of Cinderella. In early February 2010, Betty has a party in the Rovers celebrating both her 90th birthday and the fact that she is the oldest barmaid in Weatherfield; however it backfires when 91 year old Enid Crump (June Broughton) crashes the party and claims she is the oldest barmaid not Betty. Later Enid becomes sick after Steve serves her a 3-month old hotpot. Betty and Steve are left terrified when they realise that the hotpot could kill her, but she later recovers.

In his 1998 book The Women of Coronation Street, Daran Little describes Betty as an archetypal mother figure. He compares her to one of Coronation Street's original characters Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant), as she is "warm and comforting [...] loves cats and has had her share of lodgers"; however, Little notes that "while Minnie wandered through life in a haze, Betty is sharp-witted, blessed with insight and wisdom". Discussing her evolving characterisation, Little writes: "She hasn't always been the incarnation of lovable joviality: when she arrived in the Street in 1969, she was loud, brash and a vicious-tongued gossip."

Betty's two passions in life are darts and food. Playing darts brings out her competitive side, and she enjoys beating her male customers. Cyril frequently protests when Betty attempts to diet, as he prefers her "homely and comfortable" figure. Ultimately, Betty stops trying to lose weight, stating: "I had to chose between losing a few pounds or losing my marital partner. If my Cyril had wanted to marry a skinny rabbit he'd have married one." Betty breaks down when Cyril dies from a heart attack, with Little noting that: "Cyril had been the stabilizing force in Betty's life, and without him she relied heavily on her job and friends at the Rovers – she couldn't face life alone at home". Little has observed that Betty "has a finely tuned sense of right and wrong and has never been afraid to stand up for her beliefs", citing Betty's shock at being mugged in 1982, and calling the NSPCC to report a female neighbour whose children were left outside until nightfall while their mother entertained her boyfriend.

In 2010, Betty Driver discussed her character, saying, "Coronation Street characters tend to fit into one of two camps. Those who have drama after drama and those who muddle through life, often in the background, as sturdy and dependable as the famous cobbles. Betty falls into the latter group. There have been moments of drama, intrigue and even romance – but it has been her presence behind the bar, cutting up pieces of lamb and chunks of potato, that has endeared her to the viewers." When asked about Betty's "sharp tongue", Betty Driver suggested, "Not really sharp. [Betty's] just straightforward. [She's] not nasty to anybody but [she doesn't] suffer fools gladly."

Betty was the longest-serving barmaid of the Rovers Return. She first served behind the bar in 1969 and has been shown to work there for 42 years, as of 2011. There have been brief breaks however, as storylines have led to the character being fired or quitting her post. She was fired by Annie Walker (Doris Speed), who accused her of theft, and she quit her post in 1995 when Jack (Bill Tarmey) and Vera Duckworth (Liz Dawn) took over as landlords. In the summer of 2009, Betty was sacked again temporarily by manager Poppy Morales. A Coronation Street insider reassured The Sun that Betty was not being written out of the show, however, stating: "She’ll be here for a long time to come – she’ll just be on the other side of the bar for a change". In a storyline that aired in February 2010, Betty – at 90 years old – was named Manchester's Oldest Barmaid. In a plot twist, a 91 year old rival came forward, resulting in Betty fearing she killed her, when the rival consumes a two month old hotpot.

During her time on Coronation Street, the character has become synonymous with her signature dish at the Rovers Return, Betty's Hotpot. ITV have described the dish as "the stuff of legends" and in 1995, pie manufacturer Hollands Pies launched a real-life range of hotpots and pies based on the dish, called "Betty's Kitchen". The idea for the range originated with the firm's marketing director, Dilys Day, who explained: "I was brought up on hotpot and Coronation Street. So when I joined Holland's a year ago, it seemed right to put the two together with Betty's hotpot." Day added that: "We are all very excited about Betty's Kitchen products. Holland's is a strong northern brand, with mass market appeal and wholesome, honest values - the same can be said for The Street."

In his book Marketing Communication, Richard J. Varey used the product range as an example of a company capitalising on a form of product placement or "stealth advertising", writing that "Viewers don't realize that they are, in effect, watching an advertisement". Betty Driver said of the range's launch: "Betty Turpin's hotpots have become something of an institution at the Rover's and she's very proud of her reputation for good, wholesome food. I think it is a lovely idea that people will be able to buy them in supermarkets now." Betty discussed her astonishment at the general level of interest in her character's hotpots, disclosing: "I was on a cruise on the QE2 a few weeks ago, and everyone was asking me about it. Then one day, they served hot pot on the menu and everyone thought it was mine!"

Farewell Betty. We'll all miss you!....

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