BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 17 January 2008, 08:20 GMT
The great British soap matriarch
By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Jack and Vera Duckworth, played by Bill Tarmey and Liz Dawn
Jack and Vera have had an enduring soap partnership
With Coronation Street stalwart Vera Duckworth making her exit from the series, another one of British soap's towering matriarchs will pass into history.

Vera is part of a long line of indomitable, more mature women who endure for years and make a lasting impression.

Here is a selection of soapland's strong women who have gone on to become small screen legends.

PAT EVANS - EASTENDERS, 1986 to present

Pat Wicks first appeared in Albert Square as a hard-nosed brass hell-bent on causing trouble with ex-husband Pete Beale (Pauline Fowler's twin brother).

Pat Evans and Frank Butcher
Frank Butcher was the love of Pat's life

As the years progressed she married teen sweetheart Frank Butcher and was the working mother at the centre of family life - which proved to be more dramatic and wayward than her trademark earrings.

She was unable to forget Frank even after marrying fourth husband Roy, embarking on a colourful affair which culminated in a public dressing-down by arch-rival and fellow grande dame Peggy Mitchell.

Advancing years and widowhood made Pat surrogate matriarch to the sprawling Wicks clan - and will see another family gathering around her soon.

ANNIE WALKER - CORONATION STREET, 1960-83

Annie Walker was Coronation Street's first landlady of the Rovers Return pub, which she ran with husband Jack until his death in 1970, then solo for another 13 years.

Annie Walker
Annie Walker was known for looking down her nose at Hilda Ogden

While Annie effortlessly henpecked Jack, she became best known for her haughtiness and true belief that she was a cut above her working class customers in the back street Weatherfield watering hole.

A stint as Lady Mayor did everything to reinforce her idea that she was a woman of substance.

Annie was a pivotal figure in the early years of the street, later presiding over a classic line-up at the Rovers which included Bet Lynch - the brassy barmaid who would later take on Mrs Walker's mantle as landlady.

ANNIE SUGDEN - EMMERDALE, 1972-94

This once-dour tale of Yorkshire farming folk began with the funeral of Annie Sugden's husband - and from that moment on she was the head of the household and a pivotal figure during the soap's early years.

A scene from Emmerdale Farm and the Sugdens' kitchen
Annie Sugden rarely seemed to leave the kitchen

For years Annie seemed forever apron-clad and welded to her kitchen making cups of tea, but wielded power over sons Joe and Jack who were regularly at odds.

But as Emmerdale was sexed up and the action shifted from the farm to the village, Annie found she was displaced as the homely yet domineering matron.

She ended up in a coma and lost her second husband after a plane crashed on Emmerdale in 1993.

However, she recovered to enjoy retirement in Spain with hirsute pub landlord Amos Brearly as the series swapped matriarchs for ruthless superbitches.

PAULINE FOWLER - EASTENDERS, 1985-2006

Pauline Fowler confronts daughter-in-law Sonia
Pauline Fowler was at the centre of family feuds towards her life's end

When EastEnders began, Pauline Fowler was truly overshadowed by mother Lou Beale, who lived in the family home and ruled over it with a rod of iron.

She was all about dowdy cardigans, shifts in the launderette and worries with husband Arthur and daughter - gymslip mum Michelle - until Lou's demise and the onset of age saw her transform into a matriarch.

Pauline's obsession became family, which was her undoing towards the end of her life when she became embroiled in a bitter dispute with son Martin and his wife Sonia.

She was driven to fake a fatal illness, accidentally set fire to the house, and on Christmas Day 2006 died alone in the snow of Albert Square.

MEG MORTIMER - CROSSROADS, 1964-81

Meg Richardson
Actress Noele Gordon died in 1985

Meg Mortimer - who started out life in the series as Meg Richardson - was the owner of the Midlands motel, a shrewd-headed businesswoman with her son and daughter close at hand.

Flame-haired, sophisticated Meg became synonymous with the popular teatime soap, but actress Noele Gordon was eventually axed from the programme.

It led to one of Crossroads' most memorable moments, when the motel caught fire and it was feared that Meg had perished in the blaze. But she was waiting to sail off into the sunset on the QE2 for a new life.

Some fans say matricarchal Meg was the epitome of the programme, which went into a decline following her departure.

ENA SHARPLES - CORONATION STREET, 1960-80

Sour-faced Ena Sharples with her hairnet and line in sharp patter is an enduring icon of Coronation Street from its earliest days almost half a century ago.

Ena Sharples (played by Violet Carson)
Ena Sharples was not renowned for cracking a smile

The derogratory term battleaxe can fairly be applied to Ena, who famously sat in judgement in the snug of the Rovers Return with her cohorts and was at the heart of local gossip.

Unlike matriarchs with a brood to rule over, Ena's plain talking left her alone and indulging in a long-running spat with Street siren Elsie Tanner, while she never possessed a solid family home.

As actress Violet Carson sought retirement after 20 years in the role, Ena went to stay with a friend and never returned to the cobbles of Weatherfield.



VOTE RESULTS
Who is your favourite strong woman from British soap history?
Vera Duckworth
 31.42% 
Pat Evans
 13.18% 
Annie Walker
 9.65% 
Annie Sugden
 2.77% 
Pauline Fowler
 6.23% 
Meg Mortimer
 10.71% 
Ena Sharples
 26.05% 
15514 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

SEE ALSO
How to kill off a soap star
18 Jan 08 |  Magazine
Tragic ending for Street's Vera
29 Oct 07 |  Entertainment
The great British soap comeback
29 Oct 07 |  Entertainment

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific