Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Memorial held for Coronation Street's Maggie Jones

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Maggie Jones
Maggie Jones played acid-tongued Blanche Hunt

Actors and fans of Coronation Street star Maggie Jones have celebrated her life and work at a memorial service held in Salford Cathedral.

Filming on the soap was suspended to allow cast members including Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre Barlow) to attend the public remembrance.

It featured an emotional address from actor William Roache, screen son-in-law to her feisty character Blanche Hunt.

Jones, who died in December aged 75, appeared in 830 episodes of the soap.

'Happy memories'

Kirkbride, who plays Blanche's daughter in the show, gave a Bible reading at the service.

Roache, meanwhile, read a tribute recalling many of the famous crushing lines Blanche would deliver to Ken and Deirdre, drawing laughs from the congregation.

She grabbed the role of Blanche with both hands and turned it into something truly unique, which will become a legendary part of Coronation Street and British TV history
William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow

"Good looks are a curse, Deirdre. You and Kenneth should count yourselves lucky," he began.

"This was one of the many put downs Annie and I had thrown at us over the years by our on-screen, live-in, scene-stealing battle-axe Blanche Hunt, as played by unique and wonderful Maggie Jones," he said.

"In lesser hands some of these lines could seem cruel, vicious even.

"I think only Maggie could have turned them into pure comedy gold."

The actor said that everyone would miss the "brilliant, hilarious and sometimes jaw-dropping performance that only Maggie could deliver".

He added: "She grabbed the role of Blanche with both hands and turned it into something truly unique, which will become a legendary part of Coronation Street and British TV history."

Sue Nicholls, who plays Audrey Roberts, read a short poem by Joyce Grenfell, because, she said, Jones had been a "big fan" of the singer-songwriter.

A song by Grenfell, I'm Going To See You Today, was also included in the service.

Close friend Tony Singleton, who had known Jones for over 50 years, recalled how they had discussed each other's funerals before she died and "had promised each other certain details would be included".

The actress had requested the Grenfell tune, he said, so that she could let her late husband know that she was "on her way".

However, due to a technical glitch the music was unable to be played out, so Mr Singleton had arranged for it to be sung at the memorial.

As he introduced the live performance of the song, he broke down and said: "With Maggie and Jo sitting up there on their own special cloud, and, only slightly mis-timed, I now have this opportunity to send all my love and honour my promise to my friend."

He also told the congregation that he had "many happy memories" of his time with Jones.

There were other musical performances, which included Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton and You Raise Me Up by Westlife.

'Lovely lady'

Actor Anthony Cotton (Sean Tully) read a poem at the event and ended it by saying: "I love you Maggie".

At the end of the service, teenage actress Brooke Vincent - Sophie Webster in the series - delivered a poem she had written by herself, causing members of the cast, including Kirkbride, to dab at their eyes.

The 17-year-old actress likened Jones to her own "Nana" and said: "You always made me smile, we always had a joke. We always shared a laugh whilst having a smoke."

Wiliam Roache and Anne Kirkbride (Ken and Deirdre)
William Roache and Anne Kirkbride came to remember the actress

Coronation Street producer Kim Crowther said: "Still missed greatly by cast and crew, we always planned to give everybody the chance to celebrate Maggie's life, both on and off the street.

"Thursday is not just for the people that worked with her and knew her well, but also for the public who adored her - never less than when she was 'charming' the nation with her sharpest put-down," she added.

Indeed many fans of the show did turn out.

Hazel Square, a university student, travelled up from Birmingham especially to pay tribute to Jones.

"I wanted to be here for Maggie today as I love Corrie. She means everything, that's why I didn't want to miss it. I asked college if I could have the day off to be here for Maggie," she said.

Eve Coulsdan, from Wakefield, works as an extra on the soap and described Jones as a "lovely, lovely lady".

"She was a brilliant actress and had some fantastic lines which she delivered really well. She was a really nice person and I wanted to pay my respects."

One mourner - who did not want to give her name - said it was important she attended because her husband had died just days after Jones had passed away.

"My husband used to love her. I just wanted to be here and pay our respects because she was a lovely lady and she's definitely missed in the soap."

The actress was last seen on screen shortly before Christmas, and Blanche's absence has since been explained by an extended stay in Portugal.

Viewers will learn of the character's death in May and an on-screen funeral will be held.

It will herald the return of Blanche's granddaughter Tracy Barlow, who is serving a prison sentence for murder.

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