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Singer – and accidental actor – loved by millions

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 10, 2012

Bill Tarmey as Coronation Street's Jack Duckworth, outside the Rovers return; with on-screen wife Vera, played by Liz Dawn, and in an early appearance in the show with Vera and Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear)

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Bill Tarmey's career as one of Britain's best-loved soap stars began almost by accident.

The former builder dreamed of becoming a singing star and was eking out a living as a crooner in working men's clubs. He joined Coronation Street only as an extra to supplement his earnings in 1977 but the show's bosses soon spotted his potential.

Tarmey landed the role of long-suffering Jack Duckworth two years later and a Street legend was born, to the extent that he did not leave the show until 31 years later.

His on-screen partnership with nagging wife Vera, played by Liz Dawn, gave the show some of its most memorable moments.

Jack may have constantly moaned about being hen-pecked by motormouth Vera but underneath it all he was a true romantic.

The couple provided the soap with one of its most heart-warming episodes last year when Jack dressed up and treated Vera to a candlelit dinner of fish and chips in his allotment to celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary.

The fortunes of the ITV soap may have fluctuated over the years but Jack and Vera have always retained their place in the nation's hearts, with viewers last year voting them the Street's favourite faces.

Tarmey was born in Ashton-under-Lyne on April 4 1941. He was just three years old when his ambulance driver father, William Snr, was killed by shellfire as he ferried casualties to a field hospital in Uden, Holland. The family grew up with little money and Tarmey left school to enter the building trade. He married his childhood sweetheart Alison – to whom he remained married for 50 years – and they had two children.

Before joining Coronation Street, he struggled to make ends meet and said one incident involving his young son brought home the importance of money. The little boy came home upset one day because he had been dropped from his football team.

Tarmey recalled: "I couldn't understand it and went to see the trainer, who told me he had been dropped because he wouldn't take goal kicks.

"His football boots were too small, but he was too afraid to tell me because he knew I couldn't afford a new pair.

"I went home and cried that night. I vowed that I'd never be poor again."

Despite his TV fame, music remained Tarmey's first love and over the years he released a host of cover versions and big band numbers.

But he was dogged by ill-health and suffered a heart attack at the age of 35, followed by a stroke a year later. A heavy smoker, he underwent a quadruple heart-bypass in 1986, and a further bypass in 2002. He refused to give up smoking, saying: "I could make it easier on myself and give up smoking. I could go and sit in a rocking chair. But that wouldn't be me. That would kill me sooner than the old ticker would."

Interviewed prior to his second bypass operation, he said: "If I die tomorrow, they will have to prise the smile off my face because I've had such a good life."

Jack went on to be written out of the Street in 2010, a year after he originally considered leaving – he was persuaded to hang on to continue until the show's 50th anniversary.

But he still bowed out ahead of the celebrations to spend time with his son Carl, who had a brain tumour.

In his final episode on November 8, 2010, Jack died as he slept in his chair – viewers saw him kiss an image of the ghost of Vera.

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