Dear Bet Lynch

You left the `Street' last night, beehive and cigarette holder and all. Maybe, like the Rovers Return itself, you weren't a viable business in the Nineties, but we'll miss you, chuck

So, after 25 years as the nation's favourite barmaid, you've pulled your last pint, had your last "Bet Lynch breakfast" (a cup of tea and a fag - with cigarette holder, of course), taken your stupendous cleavage (Newton on the left, Ridley on the right) and tottered off, beehive and false eyelashes stiff and proud, to the netherworld of chat shows and panto known as life after soap.

Bet Lynch stars as Widow Twanky on Blackpool pier - I can see it now. If the stiletto fits, wear it. You see, chuck, what we loved about you was the way you mixed high camp with kitchen-sink pathos. Since you walked into the Rovers Return in 1970, an unmarried mum, you've had a string (17, to be exact) of mostly disastrous affairs (Len Fairclough, Mike Baldwin, even a one-night stand with Don Brennan - well, you had sunk a few). Your son, Martin, was killed in a car accident; your one and only marriage, to the squat and snivelling Alec Gilroy (not one of your better choices), ended in tears, with a miscarriage along the way.

You could have given Simone Signoret, who played the rejected older woman in Room at the Top, a run for her money. Or, for that matter, any of those stoic, put-upon women created by northern working-class writers like Stan Barstow, John Braine and Alan Sillitoe. The fact that the life of Julie Goodyear (unmarried mum, three failed marriages), the actress who immortalised you, so closely paralleled your own only made your character more resonant.

You brought to the Street something else, too, a defiant glamour that countless others, from Lily Savage to Margi Clarke, have tried to imitate. You were a back-street diva who knew that a bit of slap, a slash of lippy and a barbed quip could help to staunch the deepest wound. Get the Polyfilla and CFCs out, girl, as you so memorably advised Raquel when she fell apart after being cheated in love. You sounded wise in your role of matriarch precisely because you spoke from experience. Your ear-rings and leopardskin were inspirational; your way of handling a crisis was pragmatism itself.

That your lascivious (and how refreshing that was) and licentious attitude to sex has always been out of step with your options for coping with the consequences only made us love you more. When, for example, you got off with a Stetson-wearing trucker who looked like Sean Connery, we all knew it couldn't last, particularly with the hard-boiled and considerably more youthful Tanya scheming in the wings. But we also knew it wouldn't stop you going for broke the next time.

No, not respecting closing time was your undoing. While tears flowed, mascara ran, tea stewed in the back parlour and friends and lovers came and went, the Rovers remained the only constant in your life. And you belonged there - the brisk, brassy barmaid of archetype, the forerunner of EastEnders' Sharon and the Street's own Raquel. Over the years you fought tooth and polished nail to get and keep your name above the Rovers' door, only to find that, in true Nineties style, both Rita, one of your oldest friends, and your beloved adopted granddaughter, Vicky, refused to help you out because, they said, the Rovers was not a viable business. What next, then? Fruit machines and Sky TV?

Perhaps, though we'll all miss you, you're better off out of it. See you in Blackpool, chuck.

HELEN BIRCH

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