Wednesday 19 October 2011
Further to your obituary of 17 October, last year, shortly before Betty Driver's 90th birthday, I spent two engrossing hours at her flat in south Manchester talking, or rather listeninig, to her,
writes Brian Viner. Her stories effectively added up to an oral history of British popular entertainment in the 20th century.
In the 1930s she worked with George Formby and the great film director Carol Reed, in the 1940s with the bandleader Henry Hall, in the 1950s with Frankie Howerd and Tommy Cooper. And from the 1960s, of course, with many of the stars who passed through Weatherfield, although her best yarns recalled the formidable actresses who became fixtures in Coronation Street, such as Doris Speed, who played the imperious landlady, Annie Walker.
"Ooh, I loved Doris," she said. "I remember when the man who played my husband died, and we sat in Betty Turpin's house on the day of the funeral, next to each other on a couch,waiting to do a scene together. She said, 'Are you going to be moving a lot,dear?' I said, 'I shouldn't think so, Doris. We're burying Cyril so I shan't begetting up to dance.' She said, 'Oh good, because I want to pin my script onyou. I haven't learnt it.' And she did,she pinned her bloody script on me from my shoulder down to my knee. 'What are you doing?' I said. Ooh,she was wonderful. And she lookedjust like a Salford landlady. I loved the Street in those days. It was so true, with those long conversations at the bar, a very Lancashire thing. I shouldn't say it but it's so flippant now. They're aiming so hard at getting young people to watch that they sometimes forget it's still just a Salford pub, in an insignificant little street."
Driver (left, ITV/Rex Features), had earned the right to be occasionally waspish about her bosses. It was hard to believe of the matronly figure we saw serving hotpot in the Rovers Return (ironically, the real Betty was a dreadful cook), but she had been a svelte, attractive singer, who, by the outbreak of the Second World War was top of most variety bills she played on.
Once, after she had performed at an RAF airfield near London, a pair of Spitfires were named after her and her sister Freda. Decades later, two engine compressors turned up at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester. The name Betty was stamped on one, Freda on the other. "Isn't that amazing?" she said. "They have followed me from 1940, or whenever it was, right to the end of my life. I told that story to the producers at Granada, and they couldn't give a bugger. But don't you think it's a sweet story?" It truly was.
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