Betty Driver: the Rovers Return's longest serving barmaid


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The Independent Online

Betty Driver, famous for her role as a Coronation Street barmaid, was already a household name in the 1940s as a leading vocalist with some of the top dance bands in the country.

She was persuaded out of retirement in 1969 and since, as Betty Williams, became the longest-serving barmaid in the history of the Rovers Return. Her hot-pot, served at lunch-time in the Rovers, became an iconic dish which was subsequently offered as a ready meal in United Kingdom supermarkets.

But before she became a full-time actress she sang with such bands as Henry Hall's and became a major recording artist in her own right.

Like Vera Lynn, she entertained the troops during the Second World War with the Ensa organisation (Entertainment National Service Association).

Betty Driver was born on May 20, 1920, in Leicester, the elder of two daughters. She was pushed into a life on the boards by her star-struck mother, Nell. She joined the Terence Byron Repertory Company at the age of nine, and turned professional aged ten in a touring production of Mixed Bathing. At 14 she landed her first film role and trod the London stage.

She appeared in George Formby's Boots! Boots! but her song and dance scene was cut by Formby's domineering wife, Bessie, who also danced in the film and did not want to be upstaged by a child.

While still in her teens she appeared in a number of films and was making her name as a vocalist. During the war she teamed up with band-leader Henry Hall and for seven years became a regular and popular feature on his top radio show Henry Hall's Guest Night. She also had her own show, A Date With Betty.

By now she had become a major recording star with such hits as The Sailor With The Navy Blue Eyes, Macnamara's Band, Pick The Petals Of A Daisy, Jubilee Baby and September In The Rain.

Soon she was to travel to Australia, where she performed in her own show, and her career took her to Cyprus, Malta and the Middle East. On her return home, she appeared in various Ealing comedies.

Aged 32, Ms Driver married South African singer Wally Peterson. They returned to South Africa, but Betty came back home after a few months and ended the marriage after seven years.

In 1964, she auditioned for the role of Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street, but the producers wanted someone more slender. Two years later she was given the role of canteen manageress in the first of two Coronation Street spin-off series, Pardon the Expression.

However, in one scene, in which she had to throw actor Arthur Lowe, she dislocated her hip and injured her back and decided to retire from showbusiness.

She and her sister Freda and their father Frederick took over the Cock Hotel in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, and later the Devonshire Arms, Cheshire. In 1969, one of her customers, Harry Kershaw, the Coronation Street producer, asked if she would be interested in appearing in the show.

She agreed and started out as Betty Turpin becoming, after "marriage", Betty Williams.

Ms Driver was awarded the MBE in the Queen's New Year Honours List of 2000.