Actress discovered by Ken Loach for 'Kes' who was for 25 years 'Poison' Ivy Tilsley in 'Coronation Street'
Monday 27 March 2006
Jean Dudley (Lynne Perrie), actress and singer: born Rotherham, Yorkshire 7 April 1931; married 1950 Derrick Barksby (one son); died Rotherham, South Yorkshire 24 March 2006.
Principle was the guiding light in the world of Ivy Tilsley, the Coronation Street factory worker played for a quarter of a century by the night-club singer turned actress Lynne Perrie. But sticking to her principles gained Ivy, a staunch Roman Catholic and resident motormouth, both admiration and contempt from her friends and family.
When Hilda Ogden was sacked from her cleaning job at Baldwin's Casuals, Ivy - the shop steward - organised a walkout to demand her reinstatement. Later, when Ivy was stacking shelves at Bettabuys supermarket, Curly Watts pleaded for her reinstatement, on the grounds that she was going through difficult times during her second marriage, to Don Brennan.
Don and her down-to-earth first husband, Bert Tilsley, were both long- suffering. Ivy opposed her son Brian's marriage to the non-Catholic Gail Potter, so it was the gentle Bert who acted as peacemaker whenever the pair fell out. Ivy was devastated when Bert had a stroke and, later, died as a result of mental illness - and then at the fatal stabbing of Brian. When she married Don, another caring man, she fumed at his betting and gambling, and he lost patience with Ivy's obsession that her grandchildren should continue the Tilsley name after Gail married Martin Platt. This led Don to have an affair and, eventually, he left Ivy. When she hit the bottle and insisted that she could not beat her problem without him, he returned, but the couple lived separate lives.
In 1994, "Poison" Ivy was despatched to a religious retreat from which she never returned - Perrie had been sacked from Coronation Street after having cosmetic surgery to give her fuller lips. Newspapers reported that the actress had tissue from her buttocks injected into her mouth, giving her what some described as "the appearance of a baboon's bottom", but the serial's executive producer, Carolyn Reynolds, insisted that Perrie was axed simply because the writers had run out of storylines for her character. A year later, Street residents heard that Ivy had died of a stroke.
Lynne Perrie was born Jean Dudley, the daughter of a bricklayer, in a Coronation Street-style terrace in Rotherham, Yorkshire, in 1931. After passing the 11-plus and attending Rotherham Girls' High School, she trained as a dispenser at Boots but started her show-business career after passing an audition to sing with a local dance band for five shillings (25p) on Saturday evenings.
She married a carpenter, Derrick Barksby, at the age of 20 and worked as a "clippie" on the buses, then in a stocking factory. When, in 1954, her husband's uncle was let down by an act booked for his club, she stepped in, earned £4 10s and decided to give up her £5-a-week factory work to go into cabaret full-time. Over the next 15 years, she performed in France, Germany, South Africa and the United States, on the same bill as Sacha Distel, the Rolling Stones and, for 12 concerts, the Beatles.
The chance to act came when the director Ken Loach was scouring south Yorkshire to cast locals in his film classic Kes (1969), the tale of Billy Casper, a 15-year-old Barnsley schoolboy from a broken home whose destiny to work down a pit is temporarily relieved by the satisfaction of taming and training a rare bird. The drama was based on Barry Hines's 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave, Loach and his producer, Tony Garnett, saw Perrie's act in a Barnsley club - and, in her, Billy Casper's neglectful mother. She recalled:
They came backstage for a drink afterwards and were chatting about how they'd been auditioning for an actress to play the part of the mother
who used to leave her kids to go to the clubs and pubs. I was talking away, as usual, and I told them that it sounded like me - bunging the babysitter 10 bob and rushing off to perform, and they asked me if I wanted the part. I told them I wasn't an actress, but they said I was the natural they were looking for.
In fact, Kes was one of the earliest examples of Loach's practice of casting club entertainers in dramatic roles and Perrie's younger brother, the comedian Duggie Brown, played the milkman. After the film was critically and publicly acclaimed, Perrie found herself in demand.
She had a regular television role as Mrs Petty, neighbour, residents' association secretary and arch-rival of Queenie Shepherd (Diana Dors) in Queenie's Castle (1970-72), a Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall-created sitcom set in a tower block. She was also in two television plays written by Colin Welland, the only professional actor to have been cast in Kes: as a pub regular in Slattery Mounted Foot (1970) and a militant union leader in Leeds United (1974).
She first took the role of Coronation Street's Ivy Tilsley as a semi-regular cast member in 1971 and became a permanent fixture eight years later, when Ivy, her husband Bert (Peter Dudley) and son Brian (Christopher Quinten) moved into the terrace at No 5. Shortly before joining full-time, Perrie played a housewife in the film Yanks (1979), Colin Welland's story of American troops stationed in Yorkshire during the Second World War, directed by John Schlesinger and starring Richard Gere.
The actress had a long history of illness. Thirteen years after undergoing two operations for cervical cancer, she co-presented a health programme, Fight Cancer (1989), with the newscaster Martyn Lewis, in which she travelled around Britain talking to other survivors. She also had an operation for a faulty heart valve and, after suffering depression, underwent hormone replacement therapy. In 1996, two years after being written out of Coronation Street, she underwent a detox programme in a psychiatric ward to end an addiction to sleeping pills. Then, in 2000, she suffered a heart attack.
Lurid headlines followed Perrie during and after her spell in the Street. Her rendition of "I Will Survive" on the Channel 4 youth programme The Word (1994) earned her a place in that channel's The 100 Greatest Moments from TV Hell (2000) and Seven Days That Shook Coronation Street (2002). But she sank to her lowest depths in the video Lynne Perrie's Alternative Work-Out (1995); one critic described her as "a tragic old nymphomaniac fondling young men".
Perrie had several very public separations from her husband - and boasted of affairs with toyboys - but insisted in 1996 that she and Barksby were reunited for good. At the same time, a television documentary, The Ghost of Ivy Tilsley (1996), painted a tragic picture of the fallen star, whose only child, Stephen, had been diagnosed HIV-positive and developed Aids. The programme showed her looking through newspaper cuttings and packing mementos of her career into cardboard boxes as she prepared to leave her mock Tudor house in Salford. Reduced to the status of a celebrity bingo caller on the Yorkshire circuit, Perrie said:
I didn't really want the fame to start off with. But gradually, as you get it, it's like a drug - the more you get, the more you want.
Perrie, a dog- and horse-racing enthusiast, owned greyhounds and a colt named Maltby Lad at various times. She had a drink problem for many years and, once addicted to gambling, lost £200,000. Her autobiography, Secrets of the Street: my life as Ivy Tilsley, was published in 1994.
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