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Coronation Street's Charlie Lawson: Anne Kirkbride's loss is such sad news

By Anthony Barnes

Charlie Lawson, who played Coronation Street's gruff Ulsterman Jim McDonald, has paid his own tribute to fellow soap star Anne Kirkbride.

The 60-year-old actress, who starred in the ITV soap for 44 years, died on Monday in a Manchester hospital and had been away from the screen since September after taking a break from Weatherfield.

Mr Lawson said his thoughts were with her family.

"I am very sorry for David and her family. It is sad, sad news."

He said the actress was something of a legend on set but had been through a tough time as she had earlier beaten cancer.

"She was a very complex woman. She was very tired at the end of her stint.

"I worked with her over the years. I am saddened for her family. It is tragic news for someone to die at 60 years of age."

Coronation Street star William Roache will lead the tributes to Kirkbride as the world of broadcasting honours the late actress at the National Television Awards tonight.

He is due to take the stage to speak about her contribution to the show and share his memories at the ceremony, while show colleagues are also expected to be in the audience at the O2 Arena in London.

As the soap's Ken and Deirdre Barlow, they shared the screen for more than 40 years and remained friends despite the demise of their screen marriage.

Roache (82) has already spoken of his sadness after hearing of her death and said: "To have her as a partner for the past 40 years. I couldn't have been more blessed."

Coronation Street suspended filming yesterday to give the cast and crew a chance to come to terms with the loss of her "vibrant presence".

The show's executive producer Kieran Roberts said it was "almost unheard of" to take a break but explained it was the "right thing to do" to allow her friends to grieve and remember.

"We came in this morning and people wanted to get back to work and do it for Annie, but we went round and talked to everybody this morning and it quickly became apparent that it wasn't going to happen and people actually needed time to think about her and grieve and remember her, pay tribute to her, so we decided fairly early this morning that we were going to stop filming. I think that's the right thing to do.

"It's very rare that we stop filming. We film five days a week with several crews on, 50 weeks of the year, so it's almost unheard of, but there was no question in the end that it was the right thing to do.

"And I think it is very important that people can take a little bit of time today and think about Annie and remember her."

The star leaves behind husband David Beckett, whom she married in 1992.

Background

Anne Kirkbride appeared in many colourful storylines over the years, including one of her most memorable soap moments when Deirdre was jailed after being duped into a mortgage fraud by fiancé Jon Lindsay. The storyline even led then Prime Minister Tony Blair to give his support to the 'Free The Weatherfield One' movement to get her released.

The actress previously took a break from the soap after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1993.

After chemotherapy she returned to Coronation Street, but told afterwards how it had left her with depression.

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