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Filming break after Kirkbride death

Coronation Street suspended filming today to give the cast and crew a chance to come to terms with the loss of "vibrant presence" Anne Kirkbride following her death from cancer.

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

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.

Colleagues have paid tribute to the star - who leaves behind husband David Beckett, whom she married in 1992 - who had been loved by millions for her portrayal of husky-voiced Deirdre, famed for many years for her oversized spectacles.

William Roache, who played one of her on-screen husbands, spoke warmly and at length today as he told of their many years together as colleagues.

He said: "Annie was a vibrant presence. When she was there you knew she was there. She was always loving, always happy - there was never a laugh far away.

"It's the whole thought that she isn't around any more is the hard thing. We've had rows, we've shouted, we've argued, we've been violent with each other, we've got cross with each other. But we've laughed, oh boy, have we laughed - always, with Annie, even in the midst of laughing and crying there would be a laugh.

"That's what she was about, Annie. She loved life. As an actress, she was impeccable. Her comedy timing was brilliant. With drama, she could go deep into the drama. We all know she could cry, she was good at that. And I think she was probably under-estimated as an actress; and to have her as a partner for the past 40 years, I couldn't have been more blessed."

Roache, who played Ken Barlow - their nuptials attracted more than 24 million viewers in 1981 - said her colleagues had wanted to carry on with filming but it became apparent they had to stop.

Speaking from the set, he said: "Actually just walking in here now it's very difficult because all of us wanted to carry on filming today - that's a natural feel for Annie's sake and all our sakes but when we came to it we couldn't do it."

Show boss Roberts said: "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."

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

"Life became unbearable, absolutely intolerable," she said. "I wanted to die, I just wanted to die because you just don't want to go on living feeling like that.

"But you're frightened that if you die you might still feel like that on the other side. There's no escape."

Among those to pay tribute was Kate Ford, who plays her daughter, Tracy Barlow, in the soap.

The actress tweeted: "Heartbroken at the loss of my friend and beautiful on screen mummy. The most crazy funny 100 per cent human. My life was enriched by her."

Fellow Corrie veteran Beverley Callard, known for playing Rovers Return barmaid Liz McDonald, wrote: "My beautiful darling friend, Anne Kirkbride, passed away in a room filled with love. God Bless, my Darling Girl! Peace and rest!"

Michelle Keegan, whose character Tina McIntyre made a dramatic exit last year, said: "The nation is now in mourning..."

Kym Marsh, who plays barmaid Michelle Connor, said: "Cannot describe how devastated we all are. Sleep tight gorgeous lady we will miss you ridiculous amounts RIP Annie x"

Speaking further, Roache said: "It's going to be bleak ... but her presence is here, you can feel her and we will always feel her presence.

"It's going to be very difficult in one sense, but also very beautiful in another because I know she passed very beautifully given these things that she had. I know she's in a very beautiful and happy place. She loved her angels and the angels will have taken her and she will be surrounded by them and be very happy."

Ken Farrington, who played Billy Walker - Deirdre's first fiance in the soap - recalled her theatre performances in Manchester.

He said: "She had an incredible variety of abilities and I kept trying to persuade her to, I shouldn't say this, but to leave the Street because I thought she could go on and do really big things like Sarah Lancashire and Anne Reid (two former Coronation Street actresses)."

He said Kirkbride had become "quite angry" at the suggestion and said she was happy where she was.

"She was a bloody good performer," he added.

Coronation Street's creator Tony Warren said: "Anne was very easy to love. Her talent over the years made a massive contribution to Coronation Street."

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