Hayley Cropper
Julie Hesmondhalgh with on-screen husband David NeilsonITV

Tonight, millions of Coronation Street fans will wave goodbye to soap legend Julie Hesmondhalgh and Hayley Cropper, the character she made her own after 16 years treading the cobbled streets of ITV's soap.

The two-parter, airing at 7:30pm and 8:30pm on ITV 1, is one of those rare occasions when the country comes together to watch a historic soap moment.

As Hayley succumbs to cancer in tonight's episode, viewers have been warned to stand by their tissues and prepare themselves for a good ol' sob, but where will it rank among these tearful soap exits?

Jack Duckworth – Coronation Street

The last big Corrie name to saunter off into the afterlife was Jack Duckworth (Bill Tarmey) in 2010. A bittersweet farewell, Jack left a party quietly before returning home and passing away peacefully in his chair.

Not content with a goodbye as simple as that, the soap's writers decided not just to pluck our heart strings but full on shred them, as Jack's wife Vera (Elizabeth Dawn) appeared to tell off her husband and reunite the couple two years after the character's death.

As they danced, the camera pans down to a picture of the pair before he is found by his son Tyrone (Alan Halsall). Not a dry eye in the house.

Ethel Skinner – EastEnders

It's always the deaths of long-serving characters that hits soap fans hardest and in 2000 EastEnders fans said goodbye to Ethel Skinner (Gretchen Franklin) – one of the show's original set of characters.

Returning three years after her departure for a final run, her story bares similarities to that of Hayley Cropper. With an inoperable cancer, Ethel wants nothing more than to die with dignity, and so asks her best friend Dot Cotton to help.

In one of the best scenes in soap history, Ethel and Dot share a tender moment as the latter agrees to her friend's final wishes and helps her die peacefully in her sleep. "You know who are, you're the best friend that I ever had," she said.

Benny Hawkins – Crossroads

A tear-jerker unlike any other on this list, simple handyman Benny Hawkins' (Paul Henry) departure from Crossroads in 1987 was a marvel of understatement – which for soap operas is a quality worth praising.

Hawkins' last act was to place the fair atop the Crossroads Motel's Christmas tree, and then he was simply never seen again. Its sadness doesn't hit immediately, in fact he very well may not be dead, but its unexpectedness is what makes it one of soaps' most memorable departures.

Madge Bishop – Neighbours

Harold and Madge Bishop are one of the most famous Australian couples ever - right up there with fellow neighbours Scott and Charlene, and Steve Iwin and that stingray.

When Madge (Anne Charleston) wanted to leave but screen-hubby Harold (Ian Smith) did not, there was only one option left.

Diagnosed with cancer, the pair had planned a trip to Paris but Madge died of septicaemia shortly before they could make it to France. As Madge died in her bed, Harold lay at her side and described what they would have done if they had made it to the city of love.

Arthur and Pauline Fowler – EastEnders

Another two East End originals, Arthur and Pauline Fowler died a decade apart, but stay together here as they always will in the minds of fans.

Arthur (Bill Treacher) died in his beloved allotment only a few days after returning from a stint in prison for stealing money for daughter Michelle's wedding. A mental breakdown in prison led to the brain haemorrhage that killed him.

Pauline too died alone, but not in a place she would have loved to. Having turned into an increasingly bitter and horrible old woman, Pauline died suitably enough cold and alone in the middle of Albert Square.

Hayley Cropper's final moments will air tonight (20 January) at 7:30 and 8:30 on ITV 1.