Actress Anne Kirkbride, better known as Coronation Street's Deirdre Barlow, has died
Actress Anne Kirkbride, better known as Coronation Street's Deirdre Barlow, has died ITV

Deirdre Anne Barlow was a long-standing fictional character from the British television soap opera, Coronation Street, played by Anne Kirkbride.

She made her first screen appearance during the episode broadcast on 20 November 1972. She is the fourth longest serving character in the show's history.

Kirkbride announced on 18 January 2015 she would not be returning to the show. Kirkbride died a day later following a short illness.

A statement from the soap said: "It is with great sadness that David Beckett has confirmed tonight that his beloved wife and Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride has passed away peacefully in a Manchester hospital after a short illness."

The programme's cast and crew said they were "heartbroken and deeply saddened" at the loss of Anne who has been a Coronation Street icon for 44 years.

William Roache, who played Anne Kirkbride's on-screen husband Ken Barlow, has said the soap has lost one of its iconic characters.

In a statement, he said: "I feel Anne's loss so personally having worked closely with her for over 40 years.

"She was such a loving and vibrant person. You always knew she was there because her laugh was never far away.

"She was an impeccable performer with superb comedy timing and an immense gift for really heightened drama.

"We had some rows over the years as Ken and Deirdre and it was wonderful to play those scenes opposite her. Anne will be greatly missed."

Colleagues of Anne Kirkbridge, who played Deidre Barlow in Coronation Street for 44 years, have paid tribute to the actress.

Kieran Roberts, executive producer, said: "There are no words to describe the sense of grief we feel at Anne's passing.

"We know only too acutely how much Anne meant to the millions of people who watched her create the legendary character of Deirdre Barlow.

"She will be greatly missed by the Coronation Street team who share happy memories of working with her. We feel blessed and honoured to have known her. Our thoughts are with David and their family."

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

The 60-year-old actress who has played Deidre Barlow for 43 years had been given time off due to "personal issues", according to the Mirror.

The actress had taken time off due to being "exhausted" by recent storylines.

According to The Sun it is thought that Kirkbride was finding the show "very draining" and would "break down on set crying that she couldn't cope".

Deirdre Barlow's trademark characteristics included a gravelly, scratchy voice (enhanced by actress Anne Kirkbride's real-life chain smoking) and spectacles with enormous frames. She wore the same style of glasses for almost 30 years (in her youth she was nicknamed "Miss Sexy Spex").

In real life, Kirkbride was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1993, but following successful treatment returned to the soap within 12 months.

Speaking in 2001, Kirkbride revealed that she suffered from depression following the diagnosis that made her life "unbearable" over the years that followed.

She said in an interview with the Mirror: "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."

She continued: "It was worse than the cancer in a way because that was going to be over.

"I knew it was bad but I knew at the end I was going to get better.

"But this... was just so frightening."

Kirkbride was married to actor David Beckett – who she met on the show 22 years ago.

Watch Deirdre Barlow's anti-smoking rant on Coronation Street