Liz Dawn: A life of drama and laughter

Image copyright Getty Images

For more than 30 years, Liz Dawn played the loud and flighty Vera Duckworth in ITV soap Coronation Street.

Her turbulent relationship with husband Jack proved to be one of the Street’s most enduring storylines and Vera became one of Weatherfield’s most popular characters.

The episode featuring Vera’s peaceful death in 2008 attracted more than 12 million viewers.

Liz Dawn was born Sylvia Butterfield on 8 Nov 1939 in Leeds, where her father worked as an engineer.

Childhood plastic surgery

At the age of eight, she fell in the street, gashing her mouth so badly that doctors feared she could be left with a hare lip.

But by chance, a skilled plastic surgeon was in Leeds at the time and a series of skin grafts repaired the damage.

She said: “The other kids used to run after me and say, ‘Can I see your plastic face?’ But I just felt so lucky to have been treated and put back to normal.”

After leaving school, Liz took a series of jobs including working in a garment factory and as a cinema usherette. She was also a shoe salesgirl and a light bulb seller in Woolworths.

She married Walter Bradley in Leeds in 1957. The union produced a son, Graham, but the marriage collapsed after less than two years.

Her second marriage, to electrician Donald Ibbertson in 1965, resulted in the births of three daughters.

Image caption Appearing in Leeds United in 1974

She began singing in nightclubs and then started auditioning for small acting parts in TV programmes and commercials.

Already a heavy cigarette user, the smoke-filled clubs in which she performed would have a serious effect on her health later in life.

Liz’s breakthrough came when she was cast in Colin Welland’s 1974 drama Leeds United, which appeared in the BBC’s Play for Today slot.


Based on real events, the play documented the struggle by a group of female textile workers to get equal pay with men, only to be thwarted by their own trade union.

Although her role was a small one, it did lead to her being offered a bit part as factory machinist Vera Duckworth in an episode of Coronation Street.

She continued to take parts in other TV programmes until the arrival of the character Jack Duckworth in 1979 saw her role as Vera greatly enhanced.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Vera and screen husband Jack became a legendary Coronation Street double act

The marital strife between the two became a major feature of the soap. They argued frequently, seemingly the epitome of a couple who cannot live with each other but fear being apart.

Both engaged in extramarital affairs. This led to one of the high spots of the drama when Vera confided in barmaid Bet Lynch about Jack’s infidelities, unaware at the time that he was having a fling with Bet herself.

Liz and Bill Tarmey, who played Jack, had a close friendship. She said he was her best friend and that they had never argued in all their years acting together.

Ill health

Liz’s appearances on Coronation Street began to be hampered by her increasing bouts of illness and she was forced to quit the soap in 2008 after her health worsened.

She had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) four years previously.

The illness meant she only had a third of her lungs working, and she spent a lot of time in a wheelchair after she left the soap.

Liz said she wished she had never smoked but also blamed performing in smoke-filled clubs for the illness.

Her on-screen demise saw her character found lifeless in her armchair having died in her sleep.

Liz said her time spent on the soap had been “the best time of my life”.

She famously returned to the cobbles in 2010 when she played her own ghost in the episode in which Jack Duckworth died.

Image copyright PA
Image caption She received an MBE in 2000 for her charity work

After leaving Coronation Street, she campaigned on behalf of the British Lung Foundation and became the public face of a campaign to raise awareness of chronic lung disease and the importance of early diagnosis.

Liz served as Lady Mayoress of her home city of Leeds in 2000 and in the same year was awarded an MBE for her charity work at hospitals in Manchester and Leeds.

She was asked to be Lady Mayoress in recognition of her charity work, having raised more than £500,000 for a breast cancer appeal in her name.

The actress said she was “thrilled and honoured” to be asked. “It’s my home city and this means so much to me.”

Image copyright Itv
Image caption She played a feisty guest at the B&B in the Christmas episode of Emmerdale in 2015

Liz suffered a heart attack in 2013 while on holiday with her husband in Spain. She subsequently had a pacemaker fitted.

In 2015, she came out of retirement to make a cameo appearance in Coronation Street’s rival soap Emmerdale.

She appeared in the Christmas Day episode as a demanding guest named Mrs Winterbottom, who stayed at Eric Pollard’s B&B.

“There’s only one show I’d come out of retirement for and it’s Emmerdale, particularly as I’ve celebrated my 76th birthday this week so I wanted to mark the occasion,” she said.

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