Coronation Street legend Betty Driver tells us about her favourite co-stars, turning 91 and why she’ll never retire…
Did you enjoy making The Betty Driver Story?
“I did, although it scared me at times. Getting out all the old photos and talking about it does make you realise how much you have done. It was also a bit sad, because I would have loved my sister Freda, who died in 2008, to have been here to remember it with me. She would have been 87 this month.”
How did you feel when you found out ITV1 were making a documentary about you?
“It was actually an idea I had some time ago with a friend of mine and we suggested it to ITV Granada. Hopefully, people will enjoy it – it really is only the tip of the iceberg of everything I have done.”
Did you ever think when you joined Coronation Street in 1969 that you would be here this long?
“I was 50 and had retired and was running a pub when they asked me to join Coronation Street. I originally auditioned for the part of Hilda, but didn’t get it – I couldn’t have seen myself in curlers anyway! I just thought I’d play Betty for a few weeks and yet here I am 41 years later. I’ve travelled all over the universe entertaining the troops during the war, and I’ve been in theatres in England, Wales, Scotland and Australia. I’ve had three careers: a film career, a theatre career, and now this.”
Do you remember your first day on Coronation Street?
“I was so terrified. I had had a throat operation and had hardly any voice. Arthur Leslie, who played Annie Walker’s husband, Jack, sailed me through. He said, ‘Don’t be nervous, Betty – we’ll get the microphone right near to you and I’ll have my hand on your back all the time.’ He was an angel.”
Who have been your other favourite co-stars on the Street?
“Julie Goodyear, who played Bet Lynch, was brilliant to work with. We were attuned to one another. If I forgot my lines, she would dip in and say them, and I’d do the same for her and nobody ever knew we’d gone wrong. She was full of fun and I wish she were still with us.”
Coronation Street is famed for its strong women. Did you get on well with Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner?
“Pat was a lovely woman, full of personality and what I call a true professional. She would come in in the morning looking lovely; she would change into another outfit to go out to lunch, and when it was time to go home she’d have another outfit! Nobody ever saw Pat without glamour.”
Which actors do you wish you’d worked with more?
“Do you know, I’ve never done a scene with Bill Roache in 41 years?! Ken Barlow has only ever come into The Rovers’ and asked for a pint. And I love Bill. Maybe it’s time they put us in a scene together.”
What sort of reaction do you get from fans?
“I remember once I was opening a sewing machine shop in Stockport, and two little old women were standing there and one said to me, ‘I know you.’ I said, ‘Do you watch Coronation Street?’ She said, ‘No, why?’ I said, ‘I’m in Coronation Street.’ She said, ‘Don’t be so daft. You run a black pudding stall on Bury Market!’ The other woman pointed at me and said to her friend, ‘Don’t be ridiculous! She runs the second-hand clothing stall.’ Isn’t that wonderful?! Now they just want to hug me and cuddle me.”
Have you made long-lasting friends on the Street?
“We all know and love one another, but we don’t live in one another’s houses. Nobody comes to my house from the show at all – that’s why we’re all still friends! I think that’s one way of keeping a friendship fresh.”
Betty is famed for her hotpot. Do you make it at home?
“I don’t like hotpot and I’m a dreadful cook. I can’t cook at all! I use the microwave. So Betty’s hotpot would be rubbish!”
You look remarkable for your age. How do you stay healthy?
“Goodness me, I’m not as healthy as I look. But for me, the secret to keeping healthy and living a long time is laughter. If you lose your sense of humour, you might as well dig a hole and jump into it.”
How are you planning to celebrate your own 91st birthday in May?
“Last year for my 90th I had my seven closest friends around and we drank champagne. That for me is my ideal day, spending time with people I love and talking and laughing.”
Do you ever consider retirement?
“I love working – I have never not worked, except when I have been too poorly to work. I have a diary from the early days and I only had Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off. My mother was a formidable woman – she would make me work even if I was ill. I had to go on stage once with laryngitis. Now I can’t imagine retiring I would be dead from boredom within six months!”
*The Betty Driver Story screens on ITV1 on Tuesday, February 1.