Entertainment & Arts

Caroline Aherne: Royle Family writer and actress dies aged 52

Caroline Aherne Image copyright PA

Comedy writer and actress Caroline Aherne has died at the age of 52.

Aherne, star and writer of The Royle Family and The Mrs Merton Show, had suffered from cancer, her publicist said.

The actress said two years ago that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, having previously had bladder and eye cancer.

Aherne was also the narrator of Gogglebox and appeared in The Fast Show.

Her publicist Neil Reading said on Saturday: "Caroline Aherne has sadly passed away, after a brave battle with cancer.

"The Bafta award-winning writer and comedy actor died earlier today at her home in Timperley, Greater Manchester. She was 52.

"The family ask for privacy at this very sad time."

'True comedy genius'

Aherne had spoken of her diagnosis with cancer while addressing an appeal to approve cancer care in Manchester in 2014, saying: "I've had cancer and my brother's had cancer and we know how it affects people."

She said she and her brother had been born with cancer of the retina, adding: "My mum told us that only special people get cancer. I must be very special because I've had it in my lungs and my bladder as well."

Aherne's co-stars and fellow comics have been paying tribute to her.

Sue Johnston, who played Barbara - the mother of Aherne's character Denise - in The Royle Family, said: "I am devastated at her passing and I am numb with grief."

Ralf Little, Denise's brother Antony in the show, said Aherne was "a sister, real and (for me) fake", as well as a genius and a friend with a "big, big heart".

The Fast Show co-star Arabella Weir told the BBC Aherne was "an absolute genius" and that "everything she said was funny".

Media captionCaroline Aherne: How spoof radio agony aunt became TV star

She said: "She was one of those people who was - without being attention seeking - always, always funny, even when you weren't filming.

"Everything she said was just killingly funny. She was just a great and she was a gentle, kind, easygoing person. She was great to work with. She never made a fuss. She was just a real laugh to be around."

Broadcaster Terry Christian, who had also worked alongside Aherne, said: "What it was with Caroline was she was genuinely one of the funniest people just in the pub.

"A lot of comedians aren't. You know they go away, write it all down and you know in real life there's nothing.

"Whereas with Caroline, she was so naturally sharp and witty and that's why everything she did had that risk factor in. You know if you look at the Mrs Merton Show, none of it was set up. Not a single question with the audience was set up."


Analysis

By David Sillito, BBC media and arts correspondent

"Did you ever think if you hadn't done all that running around playing football, would you have been as thirsty?"

"Did you ever think when you were a little kid....you would be famous in every pub in Britain?"

George Best gave a little smile and looked round to the audience.

If anyone else had asked it, they would have been on his side - but the laughter said it all.

Poor George just had to sit there and accept that, Mrs Merton, this young woman in a wig and glasses, could ask the questions no one else could dare. And they loved her for it.

The same lines from someone else could easily have just sounded cruel.

Equally on The Royle Family, flatulent Jim, camped permanently on the sofa, and feckless selfish Denise seem to be, on paper, hard characters to warm to. But there was always something affectionate in this comedy.

Caroline Aherne had many troubles but perhaps they also helped her convey something that's often missing in comedy - empathy.

The Royle Family didn't seem patronising or mocking because it so clearly grew out of her own life and experiences. She was one of us - just funnier.


Actor and writer Mark Gatiss said Aherne was "so gifted", and Little Britain star David Walliams wrote on Twitter: "Absolutely devastating news about Caroline Aherne. A true comedy genius, her work was equally funny & touching."

Jenny Eclair wrote: "Poor dear Caroline Aherne, how terribly sad."

Comedian Sarah Millican said: "So sad. What a wonderful talent she was."

David Baddiel paid tribute by writing: "The talent, you all knew about. But she was a really lovely woman. Vulnerable and complex and damaged but... lovely. #CarolineAherneRIP."

Some also recalled their favourite lines, with DJ and writer Danny Baker writing on Twitter: "Goodbye great Caroline Aherne. A gift & language that lives on. A vegetarian? That's a shame. Could she have some wafer-thin ham, Barbara?"

Image caption Aherne starred alongside a cast including Ralf Little, Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston in The Royle Family

Aherne was born in London but grew up in Wythenshawe, Manchester. Her brother Patrick has said she was the family joker, adding: "Nobody else in the family was like that. But she was funny from the time she was really little."

She studied drama at Liverpool Polytechnic then started work as a secretary at the BBC before finding national fame in the mid-1990s with Mrs Merton, in which she starred as the eponymous chat show host, and The Fast Show.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Aherne, seated second right, with fellow Fast Show cast members

The Royle Family, which ran for three series and featured in several specials, told the story of a dysfunctional family. Aherne wrote it with co-star Craig Cash, drawing on her own childhood experiences and the people she met growing up.

It won four awards, including best actress for Aherne, at the 1999 British Comedy Awards, before going on to pick up the best sitcom Bafta in 2000 and 2007.

In the Mrs Merton Show, a series of guests were subjected to questions in front of an audience of pensioners. One much-quoted example is when Mrs Merton asked Debbie McGee: "And what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?".

The Mrs Merton Christmas Show won the best talk show Bafta in 1997. Aherne was nominated for Baftas for her performances in both shows, as well as for directing The Royle Family in 2001.

'Much loved by audiences'

BBC director general Tony Hall said: "We are deeply saddened to learn of Caroline's death.

"She was a brilliant, award-winning comedy writer and performer, much loved by audiences - especially for The Royle Family and Mrs Merton and for her wonderful voicing of many shows.

"Our thoughts are with her family and friends."

Gogglebox tweeted that everyone involved with the programme was "devastated about the passing of our dearest Caroline, who we all adored".

Former ITV chairman Lord Grade said: "We have lost a most original talent. The Royle Family will live in the mind with the greatest situation comedies."

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