Entertainment & Arts

Coronation Street star Jean Alexander dies aged 90

Jean Alexander, who played Coronation Street's Hilda Ogden and Auntie Wainwright in Last of the Summer Wine, has died aged 90.

Alexander portrayed Hilda Ogden, a sharp-tongued, put-upon housewife who was one of Coronation Street's best known characters, from 1964 to 1987.

She appeared as shopkeeper Auntie Wainwright, the "absolute favourite part" of her career, for 22 years.

She died peacefully in hospital on Friday, her niece said.

Alexander had been admitted to Southport hospital, Merseyside, for tests but was discharged after a couple of days and allowed to return to her nursing home, her niece Sonia Hearld said.

But on Tuesday she was readmitted to hospital, three days before her death.

"My aunt died sadly earlier today," Mrs Hearld, of Selby, North Yorkshire, said on Friday.

Not 'just' a soap star

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jean Alexander was best known for playing Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street

By Ian Youngs, BBC News arts reporter

With her curlers, headscarf and piercing voice that could not be ignored (no matter how much fellow Coronation Street character Annie Walker tried), Hilda Ogden was, to many, the most iconic character in Coronation Street's 56-year history.

Jean Alexander ensured we always rooted for the downtrodden cleaning lady, who embodied classic-era Coronation Street's perfect balance of drama and comedy.

In the hall of Alexander's home in Southport, pride of place was given to a signed photo of Laurence Olivier - a big fan.

Soap stars do not often get much credit, but Olivier's recognition showed how highly Alexander was regarded by the very best - and that, perhaps, if Hilda had not kept her so busy, Alexander could have held her own in roles alongside some of them.

So she should not be thought of as "just" a soap star - she was one of the finest British actresses of her time.

Obituary: Jean Alexander

Image caption Alexander played shopkeeper Auntie Wainwright in Last of the Summer Wine for 22 years

Cast members of the show have been paying tribute to Alexander on Twitter.

Sally Dynevor, whose character Sally Webster first appeared in the soap in January 1986 almost two years before Alexander left, wrote: "Jean Alexander, RIP. What a wonderful woman, and such an amazing and talented actress."

Jennie McAlpine, who has played Fiz Brown since 2001, tweeted: "So sorry to hear about Jean Alexander. I would have loved to work with her. Thankful to have met her though. Rest in Peace Jean x."

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Media captionA friend of Jean Alexander talks to Radio 4's Today about the "joyful" actress

And Antony Cotton, who has played Sean Tully since 2003, said Alexander was "magnificent", adding: "My favourite episode of Coronation Street ever, was Hilda singing 'Wish Me Luck...'"

Daran Little, Coronation Street script writer from 2000 to 2010, said Alexander "reached into the hearts of viewers - she was everyone's nan, everyone's nosy neighbour".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "I think the great thing about Jean playing Hilda is that Jean was absolutely nothing like Hilda - she was sophisticated and quiet, she was an ex-librarian, she used to love doing crosswords and she used to pad up coat hangers for charity.

"And when she put the curlers on, she became something else."

'Playing against the script'

Prior to her role as Hilda, Alexander had a brief appearance in Coronation Street in 1962 as a landlady who rented a room to a disturbed young woman.

Eighteen months later Alexander, who was born in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, started her role as Hilda, forming a comedy double act with her on-screen husband, Stan, who was played by Bernard Youens.

Speaking about Hilda, Alexander said: "The character was originally written as a rather stereotyped character, as Stan was, you know, big fat man and lazy husband and little nagging wife.

"After a few weeks we thought this was going to get a bit boring so we started playing against the script - same words but trying to give them a bit more character, rounding them out a bit."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Alexander as Hilda with Stan, played by Bernard Youens, and Ken Barlow, played by Bill Roache

Mr Little said that Alexander began to draw out Hilda's hen-pecking of Stan, moving away from being a battered wife.

"She used to talk regularly about how Stan used to wallop her and she was very much in his shadow and then she just, they decided together to turn it around - not that Hilda ever hit Stan but she certainly did with her vocal chords."

After Youens died in 1984 Stan's character was written out.

Following Stan's death, a scene in the soap showed Hilda silently unwrapping a parcel of his belongings and breaking down when she opened his glasses case.

Alexander left the soap three years later.

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Media captionKate Robbins, who appeared with Jean Alexander on Last of the Summer Wine: "Jean was so kind to me"


The muriel In 1976, a proud Hilda acquired her "muriel" - the wallpaper with a mural of a mountain range to which she pinned her famous flying ducks.

Woman, Stanley Hilda won a night in a luxury hotel for a second honeymoon in 1977. After kissing Hilda, Stan asked what her lipstick tasted of. The reply came: "Woman, Stanley. Woman."

Stan's death After actor Bernard Youens died in 1984, his character Stan was written out. Hilda was seen silently unwrapping a parcel of his belongings and breaking down when she opened his glasses case.

Hilda's departure Hilda decided it was time to move in 1987, and half the nation tuned in to watch as her neighbours finally showed some affection for her by throwing a surprise party in the Rovers Return.

She later joined Last of the Summer Wine in 1988 as the junk shop owner Auntie Wainwright, a role she would play for 22 years.

But Hilda Ogden was the character she remained best known for.

In 2005 a TV Times poll voted her the nation's favourite soap character.

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