It's been over 40 years since I - and probably everyone else in England who owned a television set - watched Anne Reid, as Valerie Barlow, be electrocuted by a hairdryer, in the long running soap opera Coronation Street. The scene had me riveted and it's still hard not to think of it when watching Reid on Sunday nights in Last Tango in Halifax, where she plays Celia Dawson.
Originally from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in Northumberland, Reid's father was a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. In 1945, when she was ten, Reid was sent away to boarding school in Wales while her parents travelled the world with her father's job. She would only see them once a year during the summer, which while not ideal, made her very independent and self-sufficient. After leaving school, Reid trained to be an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
Anne as Valerie Barlow with actor Bill Roache who played Ken.
In 1961, Reid was cast in Coronation Street; a job which could have been for life. Bill Roache, who played her husband Ken Barlow in the series, was in the first episode in 1960 and is still with the show over fifty years later. That, however, wasn't what Reid wanted, so when she got married and became pregnant with her son in 1971, it seemed the perfect opportunity to leave. Ten years later her husband died, leaving her with a 9 year old son to raise. Reid didn't return to work until he was 12, when she was offered a role in the 1985 Masterpiece Theatre series, Bleak House. Reid also appeared in the 2005 adaptation of the same Charles Dickens classic, which again aired on PBS. You might also have seen Reid in Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Miss Marple, Dalziel and Pascoe, Upstairs Downstairs and Hetty Wainthropp. She also played a blood sucking alien on Doctor Who!
As well as making a comeback to the small screen, Reid somehow managed to find time to appear on stage, and to make a few films, including the 2003 film Mother. Her co-star in that film was Daniel Craig, with whose character she had to have a torrid affair. Given that Reid was 68 and Craig 35, it was a daunting prospect!
"The night before I had a lot of drink on my own in the flat", recalled the actress during a radio interview. "I stripped and I stood in front of a mirror and thought, 'Tomorrow I'm going to have to show this' and I started to cry and I thought, 'Oh my good God, I can't do this'."
After ringing her son in tears, he reassured her and she pulled herself together. Since then she never went back to playing what she calls "nice ladies in the kitchen making sandwiches".
You can see Anne Reid on MPT on Sunday nights at 8pm in season two of Last Tango in Halifax.
To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117