Coronation Street actress Betty Driver has died aged 91.
A spokesperson has confirmed that Driver, who had been part of the popular ITV soap for nearly 50 years, had passed away in her sleep in hospital in the early hours of this morning (October 15), reports the BBC.
The ITV representative said that Driver, who joined the cast of the show in 1969 as barmaid Betty Turpin, had “died peacefully in her sleep” after being in hospital for six weeks. “She will be sadly missed by everyone who knew her,” they added.
Driver had originally only joined the show on a three-month contract, but ended up staying for 42 years. Her character, who worked as a long-serving barmaid in the soap’s pub The Rovers Return, was originally called Betty Turpin but changed her surname to Williams after she was married in a storyline in 1995.
Her fellow cast members have been paying tribute to the late actress. Julie Goodyear, who played barmaid Bet Lynch, said: “It was an honour and a privilege to work with Betty Driver for 25 years. We laughed together, we cried together and never once had a cross word. She was a totally professional actress. A true icon and a very dear friend.
“She will be missed and remembered my millions,” she added.
Actress Barbara Knox, meanwhile – who plays the character Rita Sullivan – said: “I have lost a very dear friend and the Street has lost a very great character, a professional to her fingertips – she will be greatly missed.”
Driver, who was born in Leicester in 1920, enjoyed a 36-year-career on the stage and in radio and television before she came out of retirement to play Betty. Previously, she had auditioned for the role of another of the soap’s characters, Hilda Ogden, in 1964. She went on to appear in 2,800 episodes of Coronation Street, and was rewarded with an MBE in 1999.
Coronation Street executive producer Kieran Roberts also paid tribute to Williams and described her as a “wonderful actress and remarkable woman”.
“It is humbling to think that the 42 years she spent on Coronation Street was just half of her extraordinary career but Coronation Street certainly benefited when she decided to join our show in 1969,” he said.
“For more than four decades she delighted many millions of Coronation Street fans with her fantastic performance in countless great stories both dramatic and comic.”