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Fans stop me and say 'You're that cow Denise from the Street'... then they ask me what Ken's like in bed!; 'I've eaten and drunk most of the money I earned... I call my tits and bum the bank'.

ORONATION Street star Denise Black had just made the toughest decision of her life.

She was walking out on Britain's No 1 TV soap after three stormy years as two-timing hairdresser Denise Osbourne.

The actress took her seven-year-old son Sam to one side and said slowly: "Mummy's job is coming to an end."

Sam seemed fine. Then Denise explained: "It means we'll have to make some cutbacks because Mummy and Daddy will not have so much money."

Sam looked puzzled for a moment and then, as kids often do, hit the nail on the head. "Then why are you leaving?" he asked.

It's a question Denise has often asked herself.

She was earning just pounds 40 a week as a temp before joining the show - and had just hit rock bottom.

Caught driving through a red light, she was fined pounds 40.

"I was broke and I thought, 'That's a whole week's work'. Boy, was I miserable."

Just weeks later she was on a big salary and being billed as the new Elsie Tanner.

'I'm sure one day I'll think

I've made a big, big mistake'

Now she's giving it all up after earning herself a new tag - the most hated woman on TV.

Denise, in her last major interview before quitting later this month, told The People: "I do think about what I'm losing.

"I am sure there is going to be a day when I am at home and I think 'Oh s***. What have I done? It's all a terrible mistake. I've enjoyed earning the money - I've never had any before.

"Mind you, I've spent most of it. I've eaten and drunk a vast amount of it. I call my tits and bum the bank!"

The saga of Ken and Denise has been one of the Street's most gripping storylines for years.

"Boring" Ken has had three wives and 23 girlfriends, including one played by Joanna Lumley (there is clearly something to be said for being boring, guys!).

Denise was about to become the fourth Mrs Barlow when she began an affair with her sister's accountant husband Brian.

Then Ken (Bill Roache) discovered the truth and told Denise: "Get out before I kill you."

The real Denise watched the dramatic scene at home on her flickering black and white TV.

With her kids away, she went down to the pub on her own afterwards for a few whiskies. "I felt so reckless," she giggles.

Denise, 37, has spent much of her time on the Street away from her composer husband Paul Sand.

While she lived with their children - Sam and his four-year-old sister Dandy - at a cottage in West Yorkshire, he stayed in London.

She loved juggling life as a mum with her role and described a typical day: "Finish work, go home, listen to the kids reading, do their piano practice, have tea, get them to bed. You are completely washed up by 9.30pm."

Being away from Sam and Dandy all day had its advantages.

"When you come home you are not that person who has been nagging all day - you are a special person and they listen to you. Well, they do for about half an hour... then it's back to normal."

She and Paul snatched as much time as they could together by making "ludicrous" journeys between their two homes.

It was love at first sight when they met after he interviewed her at an audition. He winked, gave her the part and they married in 1982.

The way she talks about him - "fantastic blue eyes, an incredible face" - it's clear Denise is not about to make the same mistake as her screen character.

Being apart from Paul - coupled with the pressure of starring in the Street - was a strain at times.

'There've been times when I've cried'

"I don't like to be lonely," she says. "I never have done. There have been times when I have cried copiously in the garden with a large bottle of wine.

"You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself and think about other people.

"And we organised it so that we had just enough time together, even if it was just one day."

Like many Street stars, Denise smokes like a chimney. During our hour-long chat, she got through four Superking cigarettes.

So it's no surprise that Denise spends much of her time at the Granada TV studios in the new smokers' extension to the show's famous green room, where the stars relax.

"That's where I live," she laughs. "It's like the smokers' compartment in a train.

"We spend hours and hours in there.

"People sleep there. You'd be surprised at who you see snoring away in the corner while they are waiting to film."

The stars read, do crosswords, chat...anything to while away the hours before their big moment on screen.

Most of the time it's run of the mill - unless someone interesting walks in, like Bill Roache's hunky actor son Linus, who starred in the BBC1 wartime drama Seaforth. "He looks so much like his dad," says Denise. "All us girls were going 'Aaah, it's Linus'. We were trying to hang around in case we got an introduction."

There'll be more fireworks in Weatherfield this week when Denise comes back to claim baby Daniel and sell the hairdressing salon before she leaves the Street.

She is delighted at her send-off - and has been amazed by viewers' reactions.

"I'll be in a shop and a little old lady will hand over my fruit and veg and whisper, 'You're right not to marry, Ken'.

"Other women have stopped me in the street. 'Oh, you are so lucky to have Ken'. Then you get other people who just say, 'You're that cow on the telly'."

Ken and Denise were never meant to be. The scriptwriters were planning to reunite Ken and Deirdre when Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre) fell ill.

"It was all very fast," says Denise. "They plucked me from nowhere. Denise had not even crossed paths with Ken and suddenly they were having an affair.

"I knew something was going to happen when I came into the show because Denise was just getting divorced, so I wondered who she'd end up with."

'It was time to go... to spread my wings'

And was she happy with Ken? "Yeah," she says excitedly with a child-like whoop.

Denise first started thinking about quitting a year ago, after appearing on stage in a musical written by her husband.

She was itching to try new parts and was worried about what would happen to her character.

"It was not at all obvious where Denise was going. I just thought, 'Right, this is the moment to go'. I needed to spread my wings."

She has formed her own production company and there are several projects in the air. But the door is being kept open for her to return to the Street.

Leaving will be a big wrench for Denise, who says she has loved working with everyone in the show.

Of Simon Gregson (Steve McDonald) she says: "I really, really like Simon - he is wonderfully handsome, a really fine actor and nothing like Steve McDonald."

Bill Roache (Ken Barlow): "Young people sometimes come up to me and say 'What's Ken like in bed?' I just laugh and explain that he doesn't exist.

"Bill is really handsome and loves to laugh. We were doing a very serious scene when he got a bout of the giggles. He had to go off and think about tax in a cupboard for a long time before doing the scene."

Sherrie Hewson (Maureen Holdsworth): "I was doing a benefit with Sherrie and some of the other Corry girls in London. We did the song in rehearsal and Sherrie's trousers fell off. We did the performance and they fell off again. It was a hoot."

Barbara Knox (Rita Sullivan): "She has got a real twinkle in her eye. She and Thelma Barlow (Mavis Wilton) will sometimes surprise other actors during scenes in the Kabin. One of them will end up doing an unscripted physical gag, and you'll all end up falling about."

Jill Summers (Phyllis Pearce): "I would die for Jill - she has a wonderful attitude to life and is great fun and very generous. She has a wicked sense of humour which can surprise you. She'll say something and you'll think 'Cor blimey - she's shocking'."

Sue Nicholls (Audrey Roberts): "Audrey is very serious. Sue is very different. She makes you giggle."

Denise had also just spotted another hunky man in the green room - a new cast member she'll have no time to get to know.

She wants a souvenir and having jokingly ruled out taking the hairdressers' salon - too big! - she's thinking of keeping the name plaque over her dressing room door.

She hates goodbyes but there'll be a big farewell party where she promises to be "glamorous and gorgeous".

"But then I'll weep, and I'm not very glamorous when I weep. My nose runs."

Well, you might be a two-timing bitch, Denise, but we'll miss you!
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Stenson, Jules
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 4, 1996
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