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I could never go back to the Street - it's not fair to Hilda; Janet Tansley talks to former Corrie star Jean Alexander about life after Hilda.

SHE could probably have written her own cheque and added many, many noughts

But returning to The Street as Hilda Ogden was never an option for the actress who brought one of television's most legendary and iconic characters to life

Jean Alexander says: "It would be impossible for me to recreate Hilda

She would be totally different from the scrubber who left the Street "My agent said they had tried a number of times to get me back but the answer was always the same " Not even for a vast fee? "I didn't hear anything about the money involved but no, I'm sorry, after 23 years I couldn't recreate that character as she would be now - and I didn't want to play her as she was. "Hilda would be about 91 now

She left to be housekeeper for the lovely doctor and be part of a village community

She has status now which is something she always wanted

I have changed so I'm sure she has. "And I think the fans would be disappointed

It would have spoiled the memories people had of her." Although not a lover of big parties - "I'd rather have a nice, quiet dinner with a few friends" - Jean will be leaving her Southport home to attend the huge celebration in Manchester tonight to mark the 50th anniversary of TV's longest running soap. "I will enjoy seeing my friends again," she says

And she is full of praise for the much anticipated tram crash storyline which has had millions glued to their sets in this, the anniversary year. "They have done it very well. "I still watch it although I get busy and miss a few episodes, so I thought I'd better get clued up for the party on Friday so I know what's going on! "I think the Street must have been ready for an overhaul

Times have changed and this is a very clever way of doing it." It is hard to believe that it is 23 years since Jean left Coronation Street

While she has gone on to appear in many one-off dramas and starred as Auntie Wainwright for 20 years in The Last of the Summer Wine, her name is synonymous with that of Mrs Hilda Ogden, with her three curlers peeping out of her turban-bound headscarf and rarely out of her pinny. "I think Hilda was bits of people I had known or seen in my youth in Liverpool," adds Jean, who was born and grew up in Toxteth. "There were lots of eccentrics. "I would get certain lines and think 'I know how she would say that'

Of course she was five or six years old than me

Hilda worked on munitions during the war, whereas I was 13 when the war started and still at school. "I don't know why Hilda was such a legend, though it was possibly because of the writers we had, people like Jack Rosenthal

They had a flavour of the area, they knew its identity. "And the Ogdens were a brilliant set up

They were the only couple in the street who were married - permanently

They were the only ones who FAVOURITE: As Auntie Wainwright in Last of the Summer Wine owned their own house where everyone else rented, they stayed together and didn't stray or have affairs and, yes, they bickered among themselves but let anyone else criticise either of them and they would be up in arms." Although Jean confesses that Hilda has 'totally gone' now she remembers with fondness some of the many storylines she played as Hilda, with Bernard Youens as husband Stan. "There are so many good storylines that it's hard to pick any out

But, yes, I did have some favourite episodes

I liked the one where Stan and I went for a tandem ride in the country

Of course, we couldn't ride it and, in any event, it wouldn't work because it was broken... "But we got lost, missed our train and ended up getting a lift back to Coronation Street on the back of a milk float. "I also loved it when they spent the night in a posh hotel and lines like when Stan asked Hilda what her lipstick tasted of and she replied 'woman, Stanley, woman'

But the writers gave us those lines and they were marvellous. "There was so much humour then. "Of course, there is still Norris and Rita and they make the most of that." Many of the colleagues Jean remembers have long since left the cobbles like her, but she recalls with fondness, Barbara Knox (Rita); Helen Worth (Gail) and Thelma Barlow (Mavis)

One of her great Street friends is Betty Driver who plays Betty Turpin. "Betty could crease me just by looking at me," laughs Jean. "We were great friends and she always gave me the giggles." Such fond recollections, but Jean has never once regretted leaving. "Hilda, the character, was coming to an end and I didn't want to be there any more

She had had a series of lodgers, none of whom were suitable until the Websters

She went off to live with her doctor in the countryside and would be posher now than she had ever been in her life

Everything she had aspired to was happening - talk about an offer you can't refuse," she smiles, alluding to requests for her to return. "It was the right time to go

She had run out of steam, she was a single character and they had run out of ideas. "Her other half had gone and she would have just scraped along

I didn't want that. "I went in to see the then producer Bill Podmore and he asked 'do I know what you are going to say?' And I said that I didn't want to renew my contract

He told me he wished I was staying but he understood." Indeed, Jean left to spend more time in her lovely Southport garden, but was inundated with work

In fact, she says her role as Auntie Wainwright was her favourite part of all time: "I loved her to bits, she was just up my street

So funny and witty

Unfortunately Last of the Summer Wine wasn't enough for nowadays." Now 84, Jean has celebrated a lifetime of doing just what she wanted

Although she began her KEEPING BUSY: Jean Alexander working life in Liverpool Public Libraries

It wasn't what she wanted to do

She had always wanted to go on the stage "I had wanted to be in theatre since the first time I went," she smiles "When we could afford it, my father used to take us to the Pavilion in Lodge Lane - second only to the Empire - and where all the variety artists of the time appeared. "A soon as I found out about that, the lights flashing and people doing all these wonderful things on stage, that was it

That was what I wanted

I think I was four! "I knew I couldn't sing

Every time I thought I was singing my brother used to shake me and say 'mum make her stop that'

Who'd have thought I'd be shrieking out 'The Hills Are Alive' as Hilda? "I couldn't be an acrobatic because it looked difficult and I might hurt myself and I couldn't tell jokes. "Then I saw Old Mother Riley (in fact I looked a bit like Old Mother Riley as Hilda) and thought, that's what I can do

I can act. "I couldn't afford to go to acting school, I had to go and get a job." But then Jean spent 12 years in rep in the north west and filming TV roles in London before Coronation Street beckoned, first as landlady Mrs Webb in 1961 and then in May 1964, as Hilda Ogden

Jean spends her time now visiting friends and supporting various charities, though she admits that if a role comes along that she wants to do, then she will do it

But she says: "I have done 61 years in this business, I think I'm entitled to stop working now if I want to. "And if, through my acting and, indeed, as Hilda, I made people laugh and smile, then I have justified my existence."
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 10, 2010
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