A rover returned and there was barely a dry eye in the house.
Coronation Street’s Vera Duckworth always said she was related to the Queen.
Prince Charles dispelled any doubts when he confirmed Vera’s status as soap royalty last night.
Actress Liz Dawn, 68, was the undoubted star of the 10th British Soap Awards, where I was backstage to report for the MEN.
Many from the casts of Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Doctors were close to tears as she received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Even Steve McFadden – Albert Square’s tough guy Phil Mitchell – appeared to have something in his eye.
Kevin Kennedy, who played Vera’s lodger Curly Watts for so many years, read out the citation.
Dressed in black, Liz sat in the audience at BBC TV Centre in London between husband Don and former co-star Antony Cotton.
Antony helped her down the stairs to the stage as the audience gave her a standing ovation.
Back in January, millions of viewers watched Vera die from a heart attack while asleep at home in a chair.
Liz’s decision to quit after three decades was prompted by chronic emphysema, which can leave her fighting for breath.
British Soap Awards 2008 hosts Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield had that royal surprise up their sleeves as Liz arrived on stage.
But first they left her to accept the award from Kevin.
Liz began with a touch of pure Vera:
“You’ve heard that saying, ‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist?’ My husband pulled my zip up before I came on. I’ve been in agony.
“And every time anybody stood up, he said, ‘Shift around a bit.’ I don’t know,” said Liz, getting one of the biggest laughs of the evening.
“Hasn’t it been a lovely night? Oh, and Kevin you’re wonderful. Well, I thought I’d be in an old sweater today – what have you to do, eh?
“It’s funny this, you look at these cameramen – they kept me going.
“You know the Duckworth’s table, it wasn’t very big, was it? I used to go, ‘Props!’ They’d go like that, ‘Liz, move the sauce bottle.’
“I used to have all my lines on the bottle on the table.”
Liz continued with her own tribute to co-star Bill Tarmey, as husband Jack.
“I won the Lottery when I got Bill. We worked so hard together and he’s a lovely man.
“Looking back after 32 years, it’s only when you leave that you realise what a lovely life you’ve had.
“You meet some wonderful people. Not just in our programme. Every other.
“And it’s been fantastic. I wish I was young again – and do it all over again.”
Co-host Phillip then walked over to tell Liz: “Now, we know that Vera thought that she was second cousin to the Queen.
“So I’m sure that you will be delighted to know that His Royal Highness Prince Charles wanted to send a special message to you, Liz.”
The Corrie legend then produced yet another huge laugh when she said: “Oh did he? He’s a lovely fella.”
Fern explained: “In that special message, he said, ‘His Royal Highness would like to send Liz Dawn his congratulations for her remarkable achievement and he sends his very best wishes for a successful and enjoyable awards evening.’
“He was just sorry he wasn’t here himself.”
Liz beamed: “Ahhh, thank you.”
Earlier Kevin had paid tribute to Liz – and taken the trouble to dress up in a white tuxedo and bow tie for the occasion.
He told how Vera first appeared in Weatherfield in 1974.
“Harold Wilson was prime minister, The Osmonds were at number one with Love Me For A Reason, and Annie Walker was landlady of the Rovers Return.
“It was in Mike Baldwin’s factory we first laid eyes on a character that would become, quite literally, soap royalty.
“She quickly moved into No 9 Coronation Street with her pigeon-loving husband Jack. And later, by their wayward teenager Terry.
“The rest, as they say, is history. I am, of course, talking about the iconic and dearly loved Vera Duckworth, played by the quite brilliant Liz Dawn.
“Liz’s portrayal of Vera Duckworth won her an army of fans as she captured the nation’s imagination with Vera’s colourful life
“ From her belief that she was, in fact royalty, to her trials and tribulations with Jack and her extended screen family.
“In 2007, Jack and Vera decided to make the big move to Blackpool.
“But just six weeks before they were about to leave, tragedy struck and Vera died of a heart attack at home. Jack was at the pub – he returned to find his swamp duck has passed away.
“Liz’s warm, caring and generous nature has been ever-present from the very first day she walked on to the street. Each and every crew member will tell you she always asked after them and their families.
“In fact, everyone on the Street simply adores her.
“Liz had always been the consummate professional, especially when it comes to learning her lines.
She would actually stick whole sections of her scripts on to any available prop, the back of beer mats, table cloths, cereal packets, other actors, anything she could find.
So much, in fact, that one day someone moved one such prop by accident and the look on Liz’s face as she realised her lines were no longer there, was a pure picture.
“Millions of viewers turned in to watch her final scenes and the episode even set the news agenda for the day, with stories running on every channel.”
Later, I asked Jack P Shepherd, who plays David Platt, for his reaction to Liz’s big award.
“You don’t really realise what she has done – the amount of years that she has put into it and the memorable scenes. She’s done an amazing job.
“It’s a surprise to me that she hasn’t won Special Achievement before tonight.
“But she fully deserved it.”
You can read a full report on the awards in tomorrow’s MEN.
*The British Soap Awards are screened on ITV1 at 8pm this Wednesday.
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