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Betty Driver
Born 20 May 1920 (1920-05-20) (age 89)
Leicester, England, UK
Occupation Television actress

Betty Mary Driver, MBE (born 20 May 1920 in Leicester[1][2]) is an English singer, actress and author, most noted for her role as Betty Williams on the British soap Coronation Street.

Contents

Early life

Betty Driver was born to parents Frederick and Nellie Driver in 1920 at the Prebend Nursing Home in Leicester. She weighed 12lb.[3] Her father fought in the trenches during the First World War and later became a policeman. However, it is her mother whom Driver has described as "the driving force" in her life. Driver has commented, "the only way I can explain her behaviour is that she wanted to live out her ambitions through me."[3]

The Driver family moved to West Didsbury, south of Manchester in 1922, where they resided in a semi-detached house alongside other police families. Driver schooled at Wilbraham Road and was later joined there by her younger sister Freda, who shared a class with a then unknown, Pat Phoenix, who would go on to star as Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street.[3]

Driver has described her parents as absent of affection, stating that they never celebrated birthdays and rarely gave her toys and gifts. Though she maintains her father never beat them, their mother "more often lashed out".[3] Driver has stated that her mother never wanted children and only developed an interest in her when she discovered she had a talent for singing. When she was 7, the Drivers went to see a production called the Quaintesques, a group of men dressed as women, when the star, Billy Manders, asked the audience to join in with a chorus. Betty Driver's singing stood out so much that Manders asked her to come forward and sing with him. From then on, Driver's mother began taking her to various talent contents in Manchester, and she won them all. She has commented, "I imitated hits by Gracie Fields such as 'Sing As We Go', and 'The Biggest Aspidistra In the World', corny little numbers that I detested but mother adored [...] I think she was a frustrated performer herself and she was determined that my sister Freda and I were going to fulfil all her dreams."[3]

Career

At the age of 8, Driver began performing professionally, forced by her mother to appear with Terence Byron Repertory Theatre Company.[4] She was singing for the BBC by the age of 10 and began touring across the UK in her first revue at the age of 12. Whilst performing in London at the age of 14, Driver was spotted by the agent Bert Aza, who was in partnership with his brother Archie Pitt, Gracie Fields's husband. Despite her young age, he booked her for the lead in a revival of Mr Tower Of London, which Gracie Fields had made famous 19 years before. She was also approached by George Formby after he and his wife Beryll Formby saw her perform in Manchester. The Formbys wanted Driver to appear in their new film Boots! Boots!, but when Beryll Formby saw her rehearsing, she decided that she did not want to be outperformed by Driver and sent her away; however, the producers felt so bad about the way Betty Driver was treated that they refused to take her name off the film credits, even though she did not appear in the theatrical release.[3]

At 16 she was in a West End show called Home and Beauty. Film director Basil Dean, after seeing her in Jimmy Hunters Brighton Follies, cast her in the 1938 film Penny Paradise, filmed at ATP studios in Ealing. After a few months of variety and radio work, she returned to the studio to make her second film, Let's Be Famous. They had just completed the film when the Second World War was announced and the studios were closed down. 19 at the time, Driver resumed touring the country in variety shows. It was at this time that her act and image altered. Against her mother's wishes, Driver and her sister modernised her performance and Driver became a ballad singer. Shortly after, during a six-month run in a revue called Twice In A Blue Moon, Driver and her sister parted company with their mother following a cardiac asthma attack which restricted her mobility.[3]

Driver continued in variety, opening in Coventry Hippodrome and sharing the bill with the Andrews family - father Bob, mother Barbara and Julie. She made regular trips to Bristol to sing on a radio show called Ack Ack Beer Beer and made her final film in 1941 Facing The Music.[3]

In the 1940s, she became a noted big band singer. During the Second World War, Driver travelled through Europe with ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), entertaining the troops.[4] She also appeared for seven years on the radio show Henry Hall's Guest Night and on her own show, A Date with Betty, which was broadcast live from the People's Palace in London's East End on July 14 1949.[4] The show's format was based around Driver singing, doing sketches and introducing guests. All her words were scripted by a young Bob Monkhouse.[5] She recorded many popular tunes in the 1940s and became an established singer during this time. When she was 14, she made her first record "Jubilee Baby", and had another major success with "The Sailor with the Navy Blue Eyes" and made several more hit records.[4] Betty travelled to Australia where she performed her own show and her career took her to Cyprus, Malta and the Middle East. On her return to England she appeared in various Ealing comedies, on stage in The Lovebirds, Pillar to Post and What A Racket, and on television with James Bolam in Love On The Dole.

In 1964, she auditioned for the role of Hilda Ogden on the television series Coronation Street (the role went to actress Jean Alexander as the casting directors wanted someone who did not weigh as much).[4] She was cast later in the series Pardon the Expression, a spinoff of Coronation Street alongside Arthur Lowe. She has described Lowe as "such a difficult man to work with", so after a much-publicised injury (she damaged her back after the script called for throwing Arthur Lowe), she retired and started running a pub with her sister Freda in Cheshire.[4]

In 1969, she was persuaded to come out of retirement to play police officer's wife Betty Turpin on Coronation Street, a role she has played ever since. She is the longest serving barmaid in the history of the Rover's Return and Betty's Hot Pot (served at lunchtime in the Rovers) is an iconic dish, which has also been offered as a ready meal in UK supermarkets.

Driver has written a memoir on her years in radio and television, called Betty. In an interview on the Parkinson show on 11 November 2006, Sir Ian McKellen revealed that Driver still drives herself into work at 07:30 each morning, despite her age.

She was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II on the Millennium New Year's Honours List on 31 December, 1999.

In August 2008, it was announced that Driver was one of several Coronation Street stars facing large salary cuts.

She is one of the few veteran Coronation actors not to have won the Lifetime Achievement Award at The British Soap Awards. [6]

Personal life

Driver has admitted to falling in love several times in her teenage years, but each relationship was ruined by her mother, who wanted to keep her daughter single so as not to lose her free "meal ticket". All the earnings Driver made before she turned 21 and was in charge of her own finances, were squandered by her parents.[3]

Driver has stated that she is bitter about the path chosen for herself and her sister: "I never wanted to be in the theatre and we really resented missing out on our childhood. Birthdays and Christmases were ignored and we never saw a pay-cheque. My pushy mother stuck to us like a wart and we were rarely out of her sight."[4] Her mother died of lung cancer in 1956 after a long illness.[5]

At the age of 32, she married South African singer Wally Peterson, something Driver claims she did out of "defiance" to her domineering mother who she has said "always felt Wally was only interested in my bank account".[5] Peterson had appeared as part of a double-act on The Betty Driver Show in 1949, where they met and fell in love. Driver reluctantly agreed to marry him. She has commented, "Before the wedding, he had started to change the way I looked and sang. Up to this point, I'd always worn glamorous gowns. Wally said that look was too dated. He wanted me in short knee-length wide skirts, which I loathed. I went along with it because I loved him. Wally said my act was corny and old fashioned. I became very cowed and did as he said, as I had with Mother. We toured with this new look and singing style, but audiences were lukewarm".[5] Driver fell pregnant to Wally but miscarried. Doctors then discovered she had fibroids in the womb and insisted on a hysterectomy.[5] The couple looked into adoption, but were turned down.[5] They moved to South Africa but Driver returned a few months later, ending the marriage after seven years due to her husband's various adulteries.[4]

Driver lived with and cared for her sister Freda until Freda's death in December 2008. She is godmother to the son of Bill Roache, who plays Ken Barlow in Coronation Street.[4].

References

External links

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