Elizabeth Dawn – Life, Career & Death

Elizabeth Dawn is an actress from Leeds who is well known for her work across the Pennines on the cobbles of Coronation Street. For many years, Elizabeth played a much loved character called Vera Duckworth in the popular soap.

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Growing Up

On the 8th November 1939, Elizabeth Dawn was born under the name of Sylvia Butterfield in the Halton Moor Estate in Leeds. While she was growing up she attended the city’s girls school.

After leaving education, she decided to take on a number of mundane jobs such as a factory girl and a cinema usher. By the age of 18 she married Walter Bradley and had a child called Graham, however by the time she was 21 the marriage collapsed and the two divorced.

A young Liz Dawn, also known as "Vera Duckworth", her famed Coronation Street character.
A young Liz Dawn (Image source: corrieblog.tv)

The Beginning of Elizabeth Dawn’s Career

Sylvias’s first taste of the entertainment industry came when she got a job as a nightclub singer in the 1960’s. During this time, she also appeared on a series of small adverts and TV appearances one of which was an appearance in a Cadbury’s cookie commercial which turned out to be her breakthrough.

Other offers soon followed and a young Sylvia Butterfield decided to change her name to Elizabeth Dawn. She chose this based on her daughter’s name Dawn Elizabeth, who’d she’d given birth to in March 1965 with second husband Donald Ibbertson. Together they had three daughters.

First Screen Appearances

Elizabeth’s first screen appearance came in James Herriot’s movie “Who’d be a vet”. She also appeared in Colin Welland’s “Leeds United” which was a 1974 TV drama series set in the city of Leeds where she played a striker for the ladies football team.

Studio Debut

Another production called Crown Court saw Elizabeth Dawn make her studio debut. This was a television drama that ran from 1972 to 1984 and was filmed at Granada Studios in Manchester. This led her to join the cast of Coronation Street in a bit-part role as a factory girl called Vera Duckworth. 

Her first appearance in the soap came in August 1974 where she was only contracted for two episodes. However, the producers saw some potential in her character and in 1976 Liz Dawn was offered a permanent role as Vera.

Coronation Street

Liz dawn with her on screen husband Bill Terry, together making Coronation streets MR & Mrs Duckworth.
Liz dawn with her on screen husband Bill Terry, together making Coronation streets MR & Mrs Duckworth. (Image source: theguardian.com)

After becoming permanent, the character of Vera Duckworth then took a life of its own. Vera’s first job was at Mark Brittain’s mail order warehouse, after this she started working for Mike Baldwin’s clothing factory. Her distinctive loud voice, laugh, and personality soon made Vera Duckworth a colourful character on the Street.

In 1990, Liz Dawn was now established on the Street and was the subject of Michael Aspel’s “This is your life.” Ten years later, Elizabeth became the Lady Mayoress of Leeds.

Her marriage to Jack Duckworth, played by Bill Tarmey, was the highlight of her many years on Coronation Street. Their storylines included their constant marital bickering, affairs, and bringing up their wayward son Terry.

All of these storylines became one of both Vera’s and Jack’s most distinctive parts of their characters. In the 1990’s the couple took over the Rovers Return and some of the scenes filmed during this time are some of the most memorable as their venture gradually failed.

The End of Vera Duckworth

The departure of the Duckworth’s from Coronation Street was dramatic, especially for those who had watched their marriage through many troubled years. In 2004, Liz Dawn was diagnosed with emphysema and three years later at the actress’ request, the character of Vera Duckworth was written out by the producers for good.

On the 18th of January 2008, viewers witnessed Vera’s final appearance on Coronation Street as she died in her sleep ending 34 years of this iconic street character. Liz made a brief one-off appearance when she appeared as a ghost who came back to have one last dance with her beloved dying on-screen husband Jack Duckworth in 2010.

Career Achievements

The actress has won several soap awards in recognition of her performances as Vera Duckworth. One of these included the award for the “Best Onscreen Partnership” for her and Bill Tarmey in 2001, then seven years later, she won the Lifetime achievement award as well.

Retired Liz Dawn still helps to raise money for numerous charities raising money and awareness for heal issues
Retired Liz Dawn (Image source: www.theexpress.co.uk )

Charity Work

Liz Dawn’s illness has prompted her to take on charity work and became the celebrity ambassador for the British Lung foundation. She also raised awareness of COPD which is an umbrella charity for several diseases associated with breathing and the dangers of heavy smoking.

Over the years, Elizabeth did a breast cancer appeal. As a result she raised millions of pounds for research into the disease at St James’ Hospital in Leeds.

Decline in Health

Elizabeth Dawn’s television appearances became limited. In 2013, she suffered a heart attack and was wheelchair bound due to her illness.

In January 2014, Dawn managed an appearance on ITV’s Jeremy Kyle Show to talk about her career and health issues. A year later in 2015, she expressed her shock at the passing of her friend and fellow Corrie actress Anne Kirkbride stating that the “heart of the show had been ripped out.”

Elizabeth Dawn’s Death

During 2017, Elizabeth was admitted to Manchester hospital with severe breathing problems. On the 25th of September 2017, she died at her home in Manchester after a long battle with COPD.

Elizabeth Dawn is one of the most recognisable faces from Coronation Street. She has been one of the rare Yorkshire Folk to have the majority of their success across the Pennines.