Elizabeth Dawn is a Leeds actress well known for her work across the Pennines on the cobbles of Coronation Street, where for many years she played Vera Duckworth in the popular soap.
She was born under the name of Sylvia Butterfield on November 8th 1939 in Leeds and attended the City’s Girls School. After leaving education she took on a number of mundane jobs, including a factory girl and cinema usherette. By the age of twenty she had been married and divorced, bearing one child, Graham.
Her first forages into entertainment came as a nightclub singer in the 1960s and a series of small advert and TV appearances. One of these 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, named after her own daughter, Dawn Elizabeth, who she’d given birth to in March 1965, with second husband, Donald Ibbertson.
Her first screen appearances came in James Herriot’s, movie, “Who’d be a vet,” and Colin Welland’s “Leeds United,” a 1974 TV drama series set in the city, where she played a striker in the ladies football team.
Another production, “Crown Court,” which was a television drama that ran from 1972-84 saw Liz Dawn make her studio debut. The show, which was filmed at Granada Studios in Manchester, 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 but she was only contracted for two episodes. However the producers saw some potential in the character and in 1976, Liz Dawn was offered a permanent role as Vera.
The character of Vera Duckworth then took on a life of its own. After her first job at Mark Brittain’s mail order warehouse 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 now established on the Street was the subject of Michael Aspel’s “This is your life,” and ten years later 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, which included their constant marital bickering, affairs and bringing up their wayward son, Terry became one of the most distinctive parts of their characters. In the 1990s 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 Duckworth’s departure from Coronation Street was also dramatic especially for those who had watched their marriage through many a troubled year. In 2004 Liz Dawn was diagnosed with emphysema and three years later at the actress’ request, the character of Vera Duckworth was written out for good by the producers.
On 18th 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.
The actress has won several soap awards in recognition of her performances as Vera Duckworth, including the award for the “Best Onscreen Partnership,” for her and Bill Tarmey in 2001. Seven years later she won the Lifetime achievement award as well.
Liz Dawn’s illness has prompted her to take on charity work where she is the Celebrity ambassador for the British Lung foundation. She has also raised awareness of COPD, which is an umbrella charity for several diseases associated with breathing and the dangers of heavy smoking. The Liz Dawn Breast Cancer Appeal has raised millions of pounds for research into the disease at St James’ Hospital in Leeds.
Recently Liz Dawn’s television appearances are limited. In 2013 she suffered a heart attack and is 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. In 2015 she expressed her shock at the passing of friend and fellow Corrie actress, Anne Kirkbride, stating that the “heart of the show had been ripped out.”
Liz Dawn is one of the most recognisable faces from Coronation Street and has been one of the rare Yorkshire people to have the majority of their success across the Pennines.