Described as “the greatest soap opera actress of all time” for her role as Coronation Street’s hair-curlered harridan Hilda Ogden, Jean Alexander told of her decision to turn her back on love, and her frugal lifestyle, in an interview that never went to air.
Jean, who died in a Merseyside, England, hospital at the weekend, aged 90, was fiercely protective of her privacy. Just a few years before her death, she was interviewed by journalist Bill Hearld, husband of her niece Sonia.
The Daily Mirror reports she told how she loved nothing more than spending time alone at the end of her working day. “People often ask why I never married,” she said. “The simple, straight answer is that I never wanted to. I’m single and single-minded. “I have always been too busy making a career that I loved. I like my own company and the fact that I can go home, shut the door and be myself. “I’ve never had a close relationship because I was never in the market for that. I’ve never had the time, nor the stamina, for a husband – except Stan Ogden [ her on-screen partner].”
Jean explained she simply didn’t believe in sex before marriage and never felt maternal – preferring the company of cats. “These days, if you are a virgin people pity or make fun of you. They may think there’s something peculiar about me but there isn’t,” she said.
Of her character, she said: “Before you ask, no – unlike Hilda Ogden – I don’t have a flight of ducks above the mantelpiece. “In fact there was none of me in Hilda, apart from the fact that like her, I can’t sing. “No matter how much fame and fortune Hilda brought me, I’ve never lived the high life. I was just never tempted. All I ever wanted was to earn enough to live my own life. “I still live in the house in Southport that I bought with my mother after my father died. I don’t have a DVD player or a video machine or a fax, so I can’t even watch recordings of any of the programmes in which I’ve appeared. And I wouldn’t recognise the internet if I tripped over it. “My stereo system is good quality but it’s from the 1980s and my television is a rented set I’ve had for donkey’s years.
“I only recently bought a mobile phone because my agent insisted I should be contactable and that it was safer for a woman travelling alone. “I have never driven or owned a car. I don’t have a cleaner or a regular gardener and I look forward to shopping in the local supermarket twice a week. I get the bus there, but I take a taxi home with all the shopping.
“I don’t dress up in clothes with designer labels. I just don’t enjoy gadding about and dressing up. I’ve spent my whole life dressing up as different characters. “I hate big dos and I loathe London.”
Although 27 million British viewers tuned in to see Hilda leave the Street in 1987, Jean revealed she preferred her later character, Auntie Wainwright in Last of the Summer Wine. “Did I like Hilda? Well, she was the sort of person I could never have lived with or lived next door to. She’d have driven me crazy,” she said. Jean famously became disenchanted with some of Coronation Street’s storylines and rarely watched TV. “I am so disappointed in Coronation Street. In the relentless battle for ratings, it has sold its soul to sex, scandal and downright nastiness.
“Things have to move on, I know, but in the days of Hilda Ogden, Annie Walker and Co, the Street was gentle, funny and human. The humour has all but gone out of it these days.” Jean loved her fans but said they sometimes got carried away. “I was once leaving Woolworths with both hands overloaded with shopping when I was slammed against the plate-glass window by a very excited lady. She just kept punching me on the shoulder, thumping me black and blue and shouting, ‘You are on the telly, aren’t you? I like you.’ “All I could do was ask her to stop hitting me.” But as she fondly looked back on her career, Jean said: “I’ve not done badly for a girl from the back streets of Liverpool.”