TV, radio and theatre personality, best known for her 21-year stint in ITV soap Emmerdale as Betty Eagleton
Paula Tilbrook will be best remembered for her 21-year stint in ITV soap staple Emmerdale as the sherry-loving village gossip Betty Eagleton.
Joining the show as the ex-Tiller Girl returned home in 1994, she effortlessly established Betty as an iconic, straight-talking northerner who quickly moved to the centre of many of the soap’s most popular storylines. When she retired in 2015, Inside Soap magazine remarked of her final episode: “Funny, feisty and smart as a whip. They don’t make ’em like actress Paula Tilbrook any more!”
Tilbrook’s television debut had come a quarter of a century before in 1969 in Jack Rosenthal’s sitcom The Dustbinmenand variety show Ken Dodd and the Diddymen, and she later became a regular on Dodd’s BBC Radio 2 programmes.
She made the first of 11 appearances in Coronation Street in 1973 and in the same decade was seen in Mike Leigh’s Hard Labour, as part of the BBC’s Play for Today series, Carla Lane’s The Liver Birds and Tales of the Unexpected.
As well as notable contributions to Brian Glover’s Summer Season (1976) and Thicker than Water (1980), she was seen alongside Ian McKellen in the TV film Walter (1982), had spells in Last of the Summer Wine and Brookside, and played long-suffering housewife Flo to James Bolam’s titular Andy Capp (1988).
Her range was neatly encapsulated in two contrasting roles in the mid-1990s: the Speaker of the House of Commons in three episodes of Michael Dobbs and Andrew Davies’ To Play the King (1993) and Mrs Cullen in Jack Rosenthal’s sitcom Moving Story (1994).
Born in Salford, Lancashire, she showed an early interest in performing and gained professional experience in theatres throughout the North West, including Manchester’s Library Theatre, Chesterfield Civic (now Pomegranate Theatre) and Nottingham Playhouse.
In 1975, she was seen with James Maxwell and Bob Hoskins in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, directed by Caspar Wrede for the short-lived 69 Theatre Company in Manchester Cathedral.
From the early 1970s, she had long-standing associations with the Bolton Octagon and Oldham Coliseum, where she made her last stage appearance as a characteristically formidable matriarch in Jimmie Chinn’s Straight and Narrow in 1994.
Tilbrook showed an early interest in performing and gained professional experience in theatres throughout the North West
Other Oldham Coliseum credits included Allan Stronach’s adaptation of Barry Hines’ Kes (1978), Mike Harding’s Fur Coat and No Knickers (1980) and, reunited with Rosenthal, Spend, Spend, Spend in 1981.
In Bolton, she was seen in Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s All Things Bright and Beautiful (1972) and Walter Greenwood’s Saturday Night at the Crown (1983); in the latter, The Stage described her as “a Lancashire colossus [who] dominates the stage from beginning to end”.
She appeared in Waterhouse’s Celebrationat Nottingham Playhouse in 1986 and, the following year, in Valerie Windsor’s two-hander Effie’s Burning with Brigit Forsyth at the Library in Manchester and London’s Offstage Downstairs, later reprising it for BBC’s The Play on One in 1991.
A familiar voice on radio, she was heard in dramas and comedies by David Pownall, John Arden, Henry Livings and Peter Tinniswood. She could also be heard with Rodney Bewes in A Very Private Man (1981), in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black (1993) and alongside Su Pollard and Gorden Kaye in Vince Powell’s For Better or for Worse (1993).
On film, she had minor roles in the Colin Welland-scripted Yanks (1979), Alan Bennett’s A Private Function (1984), David Hare’s Wetherby (1985) and Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s Butterfly Kiss (1995).
Paula Tilbrook was born on January 16,1930 and died on December 1, 2019, aged 89.