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Johnny Briggs obituary

Anthony Hayward
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

The actor Johnny Briggs, who has died aged 85, was cast as the flash cockney Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street in 1976 to boost audience figures for the northern soap opera in the south of England. He ended up staying for 30 years.

Mike arrived with experience in the rag trade, opened a factory, Baldwin’s Casuals, where he was a tough boss with no time for unions – and went to bed with Bet Lynch, the Rovers Return barmaid.

A string of lovers followed, and the biggest bombshell came when Mike had an affair with Deirdre Barlow, whose husband, Ken, became his arch-enemy. The 1982-83 love triangle was one of the serial’s most popular storylines, with unprecedented newspaper coverage debating whether Deirdre should stay with Ken. In the end, almost 20 million viewers watched the episode in which they were reconciled. Such was the massive public interest that the electronic scoreboard at Old Trafford – where Manchester United were playing against Arsenal – informed the 56,000 football fans: “Deirdre and Ken united again!”

Johnny Briggs, left, as Mike Baldwin with Roy Barraclough as Alec Gilroy and Julie Goodyear playing Bet Gilroy.
Johnny Briggs, left, as Mike Baldwin with Roy Barraclough as Alec Gilroy and Julie Goodyear playing Bet Gilroy. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

A sweet-talking Romeo, Mike then fathered a son with Maggie Dunlop and married four times. The first marriage, to Susan Barlow – Ken’s daughter – was guaranteed to make the drama soar. Then came Jackie Ingram, Alma Sedgewick and Linda Sykes. Alma was the love of his life and the couple were reunited when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In true soap style, Mike was eventually revealed to be the father of two more children, Adam, the son he believed did not exist because Susan had terminated the pregnancy, and Danny, born after Mike’s fling with his brother’s wife many years earlier. He made Danny a partner in Underworld, his knicker factory.

When Briggs, described by one critic as having “twinkling eyes and slightly shifty charm”, tired of the increasingly busy Coronation Street filming schedules, Mike was written out with a heart attack in 2006 – dying on the cobbles in the arms of Ken Barlow.

Briggs was born in Battersea, south-west London, the son of Ernest, a joiner and carpenter, and Rose (nee Good). He was evacuated to Surrey and Cheshire during the second world war, when Rose, worked in a munitions factory. In Cheshire, he sang solo treble in a chapel choir.

Back home in the capital after the war, he was awarded a scholarship to the Italia Conti Stage Academy aged 12. Millicent Martin, Nanette Newman and Anthony Newley were all in his year and Briggs was soon in the chorus of an Italian opera company visiting London (Cambridge theatre, 1947). Over the years, he joined the company’s annual production, performing in La Bohème, Tosca, Falstaff and Rigoletto.

William Roache, left, playing Ken Barlow takes on Johnny Briggs as Mike Baldwin in a 1986 episode of Coronation Street.
William Roache, left, playing Ken Barlow takes on Johnny Briggs as Mike Baldwin in a 1986 episode of Coronation Street. Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock

Briggs also had bit parts in the films Hue and Cry (1947) and Oliver Twist (1948), before a more significant role in The Kite, one of four Somerset Maugham short stories in Quartet (1948), filmed on Wimbledon Common with George Cole. More uncredited appearances followed in other films, including the Ealing Studios comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).

Briggs appeared in his first stage play, Life With Father, at Northampton repertory theatre in 1949, the year he performed alongside a young Audrey Hepburn in the chorus of the London revues Sauce Tartare and Sauce Piquante (Cambridge theatre). When his voice broke, Briggs stuck to acting and joined Dewsbury repertory company (1950).

On leaving Italia Conti, he became a stage hand and spotlight operator at the Windmill theatre, and did two years’ national service as a driving instructor and gunner in the 8th Royal Tank Regiment.

Briggs had his first credited screen role, as Skinny Johnson, one of the gang of juvenile delinquents, in the film Cosh Boy (1952), starring Joan Collins. More parts followed in Second Fiddle (1957), Sink the Bismarck! (1960), Light Up the Sky! (1960), The Bulldog Breed (1960), HMS Defiant (1962, as a young sailor stripped to the waist and flogged), Doctor in Distress (1963) and three Carry On films – as one of the kilted Third Foot and Mouth Regiment in Up the Khyber (1968), a plasterer in Behind (1975) and a major’s put-upon driver in England (1976).

Briggs acted with a rep company in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, before taking the role of Kevin in the original production of Arnold Wesker’s play The Kitchen (Royal Court, 1959).

By the 1960s he was getting regular television work and found fame as DS Russell (1964-66) in the later years of No Hiding Place. The 5ft 7in actor put lifts in his shoes to land the role. “Give yourself an extra inch, because you’re a bit small,” he was advised by the crime drama’s star, Raymond Francis, who played DCS Lockhart in the hugely popular series. Briggs eventually wore a specially made pair of shoes that gave him an extra three inches.

Later came the parts of Clifford Leyton (1973-75), boss of a taxi firm, in the soap opera Crossroads, and Spiggy in the sitcom Thick as Thieves (1974). His long-running Coronation Street role followed a brief appearance as a lorry driver in the serial in 1974. After leaving, Briggs had one-off roles in Agatha Christie’s Marple: Nemesis, and Holby City (both 2007), and Doctors (2009). He was the caravan park operator Fin Morgan in the short-lived teen soap Echo Beach (2008).

Off screen, Briggs enjoyed playing golf and spending time at his holiday home in Florida. His autobiography, My Life As Mike Baldwin, was published in 1998 and he was appointed MBE in 2007.

Briggs is survived by his children, Mark and Karen, from his first marriage, to Caroline Hover (they married in 1961 and divorced in 1975), and by Jennifer, Michael, Stephanie and Anthony, from his second marriage, to Christine Allsop (they married in 1977 and divorced in 2006).

• John Ernest Briggs, actor, born 5 September 1935; died 28 February 2021