Caroline Aherne

CAROLINE AHERNE was born into the family of an Irish railway worker and a school dinner-lady on Christmas Eve, 1963 in Ealing,  London but grew up in Wythenshawe in Manchester. She was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the retina, like her older brother Patrick before her, and her local Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wythenshawe raised funds to send her to Lourdes in search of a miracle cure. "My mum told us that only special people get cancer. I must be very special because I've had it in my lungs and my bladder as well." For the rest of her life the actress was left with severely impaired sight in one eye.

She attended the Hollies Convent Grammar School in West Didsbury. Very bright, she achieved nine straight A's in O-levels and had an IQ of 176, she then studied drama at Liverpool Polytechnic.  

She then worked for a time as a secretary at the BBC in Manchester, all the while honing her performance skills on the comedy circuit and where she met her co-writers Craig Cash and Henry Normal. Caroline also has a cult following on the Manchester live comedy circuits and worked for a time with Cash on a pirate radio station, where the character of Mrs Merton was developed. Aherne's first TV appearances were on regional TV securing a semi-regular spot on the Granada TV discussion show "Upfront" in 1990 in her Mrs Merton guise.

After a few shows, both Caroline and Cash were sacked, but their show was picked up by BBC Radio 2, where the character was further developed, and paved the way for her better known television series, ‘The Mrs Merton Show’ later.

Mrs Merton was a character created by Aherne who hosted her own chat show. Guests (real-life celebrities, not actors) were quizzed about their lives and careers, and found themselves on the receiving end of questions that were outrageous double-entendres. Aherne managed to 'slip the knife in' while safely disguised as an elderly matriarch. Perhaps the most famous example of this was when she asked the partner of magician Paul Daniels, Debbie McGee, "So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?"

Another well-known episode featured guests comedian Bernard Manning and actor Richard Wilson. Manning clashed frequently with Wilson and Aherne in the guise of Mrs Merton (although he did acknowledge that One Foot in the Grave was a funny sitcom). The series ran in various formats from 1994 to 1997. The character was given a spin-off sitcom, Mrs Merton and Malcolm, which depicted her home life with her "mummy's boy" son (played by co-writer Craig Cash). However, this aspect of Malcolm's character was exaggerated to the point where many complained that the series made fun of people with learning difficulties. Mrs Merton and Malcolm lasted only one series, and was only released on DVD in 2008. Aherne won Best Female Comedy Performance at the 1996 British Comedy Awards for the role.

As Mrs Merton's popularity diminished, Aherne struck gold a second time with The Royle Family. This was an unusual sitcom format: A working class family sat in front of the TV, and not much happened. When it did, you noticed. The secret of its success was its keen writing and perfect casting.

In 2001, following a fall-out with Cash, Caroline Aherne announced her retirement from TV and emigrated to Australia . Within a year she had written and produced 'Dossa and Joe' - a sitcom about an Aussie couple who don't do very much. Although critics applauded it, the show did not attract a significant number of viewers and so did not return for a second series. Returning to Britain in 2002, she began work on another sitcom with Cash but pulled out early on, leaving Cash to write it with Phil Mealey (she receives a 'With thanks to' credit at the end of each episode). The show, ‘Early Doors’, was shown in 2003 and proved a hit. It was subsequently commissioned for a second series, which was screened in August 2004.

In mid-2003 it was reported that she had sold her autobiography in a £1 Million deal.

When 'The Fast Show' was featured on the BBC One show 'Comedy Connections', Aherne was the only cast member not interviewed, although her co-stars remembered her fondly. In April 2006, the BBC announced that Aherne and Cash were developing a script for a new, one-off special of The Royle Family to be broadcast in the UK later in the year, and the episode, entitled ‘The Royle Family: The Queen of Sheba’, was broadcast on 29 October 2006. The one-off return earned an audience of 7.8 million. She has since made only two appearances on TV. On 14 October 2008 Aherne made a cameo appearance in the BBC comedy drama ‘Sunshine’ as a barmaid. It was written by her Royle Family co-star Craig Cash. Aherne again appeared in The Royle Family on Christmas Day 2008, with the show making a seasonal one off episode. In 2009 Caroline Aherne appeared in a Royle Family special for Comic Relief.

She returned to star in Royle Family specials in 2006 and 2010 before becoming the voice of Channel 4’s Gogglebox in 2013. She revealed her latest battle with cancer in 2014 as she helped to launch a £3.4m bid to improve care for cancer patients in Manchester.

Her private life has been well publicised by the British tabloids. When her former boyfriend died in 1998, she attempted suicide and was admitted into the Priory clinic to treat difficulties with alcohol. It was after these events that she began to devise the initial scripts for The Royle Family. She has since been open about her lifelong battles with clinical depression.

She was married to New Order bassist Peter Hook and for a time she was credited as Caroline Hook (although she reverted to her maiden name when the marriage ended). Other romantic relationships have included her Royle Family co-writer Craig Cash, ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ actor, Alexis Denisof and the comedian David Walliams. Her relationship with Walliams remained a secret throughout, as she did not want to damage his (then) fledgling career through him being known as her boyfriend. She has also been seen stepping out with hypnotist and personal development guru, Paul McKenna.

She revealed her latest battle with cancer in 2014 as she helped to launch a £3.4m bid to improve care for cancer patients in Manchester. With typical irreverent humour, she joked at the end of her speech that she was pleased her wig had stayed on.

Caroline died of cancer July 2, 2016, at her home in Timperly, Manchester. She was aged 52. She was Laid to Rest in a Private Funeral at her Church, The Sacred Heart Church in Wythenshawe. (MORE)

*Noel Gallagher sings Oasis song in tribute to Caroline Aherne