At the age of 8, Betty Driver began performing professionally, forced by her mother to appear with Terence Byron Repertory Theatre Company. She was singing for the BBC by the age of 10 and began touring across the UK in her first revue at the age of 12. While performing in London at the age of 14, Driver was spotted by the agent Bert Aza, who was in partnership with his brother Archie Pitt, Gracie Fields’ husband. Despite her young age, he booked her for the lead in a revival of Mr Tower Of London, which had brought Gracie Fields to prominence 19 years earlier. She was also approached by George Formby after he and his wife Beryl Formby saw her perform in Manchester. The Formbys wanted Betty Driver to appear in their new film Boots! Boots!, but according to Driver, when Beryl Formby saw her rehearsing, she decided that she did not want to be outperformed by Driver and sent her away; however, the producers felt so bad about the way Betty Driver was treated that they refused to take her name off the film credits, even though she did not appear in the theatrical release. In fact, it is now known that Driver did indeed perform in the film and her scene was included in the original release. In 1938, an edited version of the film was released which did not include Driver’s scene. A restored version of the film (including Driver’s scene) has recently been released on DVD which finally confirms the involvement of Driver in the film.
At 16 she was in a West End show called Home and Beauty. Film director Basil Dean, after seeing her in Jimmy Hunter’s Brighton Follies, cast her in the 1938 film Penny Paradise, filmed at ATP studios in Ealing. After a few months of variety and radio work, she returned to the studio to make her second film, Let’s Be Famous. They had just completed the film when the Second World War was announced and the studios were closed down. Nineteen at the time, Betty Driver resumed touring the country in variety shows. It was at this time that her act and image altered. Against her mother’s wishes, Driver and her sister modernised her performance and Driver became a ballad singer. Shortly after, during a six-month run in a revue called Twice In A Blue Moon, Driver and her sister parted company with their mother following a cardiac asthma attack which restricted her mobility. Betty Driver continued in variety, opening in the Coventry Hippodrome and sharing the bill with the Andrews family – father Ted, mother Barbara and Julie. She made regular trips to Bristol to sing on a radio show called Ack Ack Beer Beer and made her final film in 1941 Facing the Music. In the 1940s, she became a noted big band singer. During the Second World War, Driver travelled through Europe with ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), entertaining the troops. She also appeared for seven years on the radio show Henry Hall’s Guest Night and on her own show, A Date with Betty, which was broadcast live from the People’s Palace in London’s East End on 14 July 1949. The show’s format was based around Driver singing, doing sketches and introducing guests. All her words were scripted by a young Bob Monkhouse. She recorded many popular tunes in the 1940s and became an established singer during this time. When she was 14, she made her first record “Jubilee Baby”, and had another major success with “The Sailor with the Navy Blue Eyes” and made several more hit records. Betty travelled to Australia where she performed her own show and her career took her to Cyprus, Malta and the Middle East. On her return to England she appeared in various Ealing Comedies, on stage in The Lovebirds, Pillar to Post and What A Racket, and on television with James Bolam in Love on the Dole.
In 1964, she auditioned for the role of Hilda Ogden on the television series Coronation Street (the role went to actress Jean Alexander as the casting directors wanted someone who did not weigh as much). She was cast later in the series Pardon the Expression, a spin-off of Coronation Street alongside Arthur Lowe. She has described Lowe as “such a difficult man to work with”, so after a much-publicised injury (she damaged her back after the script called for throwing Arthur Lowe), she retired and started running a pub, the Cock Hotel in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, with her sister Freda. In 1969, she was persuaded to come out of retirement to play police officer’s wife Betty Turpin on Coronation Street, a role she would play for over 40 years. She was the longest serving barmaid in the history of the Rover’s Return and Betty’s Hot Pot (served at lunchtime in the Rovers) is an iconic dish, which has also been offered as a ready meal in UK supermarkets. Betty Driver wrote a memoir on her years in radio and television, called Betty, which was published in 2000. In an interview on the Parkinson show on 11 November 2006, Sir Ian McKellen revealed that Driver still drove herself into work at 07:30am each morning, despite her age. She was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in the Millennium New Year’s Honours List on 31 December 1999. In August 2008, it was announced that Driver was one of several Coronation Street stars facing large salary cuts. In April 2010 Driver was reportedly admitted to hospital with a chest infection. In May 2010 Driver was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Soap Awards. There were also rumours that Driver was to retire, however these were confirmed as false. Betty Driver vowed in September 2010 never to retire stating that: “If I retire, I’ll be dead in six months with boredom” and stated she still “loved” being part of Coronation Street. On 23 January 2011, Driver was the guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. On 11 May 2011, Driver was rushed to hospital, suffering from pneumonia. She died on 15 October, aged 91, after around six weeks in hospital.
- May, 20, 1920
- United Kingdom
- Leicester, Leicestershire, England
- October, 15, 2011
- United Kingdom
- Cheadle, Stockport, England
Cause of Death