The Casanova of the cobbles: Johnny Briggs, who has died at 85, was the Coronation Street star whose life was just like a soap opera, writes CHRISTOPHER STEVENS
- Johnny Briggs was best known Mike Baldwin, the Casanova of the Cobbles
- The twice divorced star’s private life was no less racked by scandals over women
- Both ex-wives exacted revenge after their marriages ended by selling stories
He was the Casanova of Coronation Street, the leery lad with a macho swagger who made a play for every woman he fancied.
As factory boss Mike Baldwin, he spent 30 years locked in a feud over his lust for another man’s wife – an affair that divided the entire country.
And the private life of actor Johnny Briggs, who has died aged 85 after a long illness, was no less racked by scandals over women.
Twice divorced, he bragged of more than 1,000 sexual conquests and suffered repeated humiliations in the news pages for his outspoken sexist attitudes as well as his infidelities.
Both his ex-wives exacted revenge after their marriages ended by selling their stories.
Nobody seemed to know where Mike Baldwin ended and Johnny Briggs began (pictured with Anne Kirkbride in Coronation Street from the 1970s)
His oldest daughter too, devastated by the break-up of her family when she was 12, went to reporters on multiple occasions to paint an unflattering portrait of her father as a compulsive love rat.
His life was an extraordinary case of life imitating soap opera.
Nobody, least of all the star himself, seemed to know where Mike Baldwin ended and Johnny Briggs began.
The story line that guaranteed him lifelong fame began in 1982. Mike, a former market trader whose dad had a sideline in renting blue movies, employed many of the Street’s women at his denims factory, Baldwin’s Casuals.
He’d already had an affair with brassy Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear), installing her as ‘housekeeper’ at his bachelor pad.
Cigar-chewing Mike loathed the educated Ken Barlow (William Roache), never forgiving him for marrying his old flame Deirdre (Anne Kirkbride). The two men were opposites – Ken the middle-class Guardian reader, Mike the tight-fisted boss… so mean that he once sacked his cleaner for demanding a new brush.
Once Ken and Deirdre’s honeymoon was over, Mike set about seducing her.
He rekindled their affair, then begged her to leave Ken. The nation was agog, with 20million viewers tuning in to see Mike turn up on the Barlows’ doorstep after Ken had discovered the relationship.
The showdown in February 1983 coincided with a League Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Cigar-chewing Mike (Johnny Briggs, throwing the punch) loathed the educated Ken Barlow (William Roache, right), never forgiving him for marrying his old flame Deirdre
Deirdre went back to her husband and the scoreboard flashed up the result: ‘Ken 1 – Mike 0’, to the noisy delight of the 56,000-strong crowd. Three years later, Mike took revenge when he married Ken’s daughter Susan to spite his enemy. He later married Alma Halliwell (Amanda Barrie).
There was rivalry between the stars off screen, too.
In 2012, when Roache unwisely announced that he’d slept with 1,000 women, Briggs told a reporter, ‘I was a bit of a ladies’ man myself. I don’t know if I can say how many I’ve bedded, but it’s probably more than him. I had the opportunity, I indulged it and I can tell you this – it’s not worth it. There’s all sorts of dangers.’
That was heartfelt.
Roache said yesterday: ‘So sorry to hear about Johnny. Mike Baldwin and Ken Barlow were arch enemies for many years, but as an actor, Johnny was impeccable, always good, and I was so fortunate to have worked with him for so many years.’
In 2007, Briggs received an MBE. That year, following his second divorce and with his character now written out of the series (dying in Ken’s arms, with Deirdre’s name on his lips), he visited the sex resort of Pattaya in Thailand.
Johnny Briggs’ Mike Baldwin character later married Alma (played by Amanda Barrie)
One prostitute realised the 72-year-old was famous and went to reporters. She complained he was a skinflint who paid her £15 and didn’t leave a tip.
‘This is going to look bad,’ he admitted as he made a public apology. ‘It’s all very embarrassing. There’s no fool like an old fool.’
Throughout his life, Briggs seemed to court those disasters, bringing them on himself with a wilful lack of caution. He married first wife Caroline Hover in 1961, after a series of roles in British comedies such as Norman Wisdom’s The Bulldog Breed established him as an actor.
His TV breakthrough came in 1964 as DS Russell in the police drama No Hiding Place – though he was considered small for the part at 5ft 7in and had to wear three-inch soles on his boots.
He blamed his small stature on childhood poverty: Born in Battersea in 1935, he had double pneumonia and then rickets. During National Service in the Army, his feet were so delicate that he was ‘excused boots’ and wore lace-up shoes instead, a privilege usually allowed only to women.
Since his youth, winning a scholarship to the Italia Conti Stage Academy aged 12, he dreamed of stardom. But success came slowly. He had a small role (as a Highland soldier in a kilt) in Carry On Up The Khyber, and appeared for two years in the mid-Seventies as taxi boss Clifford Leyton in Crossroads.
Off screen, he was a devoted golfer. ‘I was a golf widow,’ said Caroline. ‘After I gave birth to our son in 1963, he even managed to find time to play a round before coming to see us at the hospital. He thinks women should be in the kitchen cooking his dinner, and then ready in bed wearing a long nightie. But he’d stay at the bar all night with his mates and then roll in at midnight.’
Briggs visited the sex resort of Pattaya in Thailand shortly after receiving an MBE in 2007
The couple had two children and divorced in 1975 after Briggs admitted he was in love with another woman, teacher Christine Allsop. Daughter Karen, who was 12, remembered: ‘My brother Mark and I had jumped into bed with Mum and Dad, and I saw that he was wearing a new pendant. I turned it over and read out loud, “To Johnny, all my love, Christine”.
‘That was it between Mum and Dad. Mum was desperately upset. She later found out that Dad had been flitting between the two of them for six months.’
Though she adored him, Karen’s relationship with her father would be forever strained, made worse by her drug problems in adult life. She got on badly with Christine, whom Briggs married in 1977. There were long periods over the decades when he didn’t see Karen or her children.
In the mid-Eighties, though, when Karen was 21, Briggs enlisted her help in keeping his latest affair secret from Christine. ‘She was around my own age, an air hostess called Hilary, and he introduced her to me. She used to come and stay – we got on really well.’ The affair became public knowledge when the 50-year-old Briggs and his mistress were photographed as they boarded a flight for a holiday in Barbados. He patched up his marriage, but later claimed the relationship was dead after that.
His attitude to women became increasingly bitter. In 1997, he gave an interview to a golf magazine, bemoaning the changes that allowed female players on courses: ‘Women in golf clubs can be treacherous. They take liberties, don’t know the rules, often have no idea of etiquette and sometimes seem to take over everything like cockroaches. In short, they are a pain.’
He later said he had been misquoted: ‘I didn’t say anything about cockroaches. I actually said women swarm across the golf course like ants.’
By then Christine was living with their four children in the West Midlands. Briggs divided his time between an apartment in Salford, where he lived alone while filming Coronation Street, and a bungalow in Clearwater, Florida.
In 2006, after learning that her husband was involved with a 29-year-old make-up assistant called Lisa, Christine could stand this arrangement no longer. ‘I know he always reads his fan mail,’ she said, ‘as he has such a huge ego – so I tucked a letter in a pile of it, telling him I wanted a divorce.’
She savaged him in an interview, belittling his prowess in bed and accusing him of being so mean with money that she had to wear cheap clothes from a catalogue. The divorce settlement, after 30 years of marriage, cost Briggs an estimated £1million.
That wounded him almost as badly as the unfavourable publicity. Briggs, who never forgot the misery of growing up penniless, always believed his first responsibility was to provide for his family and pay the bills.
‘Money is everything,’ he liked to joke, ‘and happiness can’t buy it.’ But like Mike Baldwin, Johnny Briggs was always tempted to look for happiness in the places he couldn’t find it.
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