Affairs, armed robberies and punch-ups with Ken Barlow: Mike Baldwin was one of Corrie's all-time best characters

Michael Hogan
·7 min read
Johnny Briggs as Coronation Street's Mike Baldwin in 1988 - ITV/Shutterstock 
Johnny Briggs as Coronation Street's Mike Baldwin in 1988 - ITV/Shutterstock

"Ken and Deirdre reunited. Ken 1 Mike 0.” It’s a measure of the impact of Johnny Briggs’s Coronation Street character Mike Baldwin that the outcome of a 1983 storyline was announced thus on the Old Trafford scoreboard during a Manchester United vs Arsenal match. When the message flashed up, it drew both cheers and boos from supporters, depending on whether they were Team Ken or Team Mike.

There was longtime enmity between Street stalwarts Mike Baldwin and Ken Barlow (William Roache). Their antipathy came to represent a wider culture clash: do-gooder lefty schoolteacher Barlow versus ruthless local businessman Baldwin. The feud, spanning 20 gripping years, reached its peak with the love triangle plot which saw Mike sleeping with Ken’s wife Deidre (Anne Kirkbride).

It was a ratings winner and became front page news. The episode where Deidre ended her affair with Mike and reconciled with Ken was the show's highest-rated episode at the time.

"The way it captured the nation was amazing,” said Briggs. “Everyone was talking about it. The pubs were empty. Men would shout at me on the street: 'Go on Mike, give her one!’ People were disappointed when she went back to Ken.”

Ken Barlow (William Roache) punches Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) in a scene from Coronation Street in 1983 - Granada TV 
Ken Barlow (William Roache) punches Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) in a scene from Coronation Street in 1983 - Granada TV

In a bittersweet way, Mike Baldwin has now had the last laugh. With the news that actor Briggs has died at the age of 85 after a long illness, Mike will be reunited with Deirdre in soap opera heaven. His sad death follows Kirkbride’s by six years. TV has lost another of its great soap actors. Coronation Street fans will raise a glass of Baldwin’s trademark Scotch in his honour tonight.

Battersea-born, stage school-trained John Ernest Briggs enjoyed some success during the Sixties and early Seventies, appearing in Crossroads, The Saint, The Persuaders, On The Buses and three Carry On films. He appeared on-stage and on-screen alongside the likes of Norman Wisdom, Dirk Bogarde and Tommy Steele.

Briggs didn't become a household name, however, until 1976 when he was cast in the nation’s biggest, best-loved soap. Here he would stay for 30 memorable years, appearing in a mighty 2,348 episodes.

Coronation Street’s scriptwriters created Mike Baldwin following pressure on Granada TV from fellow ITV franchises Thames and Southern. They were keen to introduce a character from the South, believing it would help falling ratings in those regions during the mid-Seventies. Enter bad boy Baldwin, a Cockney entrepreneur with an eye for the ladies.

As owner of denim-making factory Baldwin's Casuals, Mike quickly established himself as Weatherfield's most ruthless employer. He was forever threatening his machinists with the sack if they slacked off or got ideas above their station. His private life was equally tempestuous. During his stint on the Street, Mike had 25 girlfriends and four wives.

Mike Baldwin's feud with Ken Barlow reached its peak when Mike began an affair with Ken's wife Deidre (Anne Kirkbride) - Television Stills 
Mike Baldwin's feud with Ken Barlow reached its peak when Mike began an affair with Ken's wife Deidre (Anne Kirkbride) - Television Stills

Driving a maroon Jaguar, drinking from a crystal decanter of single-malt whisky and living in a well-appointed apartment - in contrast to the other characters’ terraced houses - Baldwin brought a much-needed frisson of glamour, danger and, yes, even sex to the rain-slicked cobbles. He was the polar opposite of safe, boring Barlow. The anti-Ken, if you will. Hence it was a masterstroke when the pair were set up as love rivals.

Their simmering rivalry would continue in 1986 when Mike married Ken’s daughter Susan (Wendy Jane Walker) - against her father’s wishes, of course. This ultimately resulted in the arch enemies having a custody battle for Mike and Susan’s son Adam (Iain De Caestecker) after Susan died in 2001.

Their feuding erupted into numerous fist-fights over the years. On one unforgettable occasion, Barlow marched into Baldwin’s factory to sock him on the nose. On another, Mike punched Ken, knocking him over a table in the Rovers Return. Viewers lapped it up, cheering from their sofas. Briggs and Roache became old hands at on-screen brawling and enjoyed doing the stunts themselves.

Yet it wasn’t non-stop fisticuffs. Sometimes the old foes were forced to work together - notably when Deirdre was wrongly imprisoned in 1998 (cue the infamous "Free the Weatherfield One" campaign) and when they both became hostages during an armed supermarket robbery in 2000.

In a saga dubbed “the "Freshco siege”, the pair were tied up together and held hostage. Ken even helped Mike combat a panic attack. The duo resolved to put the past behind them and agreed to end their feud. Naturally, it was only a temporary reprieve.

With his camel coat and mischievous twinkle, wideboy-made-good Baldwin was a forerunner of Eighties TV’s duckers, divers and strivers, such as Del Boy Trotter (Only Fools & Horses) and Arthur Daley (Minder) - only more successful than both. His roguishness could also be detected in “Dirty” Den Watts from rival soap EastEnders, who came along in 1985.

During the Nineties, Baldwin found enduring love with third wife Alma Sedgewick (played by fellow Carry On alumnus Amanda Barrie, aka Cleopatra in Carry On Cleo). Their romance enabled Briggs to show another, softer string to his acting bow, as the pair bickered affectionately and fondly poked fun at one another. By all accounts, this reflected Briggs and Barrie’s relationship off-screen. The beloved duo even scored a UK chart hit with a version of Frank and Nancy Sinatra's Something Stupid.

Devotees were deeply saddened when the couple later divorced due to Mike’s incorrigible philandering. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Mike returned to Alma’s side to help nurse her through her final days, before she died of cervical cancer in 2001. An estimated 15m viewers tuned in to see Alma's death. The National Grid reported a huge power surge at the episode's climax, when millions popped their kettles on for a consoling cuppa.

The Noughties saw the ever-enterprising Mike pivoting from denim to lingerie, opening underwear factory Underworld. He formed a close bond with his nephew and protégé Danny (Bradley Walsh). In a typical soapy twist, it gradually transpired that Danny was actually Mike’s secret son.

In 2006, Briggs finally departed the role after a 30-year stint, citing the hectic filming schedule as his main reason. Briggs was into his seventies by now and wanted a slower pace of working life. By now, Mike Baldwin was suffering from Alzheimer’s and his last days included heartbreaking imaginary meetings with barmaid Bet Lynch, with true love Alma and with his mother. He even danced one more time with old flame Deirdre. So powerful was the storyline that Briggs backed a successful fundraising appeal to help those affected by the disease.

Mike, suffering from Alzheimer's, fails to recognise girlfriend Penny King (Pauline Fleming) in a scene from 2006 - ITV/Shutterstock 
Mike, suffering from Alzheimer's, fails to recognise girlfriend Penny King (Pauline Fleming) in a scene from 2006 - ITV/Shutterstock

His poignant final scene was broadcast on April 7 2006. Baldwin collapsed in the street after suffering a heart attack and died - with affecting irony - in Ken Barlow’s arms. Deliciously, his last words were: "You're finished, Barlow. Deirdre loves me. She’s mine."

As 12m viewers found something in their eye, Mike’s death was respected with the closing theme tune not being played and the credits rolling in silence.

To promote Mike’s departure, a set of publicity photographs were released with Ken and Mike re-enacting Arthur Devis’ 1807 painting of the death of Horatio Nelson, with Ken taking on the role of Captain Hardy. Tongue-in-cheek, certainly, but that’s how epic the scene felt to Corrie fans. That same year, Briggs was awarded both an MBE and a lifetime achievement award at the British Soap Awards.

He later appeared in Agatha Christie’s Marple, and medical dramas Holby City and Doctors, before retiring from acting. Briggs briefly returned to his most famous role in 2012, popping up as Baldwin’s ghost in A Christmas Carol-inspired skit for ITV charity telethon Text Santa.

For 30 years, Johnny Briggs brought charisma, swagger and style to Coronation Street.

As John Whiston, head of continuing drama at ITV, said today: "When Mike Baldwin was in a scene, it was very hard to look at anyone else.” Viewers believed Deirdre loved him more because they did too.