Aged eighteen, Deirdre goes on a date with Jimmy Frazer (John Barrie), but when she is introduced to his business partner Alan Howard (Alan Browning), she quickly loses interest and flirts with Alan instead. Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix) finds them in the pub where they are drinking, and announces herself as Alan's wife. Deirdre then sets her sights on Billy Walker (Ken Farrington), and despite the fact that he is nearly twenty years older than her, they become engaged in 1974, to the horror of Billy's domineering mother Annie Walker (Doris Speed), who disapproves of Deirdre and sees her as a harlot. The wedding is meant to be a low-key affair paid for by Billy and scheduled for May the following year, but weeks away from the wedding, Deirdre begins to have doubts, wondering whether she is prepared to be tied down to Billy. She asks Billy for more time and he agrees, but a little while later he calls the engagement off and leaves to run a wine bar in Jersey.
Deirdre's typist skills are noticed by troublesome Ray Langton (Neville Buswell), and he hires her as a secretary in the builder's yard, but due to Ray's constant needling she resigns in June 1975 after they have a blazing row. However, the hate turns to feelings for him, and they marry in July. They later move into Number 5 Coronation Street in March 1977, shortly after their daughter Tracy (Christabel Finch) is born on 24 January. After Deirdre is attacked by a rapist while walking home, she contemplates suicide, standing on the parapet of a motorway bridge and only snaps back to reality when a lorry driver asks her for directions. Her marriage to Ray fails, and by September 1978, he is having an affair with waitress Janice Stubbs (Angela Bruce). When Deirdre finds out, they decide to start afresh and emigrate to Holland, where Ray has been offered a job, but at their farewell party two months later, Deirdre decides not to go and Ray leaves alone; they subsequently divorce. In 1979, Deirdre is touched when Sally Norton (Yvonne Nicholson) - who had been in the bed next to her when Deirdre was giving birth - brings Tracy a doll, but she makes excuses to stop Sally taking Tracy out. Later, Deirdre leaves Tracy outside the Rovers whilst she visits Annie for knitting patterns but they are disturbed by the sound of a crash and Deirdre finds a lorry outside has spilt a load of timber into the front of the Rovers, crushing the front of the pub. Deirdre hysterically claws at the timber screaming for Tracy, who she believed was underneath. Sally had been unstable since she had been persuaded by a social worker to put her daughter up for adoption shortly after the birth, and Deirdre later discovers she has taken Tracy, moments before the lorry crashed.
After this, Deirdre dates Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) and attempts to reconcile with Billy, but soon realises that she and Ken Barlow (William Roache) are better suited. In January 1980, she strongly hints to Ken that, if he proposed to her, she would not say no. This scares Ken away as he feels he is too old for her and he has been married twice already. A year later, after a further flirtation with Mike, she is reunited with Ken - until Deirdre has a fling with Dirk van der Stek (Lex van Delden), a colleague of Ray's. After Dirk leaves, she goes out for a meal with Ken and they agree to see more of each other without getting tied down. In 1981, more than 24 million viewers watched Deirdre's wedding to Ken Barlow (which generated higher ratings for ITV than the wedding of Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer). Ken adopts Ray and Deirdre's daughter, Tracy, and they live with Uncle Albert (Jack Howarth) at Number 1.
In February 1982, Deirdre suggests they have a baby but Ken firmly dismisses the idea and in May, there are a number of muggings in the area. Deirdre's suspicions centre on local boy Raymond Attwood (Joe Searby), a member of the youth club where Ken helps out, but Ken refuses to call the police, not wanting to betray Ray's confidence until he has evidence. After Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) is mugged, Deirdre goes against Ken's wishes - and Ray turns out to be the mugger. Ken feels Deirdre has betrayed him but, later that month, agrees they should try for a baby. The marriage gets into trouble when Deirdre, feeling insecure, has an affair with Mike in late 1982. The story runs on into 1983 and is a ratings winner, with the UK's newspapers giving the story much coverage. The episode in 1983 when she ends her affair with Mike and reconciles with Ken was the highest rated episode and the news was so big it ended up being announced on the scoreboard during a Manchester United v Arsenal match at Old Trafford, with the words "Ken and Deirdre reunited. Ken 1 - Mike 0" leading to cheers from the spectators.
Encouraged by Ken, Deirdre contests the May 1987 local council elections as an independent candidate. Her candidacy is intended, by Ken at least, to split the vote in favour of the Labour candidate. However, Deirdre is unexpectedly elected thus deposing her former employer, and incumbent Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley). Early in her term, Deirdre's workload as a councillor causes tensions with Ken, and their marital woes are compounded by the professional conflicts that arise between them. As a local newspaper editor, Ken causes Deirdre political embarrassment by publishing damaging stories about Weatherfield Council, making use of council secretary Wendy Crozier (Roberta Kerr) as his mole, but Deirdre's reputation is tarnished. Wendy is sacked and Ken, feeling responsible, employs her as his secretary and begins an affair with her which leads to Deirdre starting divorce proceedings in 1990. Deirdre dates plumber Dave Barton (David Beckett) and later conman Phil Jennings (Tommy Boyle), who tricks her into investing in his nightclub. After a series of gaffes and minor scandals, Deirdre loses her seat on Weatherfield Council to Alf in 1991. This ends her short but tumultuous career in local politics.
In 1994, Deirdre leaves to look after her ailing mother Blanche Hunt (Maggie Jones), foiling a potential reunion with Ken (a plot devised due to actress Anne Kirkbride being on medical leave for several months after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma). When Deirdre returns, she hopes she and Ken will reconcile but learns that Ken has been seeing hairdresser Denise Osborne (Denise Black), who is expecting his baby. Needing a holiday, Deirdre goes to Morocco, where she falls in love with Samir Rachid (Al Nedjari). He comes back to Weatherfield with her, insisting their relationship is more than a holiday romance, and they marry in November 1994, despite the disapproval of Tracy (now Dawn Acton). Deirdre and Samir decide to move to Morocco, but Samir is attacked by thugs the day before he is due to donate a kidney to Tracy, who had suffered kidney failure after a drug overdose. Samir dies; the transplant goes ahead.
Deirdre later falls in love with Jon Lindsay (Owen Aaronovitch), who claims to be an airline pilot. Ken exposes Jon as a fraud after seeing him working at a tie shop in the airport. Jon claims that he was embarrassed to admit that he had lost his pilot's licence due to failing eyesight. Deirdre forgives Jon, unaware he is implicating her in his numerous financial scams. They split up after she finds out he is married - but when she tries to retrieve the money she gave Jon towards a mortgage, she is charged with theft. Jon portrays her as the brains behind the crime and Deirdre is found guilty of fraud, receiving a prison sentence of 18 months while Jon walks free. While in prison, Deirdre makes an unexpected friend in Jackie Dobbs (Margi Clarke).
Ken and Mike fight to free Deirdre, but her case looks hopeless until a woman called Mary Docherty (Victoria Alcock), who has been previously tricked by Jon, backs up Deirdre's version of events; she is released and Jon is finally brought to justice. Mike comes to her rescue with legal fees and a place to stay, upsetting both Ken and Mike's wife Alma (Amanda Barrie). The traumas of the past year and Tracy's wedding to Robert Preston (Julian Kay) leads Deirdre to reunite with Ken in February 1999.
In December 2001, Deirdre becomes unhappy with Ken. After a row with him and his son Peter (now Chris Gascoyne), she has a one-night stand with her boss Dev Alahan (Jimmi Harkishin); the next day, Dev makes it clear that he regrets the episode and they keep their liaison secret until Dev starts dating her daughter, Tracy (now Kate Ford). Deirdre then confesses her fling with Dev; Ken forgives her and they stay together. Eventually, they remarry, on 8 April 2005. The marriage is supposed to coincide with the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, just as Ken and Deirdre's first marriage coincided with Charles and Diana's nuptials, but scheduling conflicts caused by Prince Charles's attendance at the funeral of Pope John Paul II result in one day's discrepancy. Nearly 12 million people watch the television event, while only nine million watch the royal nuptials; Ken and Deirdre's second ratings victory against the royal family makes the national newspapers. Ray returns to the Street in 2005, after leaving in 1978, and announces he is dying of stomach cancer. He dies at Deirdre and Ken's wedding reception, held at the Rovers Return Inn.
Deirdre's life is turned upside down again in early 2007 when Tracy is accused of murdering her boyfriend Charlie Stubbs (Bill Ward). Tracy claims self-defence but admits to Deirdre that she did murder him; Deirdre is nevertheless devastated when Tracy is found guilty. After weeks of turmoil at Number 1 Coronation Street, Ken offers Deirdre a shocking ultimatum, announcing that, if she leaves the house, he will be gone by the time she gets back. True to his word, Ken leaves and begins rebuilding a relationship with his estranged son Daniel Osbourne (Dominic Holmes), and his mother Denise. Deirdre, full of resentment, confronts Denise, and they row in front of an audience at the Rovers Return, an argument which results in Deirdre slapping Denise. Deirdre tries to mend her relationship with Ken and apologises for her behaviour but fails to convince him to come back to her; they are later reconciled.
In July 2009, Deirdre has to reapply for her job as a council employee when redundancies are announced. In August, she loses her job and confides in Betty that she does not know what to do. When Peter decides to open a bar with girlfriend, Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson), Ken is so against the idea that he calls a meeting at The Rovers and has an article written in a newspaper which also details Deirdre's relationship with Jon Lindsay and Tracy murdering Charlie Stubbs. Deirdre and Ken fall out but Eileen Grimshaw (Sue Cleaver) helps them reconcile. During a row in 2010, Gail McIntyre (Helen Worth) throws a pie in Deirdre's face. Ken, despite repeated requests by Deirdre to "do something", fails to come to her assistance. On 3 May 2010, Deirdre is dealt a blow when she discovers that Blanche has died in Portugal. She and Ken are even more surprised to learn that Blanche had been romantically involved with a man called Arnold. Deirdre flies to Portugal to meet him, learning more about her mother's final days. At Blanche's funeral, she is happy to see Tracy and gives an emotional eulogy paying tribute to her mother's unique character. Deirdre is delighted when Tracy is released from prison on Christmas Day 2010. Despite knowing about Tracy's manipulative personality, Deirdre supports her but she finds Tracy in a pool of blood on New Year's Day, with Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) - and the father of Tracy's daughter Amy Barlow (Elle Mulvaney) - standing over her. When Tracy awakes from her coma, she claims that Steve's wife Becky McDonald (Katherine Kelly) is responsible for her injuries. When Ken doubts Tracy's word, Deirdre stands by her; Becky is arrested and questioned by the police. Tracy's lies are exposed again when Claire Peacock (Julia Haworth) admits she attacked Tracy because Tracy had insulted her recently deceased husband, Ashley (Steve Arnold).
In August 2012, Tracy complains of stomach pains but no one believes her except Deirdre. Ken assumes that Tracy is making excuses so that they will look after Amy but are stunned to find that Tracy has collapsed of kidney failure, after she doesn't collect Amy from football training. Tracy is hospitalised and she apologises to Deirdre for all the trouble she has caused and that she is the only person who has repeatedly forgiven her for her mistakes. In April 2013 Ken leaves Weatherfield and flies to Canada to visit his grandson Adam Barlow who is seriously ill and it is revealed that Ken will be staying in Canada for the foreseeable future to aid Adam in his recovery. Whilst Ken is away lots of things change, Tracy's boyfriend Rob Donovan (Marc Baylis) places a bet on at Peter's bookies which cleans him out and the business shuts down. Tracy and Rob go on to rent the premises from Peter and set up Barlow's Buys which sells everything from televisions to jewellery. Deirdre is very suspicious of Rob and his intentions towards Tracy and her entire family.
As time moves on Rob eventually moves into Number 1 with Tracy and Deirdre, causing initial tension in the household. In June 2014 Peter's affair with Tina McIntyre (Michelle Keegan) is revealed to the street, and Tina is found dead after being pushed from the balcony in the builder's yard and then being hit over the head with a blunt object. The street condemn Peter as the killer but Deirdre continues to protest his innocence to the rest of the street. However at Tina's funeral Rob and Peter argue again as Rob urges Peter to admit that he killed Tina and that he ruined her life. Peter responds by saying "yeah well she ruined my life so that makes us even", which the other mourners take as a confession of guilt and Deirdre's job of protesting his innocence becomes extremely difficult. Peter's defence team urge him to plea guilty, so he sacks them and then Deirdre suggests that he do as the lawyer recommended and plead guilty. Peter then stops talking to Deirdre and refuses to see her in prison which leaves her devastated.
Ken returns in August, but Deirdre had not told him that Peter was in prison, merely that he was drinking again. On the day of his arrival back in Weatherfield, Ken finds out about Peter's situation from his wife Carla Barlow (Alison King), who had left Peter after discovering his affair with Tina. This leads to a major row between Ken and Deirdre, who says that Rob has been a real rock for her. Ken leaves the living room saying he's going to bed to sleep off his jet lag and will see Peter tomorrow because he'll never give up on him. Deirdre continues crying alone and when Tracy and Rob return home she falls into their arms crying as they console her. She tells them "I've waited months to go to bed and have him lie beside me and now I don't want to go up there". Deirdre asks Tracy "what if we never get used to each other again, what if he never forgives me what's going to happen"? and then breaks into tears again. Ken forgives Deirdre and wants to take her on holiday. Deirdre wants to go abroad, but Ken orders a caravan so he can take Deirdre to North Wales, leaving Deirdre disappointed, but goes anyway. The holiday was disastrous, and she wanted to go home. Ken takes her back home, to which Tracy reveals that Peter is back drinking again, leaving Deirdre and Ken shocked. In October, Deirdre begins to struggle with the stress of the trial, and after Tracy and Carla argue during a meal she has prepared, she loses her temper and throws an unset trifle against the wall. Ken then suggests that she go stay with Bev Unwin (Susie Blake) for a while, and Deirdre then leaves to stay with Bev until the trial is over. Once the trial is over Deirdre is expected to reappear, but she decides to stay longer as Bev's brother Lenny Baker has recently died. It is not until July that Deirdre packs her bags for a return to Coronation Street. Her family arrange a surprise 60th birthday party for her at The Rovers. It is Bev, however, who turns up at the Barlow house. She has come to break the shattering news that Deirdre has died while sitting outside in the sun, possibly after suffering a brain aneurysm. Liz breaks the news to the stunned regulars who are waiting for Deirdre to arrive, the aneurysm was caused by her many years of chain smoking. Ken also hears from Bev that Deirdre was planning to return to him a few weeks earlier, but decided to stay longer as she felt humiliated about Tracy's affair with Liz's boyfriend Tony Stewart. Deirdre's funeral takes place on 13 July and many turn up to pay their respects to her, whilst Emily Bishop is reading a poem, Ken snaps at Tracy after learning that his late wife wouldn't come home because of her behaviour with Tony.
Deirdre was played by actress Anne Kirkbride from 1972 to 2014. Originally named Deirdre Hunt, her character's earliest screen appearances were as "a young 17 year old 'dolly bird', someone that liked a bit of fun". The character made an initial one-off appearance in episode 1236 on 20 November that year. The producers and writers were convinced that the character had more mileage and Kirkbride returned for a couple of appearances from episode 1272 on 26 March 1973 and as a contracted regular from episode 1288 on 21 May 1973.
Deirdre's trademarks included a gravelly, scratchy voice (intensifying due to actress Kirkbride's real-life chain smoking) and very big glasses. She wore the same style of glasses for almost 30 years (in her youth she was nicknamed "Miss Sexy Specs"), before Dev Alahan crushed them with a box when she put them down for a second. Later, the frames are much smaller, and Kirkbride herself did not wear glasses away from the role, opting for contact lenses. The large glasses made a comedic reappearance when character Claire Peacock (Julia Haworth), who bore an uncanny resemblance to the young Deirdre, was also to wear the same style of spectacles.
After leaving Oldham Rep at the age of 17, Anne Kirkbride featured in a Granada TV play by Jack Rosenthal titled Another Sunday and Sweet F.A. (1972). Kirkbride then auditioned for a part in a pilot for a new Granada series, gaining the attention of the casting directory Coronation Street's casting director who offered her a part in the show. She was first seen doing her little part when character Elsie Tanner came into a pub to find husband Alan Howard drinking with Deirdre. Kirkbride said: "That was my first scene and I was petrified at the thought of coming into something I'd been watching since the age of seven." Kirkbride remained with the show until her death on 19 January 2015, although what turned out to be her last appearance was broadcast the previous October.
In 2009 Anne Kirkbride, a sufferer of depressive illness, was quoted as saying that she felt she was coming to the end of the road with the show, but a Granada TV spokesman show insisted that there were no immediate plans for the actress to leave.
Ken and Deirdre have been described as soap opera's version of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Their relationship has featured various affairs, break-ups and reunions over the years. The couple's first marriage eventually disintegrated in the early 1990s, this time when Ken had an affair with colleague Wendy Crozier, a dalliance which ended in divorce for the Barlows. Ken was kicked out of home on New Year's Day 1990. Their on/off relationship continued, with each having various other liaisons, until producers decided to reunite Ken and Deirdre in 1999. Ken's and Deirdre's second marriage in 2005 was watched by an estimated 13 million viewers, compared to the nine million who watched the wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles the following day. Coincidentally, Ken's and Deirdre's first wedding in 1981 was screened within 48 hours of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding, and just as in 2005, the Barlow wedding attracted more viewers than the royal wedding.
When the story of Deirdre Rachid being jailed for fraud was aired in 1998, a public campaign developed in the UK, pleading with Granada Television to "free the Weatherfield One". Despite Rachid being a fictional character, politicians expressed their opinions on the story much as if the she had been imprisoned in real life. Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he would be commanding his Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to investigate the issue. William Hague, the then leader of the Conservative Party, announced that his party was also concerned about Rachid's treatment, stating that "The whole nation is deeply concerned about Deirdre, Conservatives as much as everyone else".
The "Free Deirdre Rachid" campaign was likened to the "Free George Jackson" campaign in 1984 after Brookside character George Jackson was falsely imprisoned for a warehouse robbery. In the story for Brookside, George served his sentence.