The funeral service takes place today for Kathy Staff who played Nora Batty in the BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine and starred in over 700 episodes of ITV soap Crossroads as cleaner Doris Luke.

Kathy Staff in Coronation Street, Granada Television for ITV.

The small town of Dukinfield, Greater Manchester, is expected to be brought to a stand still today as the funeral for one of its biggest names takes place.

Kathy Staff who was born in Astley Street, as Minnie Higginbottom in 1928, will be laid to rest only a few streets away at St Marks where she was an active member of the church.

The Reverend Alison Cox told BBC News in Manchester that both St Marks and Kathy’s family had been overwhelmed by messages of support; with phone messages, cards and emails from all over the country offering condolence. The church staff have braced themselves for a large turnout of fans for the funeral, which will be held at 12.45pm today.

Ronnie Barker and Kathy in Open all Hours, BBC One.

“We’ve been very struck by that and we are expecting large numbers of people at the funeral,” Rev Cox told the BBC. She added: “I can’t really start to imagine what life is going to be like without her.”

Kathy Staff made her stage debut aged four in the St Marks Christmas pantomime. After a secretarial course she joined the National Gas and Oil Engine Company Limited where she joined their amateur dramatics group. Aged 21 she joined a touring repertory company and while starring in a show in Wales she met her future husband John.

Kathy and John Married – at St Marks – on August 18th 1951 and five years later she quit work to become a housewife and mother, looking after daughters Katherine and Susan.

In 1960 Staff was lured back into show business by old theatre co-star Gerald Harper and in 1962 began a successful broadcasting career with a small role in the film A Kind Of Loving. Her big television break came courtesy of Yorkshire Television in 1969 when they cast her in their new serial Castle Haven – which was set in a block of flats. She played Lorna Everitt opposite Roy Barraclough as her on-screen husband. The show lasted a year.

Kathy with Brian Wilde, Bill Owen and Peter Sallis in Last of the Summer Wine, BBC One.

Ten parts in Coronation Street followed as did a small role in Emmerdale Farm. In 1973 she joined new sitcom Last of the Summer Wine where she was honoured with speaking the shows very first words. “They’re takin’ his telly again.”

Other sitcom parts follow, including the grumpy Mrs Blewitt in Open All Hours alongside Ronnie Barker and David Jason. Serious drama was also part of her forte with parts in A Family At War, Follyfoot and Within These Walls proving popular with viewers.

In 1978 Kathy joined Crossroads as a regular cast member, remaining for seven years and nearly 800 episodes. She reprised the role of cleaner Doris Luke for a further 300 episodes between 2001 and 2002, many other television and film roles are also credited to the actress, but it’s as battle axe Nora Batty in Last of the Summer Wine that most will remember her for.

Kathy Staff in Crossroads, ATV Network for ITV.

Below are a few of the tributes sent to the Crossroads Appreciation Society:

A raw and rich talent that will never be replaced… She gave us some of the most memorable moments of comedy and drama.

Thanks very much Kathy for all the laughs summer wine will never be the same with out you.

Kathy Staff was great as Nora but her favourite role to me, was Miss Doris Luke in the original Crossroads, Miss Luke spoke her mind but had a heart of gold.

I felt a real pang of grief when I read of her death, she was wonderful in both Crossroads and Last of the Summer Wine.

It’s funny, but only yesterday morning I was sorting through my 1980s Crossroads collection, and looking at lots of the episodes, many of which featured Doris.

Kathy was a lovely, natural actress – and a charming, down to earth lady. My sympathy to her family and friends.

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