Emmerdale‘s Shirley Stelfox, village busybody Edna Birch in the rural saga, has died at the age of 74 following a short battle with cancer.
The star’s agent announced earlier today (8 December) that she died at home yesterday morning with her daughter, Helena, by her side.
“The family here at Emmerdale are deeply saddened by Shirley’s passing, it is hard to imagine the show without her. We offer our condolences to Shirley’s family and share our feeling of loss with the millions of viewers who will miss Edna enormously” – Emmerdale Executive Producer, John Whiston
The RADA-trained actress made her first appearance on ITV as the religious hat-wearing Edna in 2000, though it was implied the character had lived in the village for some time prior. Edna frequently cast a disapproving eye over the antics of fellow villagers, however Stelfox has defended her moralising on-screen counterpart over claims that she is a ‘gossip’ once noting in an interview “Gossips are people who talk behind people’s backs and that’s the last thing Edna does. She gives it to them straight between the eyes.”
In those early days, Edna established firm friendships in the village with Betty Eagleton (Paula Tilbrook), Jarvis Skelton (Richard Moore) and Len Reynolds (Peter Martin). As storylines progressed Edna’s troublesome granddaughter Eve (Raine Davison/Suzanne Shaw), sister Lily (Anne Charleston), and nephew Peter Birch (Philip Bird) were all introduced for a time, with Peter initially assumed to be her son until Edna admitted that he was in fact Lily’s son whom she had adopted him as a baby. Peter rejected Edna when the truth emerged.
Edna was involved in a hit-and-run incident in 2004 with Sam Dingle (James Hooton) being the culprit responsible for sending her flying over a bridge. She worked for the Kings as their PA on-and-off for many years primarily at their haulage firm, becoming particularly close to Tom King (Ken Farrington).
Other plots saw Edna fall into financial hardship and reveal that her late husband, Harold, had married her out of ‘convenience’ to hide his homosexuality. Home Farm owner Lawrence (John Bowe) was later revealed to have been Harold’s lover. Edna is also known for having a canine companion with an emotional storyline that saw Batley, the character’s first on-screen pooch, put to sleep winning Best Exit at 2002’s British Soap Awards.
“Awful news about Shirley Stelfox. A wonderful lady and Outstanding Actress. She taught me so much. RIP. X” – Emmerdale director Duncan Foster (@duncanfo)
“My beautiful dear friend Shirley. How I’ll miss you and the laughs that we had together.” – Co-star Tom Lister who played Carl King (@tomlister)
The actress is also remembered for playing the character of Rose in Keeping Up Appearances with the part later being taken over by Mary Millar. A wealth of other TV credits includes Crossroads, Common As Muck, Civvies, Making Out, Pat & Margaret and Hope & Glory. In film Stelfox played opposite John Hurt in 1984 and with Julie Walters in Personal Services. Her stage work includes Not Now Darling at The Strand, Toad Of Toad Hall at The Duke of York’s and Cavalcade at Chichester Festival Theatre.
She was twice-married to Keith Edmundson and actor Don Henderson, the latter from 1979 until his death in 1997. Edmundson is the father of her daughter Helena while she helped to raise Henderson’s two children Louise and Ian.
Pictured Top: Shirley Stelfox as Edna Birch in Emmerdale, Pictured Middle: A montage of Edna memories and Pictured Bottom: Shirley as the original Rose in BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.