Shirley Stelfox

Shirley Rosemary Stelfox (11 April 1941 – 7 December 2015) was an English actress, known for her portrayal of the character Edna Birch, moralising busybody in a Yorkshire village in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, and as Rose, sister of the snobby and overbearing Hyacinth Bucket in the first series of the comedy series Keeping Up Appearances.

Shirley Stelfox
Shirley Rosemary Stelfox

(1941-04-11)11 April 1941
Died7 December 2015(2015-12-07) (aged 74)
Years active1954, 1964–2015
Spouse(s)Keith Edmundson (1962–1965)
Don Henderson (1979–1997; his death)
Children1 (2 step)

Early life

Stelfox was born at Dukinfield, Cheshire on 11 April 1941. She suffered from bilateral amblyopia, which left her short-sighted. She studied at RADA, where her classmates included Edward Fox, John Thaw and Sarah Miles.[1] She was playing in pantomimes at the Old Chapel, Dukinfield, and in productions during the years of her study the town's Lakes Road secondary school.[2]



After the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art Stelfox started straight at the BBC in a play called The Case Before You in which she played a 15 year old arsonist - where the prompter did not respond to her long pauses. In December 1960, she appeared in her first episode of Coronation Street. She would later play many different characters in the world-famous soap opera, including, in 1983, running a dating agency in which one of her customers was the entrance cue for Jack Duckworth. She was the first actress to play Hyacinth Bucket's randy sister Rose in the first series of Keeping Up Appearances, but was later replaced by Mary Millar.[3] She appeared in several other well-known television series, including the successful Wicked Women, Making Out with Margi Clarke, Mrs Parkin in Heartbeat, - and Jean in Common as Muck, Juliet Bravo, Coronation Street, The Bill and Crossroads, and Inspector Morse, She played Jane Healy, Melanie Owen's mother, in an episode of EastEnders. She appeared in the short-lived series Albion Market. Stelfox had a long life in different soap operas, briefly appearing in Crossroads (as a police officer), Owen MD and Family Affairs. She had played in Brookside as Madge Richmond (1986–87), where she depicted two-timed the widowed pensioner Ralph Hardwick (Ray Dunbobbin), and in 1999 she appeared in two episodes of EastEnders as Jane Healy. Among many others of one-off parts, she played as Alice Hobson in Hobson’s Choice (1967), Helen in Civvies (1992), Julie Clegg in Three Seven Eleven (1993–94), Jean in Common as Muck (1994) and Mrs Nolan in Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married (1999-2000).[2]

Film roles

She made her debut on screen in David Lean’s 1954 romantic comedy Hobson’s Choice where she played together with Sir John Mills and Charles Laughton.[4] Stelfox played the mother of Julie Walters and Victoria Wood in the TV film Pat and Margaret (1994). But her best-known film role came as the "$2.00 Prostitute" in Nineteen Eighty-Four, a film adaptation of the George Orwell novel, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton. Somewhat typecast as a prostitute she played another in Terry Jones's comedy Personal Services (1987) based on the life of Madame Cyn, the brothel owner who entertained celebrities and politicians.


On the West End stage, Stelfox played Sue Lawson in Not Now, Darling (Strand theatre, 1968) and Phoebe in Toad of Toad Hall (Duke of York’s theatre, 1970).[2] Stelfox portrayed a stand-up comedian in Stand Up Sweetie Pie, directed by June Brown, the stalwart of EastEnders, who must have come across each other on set; it premièred in 1993 at the Nottingham Playhouse, rather than in the West End.[4] She played a role of spidery Regan in King Lear at the Ludlow Festival in 1972 and at the Connaught Theatre, played Lady Macbeth in 1973, Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1978 and Yelena in Uncle Vanya in 1974. [5]

Personal life

Stelfox was married to Keith Edmundson for 3 years. She had a daughter, Helena from this marriage. She later married actor Don Henderson in 1979 and they were together until his death from throat cancer in 1997.[6] They lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, where she helped raise two stepchildren. She moved to rural Nottinghamshire after Henderson's death.

Stelfox died on 7 December 2015, aged 74, four weeks after being diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.[7]


1968CorruptionGirl at Party
1971Nearest and DearestClara Wilson
1971Carry On at Your ConvenienceBunny Girl Waitress
1972BudgieThe Barmaid
1972Nearest and DearestDet. Constable Gloria Simpkins
1973Crown CourtMrs. Catherine Barnes
1980Juliet BravoMavis Newby
1981Play for TodayMrs. Smith
1981The Chinese DetectiveArlene
1983Coronation StreetMargot Sutcliffe
1984Nineteen Eighty-FourProstitute
1984BergeracPam Lewis
1984Bootle SaddlesRita Henderson
1986–1987BrooksideMadge Richmond
1987Knights of GodBeth Edwards
1987Personal ServicesShirley
1988Inspector MorseMrs. Kane
1989–1991Making OutCarol May
1990Keeping Up AppearancesRose
1992HeartbeatMrs. Parkin
1993–1994Three Seven ElevenJulie Clegg
1994Pat and MargaretVera
1994–1997Common As MuckJean
1995Harry's MadMrs. Turtle
1999The BillMrs Fowler
1999–2000Lucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMrs. Nolan
2000–2015EmmerdaleEdna Birch


  1. The Daily Telegraph, Thursday 10 December 2015, Obituaries [paper only], p.37
  2. Hayward, Anthony (9 December 2015). "Shirley Stelfox obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  3. "Obituary: Mary Millar". The Independent. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  4. Shirley Stelfox, actress - obituary Retrieved on 31 Jan 2018
  5. Shirley Stelfox: Character actress who was best known as the prudish spinster, busybody Edna Birch, in Emmerdale, The Independent. Retrieved on 31 Jan 2018
  6. "OBITUARY: Don Henderson". The Independent. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  7. "Emmerdale actress Shirley Stelfox dies aged 74". BBC News. 8 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
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