He was the bad boy ladies’ man who was a fixture on the Coronation Street cobbles for 30 years.
Tributes have flooded in for Johnny Briggs , who played Mike Baldwin on the soap, who has died aged 85 after a long battle with illness.
The star, whose rivalry with arch-enemy Ken Barlow gripped the nation, after making his debut on the show in 1976 stayed in the role until 2006.
After leaving Briggs won the British Soap Award for Lifetime Achievement in May 2006 and was made an MBE in the 2006 New Year Honours list.
Bill Roache, who plays Ken, said: “As an actor, Johnny was impeccable, always good, and I was so fortunate to have worked with him for so many years,” he said. “He was a strong character who will be greatly missed.”
John Whiston, head of ITV in the north, was also full of praise.
He said: “For years Johnny was right at the centre of the show, playing the part of Mike Baldwin and bringing to the role huge energy, dynamism, professionalism and credibility. When Mike was in a scene it was very hard to look at anyone else.
“And it was that charisma which made him irresistible to the women of Coronation Street, and to viewers.
“He truly was one of the most iconic characters the Street has known.”
Briggs was born on September 5, 1935 in Battersea, London, the son of carpenter Ernest and mum Rose.
In 1947, at the age of 12, he won a scholarship to the Italia Conti Stage Academy. That year he made his first professional appearance as a boy soprano with the Italian Opera Company in London.
The following year he appeared in the hit film Quartet and made several stage appearances before becoming a stage hand at the Windmill Theatre.
He did his National Service in Germany with the Royal Tank Regiment. Afterwards, he joined the High Wycombe Repertory Company.
By 1960 he had become a TV and stage regular, with parts in The Avengers, and Dangerman.
He also appeared, during this period, as a lorry driver in Corrie and as a taxi boss in Crossroads.
Briggs subsequently appeared in scores of films, alongside Norman Wisdom, Dirk Bogarde, Tommy Steele, Benny Hill and Dick Emery.
The actor married Caroline Sinclair in 1961 and had two children.
The couple divorced in 1975 and the same year he married schoolteacher Christine Allsop, a marriage which produced four children.
But it was his role as baddie Mike Baldwin that cemented his fame and caught the public’s imagination…sometimes a little too much.
Writing in his autobiography about Baldwin sacking Hilda Ogden as his cleaner, he said: “I was shopping in Sainsbury’s one day when a woman hit me over the shoulder with an umbrella, screaming, ‘You’re a mean pig. Give her back her job!’
“I was laughing my head off, thinking, ‘Right – my character is really getting across.’ But in the end I had to do a runner to the car park as this woman kept chasing me, wielding her brolly and obviously determined to do me some real mischief.
“The shop was in uproar with customers standing open-mouthed witnessing nasty Mike Baldwin getting his come-uppance and a taste of his own medicine.
“As I fled the shop she continued to run after me, screaming abuse and yelling at the top of her voice.”
Undoubtedly his biggest storyline was Baldwin’s affair with Deirdre Barlow with 20 million viewers watching the episode in which Ken and Deirdre were reconciled.
After leaving the cobbles, he made appearances in Miss Marple and Holby City as well as in pantomime at Manchester.
An avid golfer, he owned a second home in Florida since 1992.
The actor would fly out for the winter enjoying the sun as he played golf with friends.
A statement from his family said Johnny died peacefully after a long illness.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our father, Johnny Briggs,” the statement said.
“He passed away peacefully this morning after a long illness, with family by his side. He was 85.
“We politely ask for privacy at this time, so that we can quietly grieve as a family and remember the wonderful times we had with him.”
The Coronation Street Twitter account paid tribute, saying the Baldwin character was “one of the most iconic the Street has ever known”.
His character’s death, of a heart attack and having suffered from a form of Alzheimer’s, was watched by 12 million viewers.
It was described as an “historic moment in the Street’s history”.
The underwear factory boss died in the arms of Barlow, his nemesis.
Coronation Street star Helen Worth, who plays Gail Platt, was among those paying tribute.
“I am very sorry to hear the sad news,” she said in a statement.
“I have many happy memories of working together with Johnny.
“Mike Baldwin was one of the street’s most memorable characters.”
We wish Johnny’s family all our condolences.”
Antony Cotton, who plays Sean Tully in the soap, tweeted: “Johnny Briggs was a complex character, on and off screen, and we all adored him.
“Feel lucky that I got the chance to work with him in the factory. I am, and will always be, a Baldwin’s Casual.
“Night night Mr Baldwin, I’ve left you a bottle of Scotch in the filing cabinet.”
Sue Nicholls, the soap’s Audrey Roberts, said Briggs was “a truly great actor”.
“He played the part of Mike Baldwin so well that, despite all Mike’s ducking and diving, you were always on his side.
“Although he left the show 15 years ago he will always be part of the Street and its history. I send my love and condolences to his family,” she said.
It was such a talking point that the electronic scoreboard at Old Trafford – where Manchester United were playing against Arsenal – informed the 56,000 football fans: “Deirdre and Ken united again!”
But him and Roach’s on-screen rivalry was never matched off the set.
“The only time I want to smash him for six is on the golf course. Now there really *is* rivalry there. And I get a special thrill if I can put one over him then,” Briggs said.
When in the area he would often drink at British Pub & Eatery when it was owned by former BBC radio host and fellow Londoner, Alan Gold.
The bar provided a home away from home for Briggs serving traditional fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.
Briggs would often be found sat on a barstool surrounded by pictures of Lady Diana and the royal family.
Gold had also put up a picture of a soap legend who sat around other diners oblivious to who he was.
Neighbours of Briggs at his Hudson home – some 45 miles north of Tampa – knew of his illness last March.
Next door to the star’s blue bungalow, which he rented out during the summer months, old pal John Feminella, said: “We’d not seen Johnny for some time. We knew he was not well.
“I’ve known him for decades. Always a great great guy.
“I used to tease him about his accent and he always took it in good humour.
“No one here knew just how big of a star he was in the UK and I think he liked that.”
Briggs was one of six of the longest-serving cast members who gathered together to celebrate Coronation Street’s 50th anniversary in 2010.
He said at the time that despite the long service of many actors, it was Weatherfield pub the Rovers Return which was the show’s biggest name.
Briggs said: “The true strength of the Street is that there isn’t a star.
The star of the show is the Rovers. People come and go and the show still carries on.”
He also returned to the show for a one-off appearance in 2012 for the “Text Santa” charity appeal set up by ITV and BBC One to support UK-based charities during the Christmas period.
Briggs led the tributes to Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow in the show for four decades, following her death in 2015, saying she was “worth an Oscar”.
He insisted that for the funeral of his former on-screen lover “the streets of Manchester should be closed to traffic and she should get a standing ovation”.