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Caroline Aherne (1963 - 2016)

Everett Collection

Caroline Aherne (1963 - 2016)

Caroline Aherne, an English comedian, actress, and writer, died of cancer July 2, 2016, at her home in Manchester, according to multiple news sources. She was 52.

Known best for the BAFTA Award-winning working-class comedy “The Royale Family,” Aherne played the role of Denise, a lazy, chain-smoking, self-centered, neglectful mother. Most episodes took place entirely in the small living room of her parents’ house as the family watched television, engaged in banal conversations, and bickered. She co-wrote the series, which lasted three seasons, from 1998 – 2000 and five specials between 2006 and 2012. She also directed many of the later episodes and specials.

She was born in Ealing, London, Dec. 24, 1963. The family moved to Manchester when she was 2. As a child, she suffered from a rare form of retinal cancer that left her partially sighted in one eye. She studied drama at Liverpool Polytechnic and later worked for the BBC as a secretary, where she met many of the comedy writers with whom she would later collaborate.

As part of the Manchester comedy scene, she created several broadly-drawn characters. One of these, the elderly Mrs. Merton, was featured on the television show “Upfront” in 1990. The character got her own faux talk show, “The Mrs. Merton Show,” which ran for four seasons from 1995 to 1998.

Her nosey, yet innocent-seeming character was known for her often insightful and humorously phrased questions, such as when she asked famous television magician Paul Daniel’s younger wife, Debbie McGee, “What first, Debbie, attracted you to the millionaire, Paul Daniels?”

“Just heard the very sad news about Caroline Ahearne she was wonderful especially as Mrs Merton. My interview will be a treasured memory RIP,” tweeted McGee.


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Aherne was also a member of the influential sketch-comedy show “The Fast Show,” which was known for its brisk pace and short sketches, some of which only lasted a few seconds.

She married musician Peter Hook of New Order in 1994, and he played with the house band on “The Mrs. Merton Show” until their divorce in 1996.  

A heavy drinker and smoker throughout the 1990s, Aherne and her romantic relationships were a frequent subject of British tabloids. In 1998, at the height of her popularity and success, but suffering from depression brought on by her drinking, she attempted suicide. She went to rehab but struggled to remain sober over the ensuing years.

Her next project was “The Royale Family,” based in part on her childhood growing up in Manchester in a working-class family. She won numerous BAFTA awards for the show, but grew disenchanted with celebrity and decided to no longer appear on camera following the end of the third and final season of the show in 2000.

Behind the scenes, she continued to write and create other shows. Eventually, she resumed her on-screen career in 2006 with “The Royle Family: The Queen of Sheba” special. It was the first of five one-off specials.

She also served as the narrator for the reality show “Gogglebox” which documented the humorous reactions of people watching television.

In 2014, she announced that she had lung cancer. It was her third cancer diagnosis, following her childhood retinal cancer and a later bladder cancer. But she faced this last challenge as she had so many others in life.

“If you can sort of separate yourself from it,” she said during her 2014 announcement, “a sense of humor, it really, really helps you, your family, everybody.”

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