Emmerdale actress Paula Tilbrook has passed away aged 89.
The soap legend was best known for playing show regular Betty Eagleston on the long-running ITV programme for 21 years from 1994.
Paula passed away peacefully from natural causes surrounded by her family in December, and her death was announced on theatre industry website The Stage on Wednesday afternoon.
Sad news: Emmerdale actress Paula Tilbrook has passed away aged 89
According to Entertainment Daily, her family said in a statement: ‘The family of Paula Tilbrook are sad to confirm the peaceful passing of their beloved Paula.
‘She died of natural causes a few months ago at home with her loved ones beside her. The family respectfully requests privacy at this difficult time.’
As well as her love of gossip, Betty was best known for her relationship with Seth Armstrong, who was played by the late Stan Richards, who passed away in 2005 aged 74.
Betty was last mentioned on the soap in February this year when she rang Laurel Thomas (Charlotte Bellamy) to inform her that her father-in-law, Sandy Thomas – played by Freddie Jones, who passed away in July 2019 aged 91 – had died.
On-screen love: As well as her love of gossip, Betty was best known for her relationship with Seth Armstrong, who was played by the late Stan Richards, who passed away in 2005 aged 74
Paula took on the role of Betty in 1994 and left the ITV programme in 2015, before returning for a cameo the same year.
Paula’s character Betty left the soap after finding love down under and planning to move away to Australia permanently.
She returned to the Dales to inform her friends that her short-term stay in Australia would now be forever after falling in love.
Paula was delighted with her exit storyline and told Digital Spy at the time:
Announcement: Paula died in December and the sad news was announced on theatre industry website The Stage on Wednesday afternoon (pictured in 2015)
‘I’m absolutely overawed by it. I’m over the moon and I fill up every time I think about it! I don’t think we do this very often.
‘I did ask our producer, bless her, not to have me murdered because I was fed up of murders! It’s a very, very dangerous place to be – you’re better in the Bronx than in Emmerdale village!
‘She said, ‘Oh no, of course I won’t’ – and she hasn’t. It’s a proper ending and it’s a happy one. Who doesn’t like a happy ending?’
When she retired in 2015, Inside Soap magazine remarked of her final episode: ‘Funny, feisty and smart as a whip. They don’t make ’em like actress Paula Tilbrook any more!’
She previously appeared in short stints on Coronation Street, playing Estelle Plimpton in 1977, and Derbyshire pub landlady Olive Taylor-Brown in March 1980.
What’s more, she starred as a third character, Vivian Barford, in March 1991 and July 1993, and played a customer on the cobbles in 1967 and 1973.
As well as soaps, Paul also appeared in TV series Tales of the Unexpected – which was based on short stories by Roald Dahl – in 1979, and she was dog-lover Mrs Tattersall in popular sitcom Open All Hours.
Acting was Paula’s ambition from a young age after starring in Jack at Jill at Sunday school, she recalled: ‘Something came from the audience that I will never forget – approval and warmth. It was love from that very second. I was hooked.’
Paula attended stage school in Manchester from the age of 11 where she perfected her craft, taking singing, dancing and acting lessons.
She then dipped her toes into the world of repertory theatre, where she took a job as a stage manager in Colwyn Bay, Wales.
However Paula put her acting ambitions on hold when she met her late husband Leslie Hall and they welcomed a son, Greg, and a daughter Gaynor.
Paula paused her career to bring up her kids and told the Emmerdale Companion: ‘I would never allow anyone else to bring them up,’ she said, ‘so I stayed at home.
She added: ‘But I joined a couple of amateur dramatics societies because there was something missing in my life without it. Once the children had started school, I eased back into acting.’