Barbara Knox as Rita Sullivan (2009)
|Coronation Street character|
|Portrayed by||Barbara Knox|
|First appearance||2 December 1964|
|Introduced by||Tim Aspinall (1964)
Brian Armstrong (1972)
|Coronation Street: A Knights Tale (2010)|
Exotic dancer/Singer (1964–72)
|Home||10a Coronation Street|
Rita Tanner (née Littlewood, previously Fairclough, and Sullivan) is a long-standing character in the UK television ITV soap opera, Coronation Street. Portrayed by Barbara Knox the character first appeared on-screen during the episode airing on 2 December 1964.
Rita is initially introduced in a one-off appearance as Rita Littlewood, an exotic dancer, and a friend of Dennis Tanner (Philip Lowrie) in December 1964. She reappears over seven years later, in May 1972, calling herself Rita Bates, as she is the common-law wife of Harry Bates (William Simons), and is living with him and his son, Terry (Steve Barratt). She is attracted to Terry's teacher, Ken Barlow (William Roache), but becomes romantically involved with Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) when her relationship with Harry ends in violence.
Rita takes a job singing in a nightclub, and goes on to open The Kabin, a corner shop. She and Len marry in 1977. They are unable to adopt due to their age, but take in a foster child, Sharon Gaskell (Tracie Bennett) in 1982. Len is killed in a car accident in December 1983, and Rita is devastated to learn he had been having an affair. Rita takes in a new foster daughter, Jenny Bradley (Sally Ann Matthews), and meets her estranged father Alan (Mark Eden). She begins a relationship with him, unaware he is also seeing Gloria Todd (Sue Jenkins), a barmaid at the Rovers Return Inn. When Rita discovers his infidelity, she insists he choose and although Alan chooses Gloria, Gloria doesn't feel the same and ends their affair. Alan is also a conman and re-mortgages Rita's house to start a security business. He hires Dawn Prescott (Louise Harrison) as a receptionist and tries to rape her. Rita learns about the attack and Alan's fraudulent activities and reports him to the building society. In retaliation, he tries to suffocate her but fails and is found not guilty of attempted murder. He starts stalking Rita, who has a breakdown and escapes to Blackpool but Alan tracks her down and tries to make her return to Weatherfield, but is run down by a tram and killed in the attempt. Almost 27 million viewers tuned in to see the episode which was broadcast in 1989.
Rita meets her second husband, Ted Sullivan (William Russell) at the Kabin; he is a sales rep for a firm of sweet manufacturers. Shortly before their marriage, Ted admits that he is dying of a brain tumour. Rita abandons plans to retire abroad and decides instead to stay in the Street. Their marriage lasts three months, before he dies in her lap on a park bench. When Derek Wilton (Peter Baldwin), the husband of Rita's best friend, Mavis (Thelma Barlow) dies in April 1997, Rita convinces Mavis to start a new life managing in a bed and breakfast in the Lake District. Rita changes her mind at the last minute, however, and Mavis leaves alone. Following Mavis's departure, Rita makes friends with Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson), who reminds Rita of herself at the same age. She takes Leanne under her wing and employs her at The Kabin.
When Rita collapses in her flat from carbon monoxide poisoning, she is saved by her friend, Alec Gilroy (Roy Barraclough). Realising how close he came to losing his best friend, Alec proposes to Rita. She initially turns him down, but later changes her mind and accepts. Their relationship ends several months later when they realise they cannot trust one another.
Sharon returns to the Street in 1999, inviting Rita to her upcoming wedding. Rita discovers, however, that Sharon's fiancé, Ian Bentley, (Jonathan Guy Lewis) is cheating on her with Natalie Barnes (Denise Welch), landlady of the Rovers. Sharon ends the relationship and stays in Weatherfield, beginning work at The Kabin and moves in next door to Rita. Rita offers Sharon The Kabin as a birthday gift, much to Leanne's dismay as she and Sharon don't get on and after Sharon accuses her of stealing money from the till, she leaves to work at the Rovers and is cleared when Rita finds the money Sharon accused Leanne of stealing but Rita is devastated when Sharon reconciles with Ian and puts the Kabin up for sale. She buys back her business, cutting Sharon out of her will.
Rita meets Anthony Stephens (John Quayle), a cultured man who wants to marry her. However, Rita discovers Anthony is married and his wife has severe Alzheimer's disease. His children interfere in the relationship and when his wife dies, Anthony emigrates to New Zealand. When Rita clips Chesney Brown (Sam Aston) around the ear for repeatedly stealing sweets from her shop, his mother Cilla (Wendi Peters) dramatises the incident and has Rita arrested for assaulting a minor. Rita is found guilty and ordered to pay £500 in damages, plus £500 court fees. She verbally abuses the magistrates and is held in contempt of court and sentenced to a night in the cells. Cilla blackmails Rita into paying her £3,000, prompting Rita to put The Kabin on the market and prepare to leave Weatherfield. Cilla's partner Les Battersby (Bruce Jones) talks Cilla out of her scheme, and Rita decides to stay.
In 2006, Rita takes in Stacey, a local woman who tried to con Fred Elliott (John Savident) by pretending to be a Thai bride named Orchid. She had previously conned a man named Stuart (Duncan Preston), who locked her in his flat for days at a time and inflicted physical violence on her. Stuart traces her to Rita's home and breaks in, destroying her property. He threatens Rita, and though he is arrested, Rita decides to move house. Rita later moves in with her old friend Doreen Fenwick (Barbara Young), and although they initially get along well, Doreen outstays her welcome. Rita is proposed to by her friend and co-worker Norris Cole (Malcolm Hebden). When she turns him down, he proposes to Doreen, though later retracts his proposal. Rita decides to sell The Kabin to businessman Tony Gordon (Gray O'Brien) in 2008, though ultimately does not go through with it. She begins a romance with Colin Grimshaw (Edward DeSouza), becoming engaged to him in April 2009. She calls off the engagement when she discovers he fathered a child with a fifteen-year-old, but mourns him following his sudden death a month later. Rita sells The Kabin to Norris in September 2009, deciding to take a world cruise.
She returns on 15 March 2010 and starts working in a charity shop with close friend Emily Bishop (Eileen Derbyshire), but finds it boring and doesn't like it when Emily won't have a laugh with her. She later apologises to Emily for her erratic behaviour. A few weeks later, Rita learns of Audrey Roberts's (Sue Nicholls) romance with hired escort Lewis Archer (Nigel Havers). Rita books Lewis to take her out to the theatre and is soon swept off her feet by his charm. When Audrey discovers that Rita has been using Lewis's services she has a blazing fight with her.
She returns to work in The Kabin and invites Tina McIntyre (Michelle Keegan) to live with her when she is made homeless. One night in December 2010, Rita plans to meet Doreen but Doreen cancels and Rita goes to The Kabin to get some chocolates. Just as she is doing this, she is knocked to the ground by an explosion from 'The Joinery' Bar and then a tram falls off the viaduct, crashing into The Kabin, trapping Rita under rubble, a bay of metal shelves and scattered merchandise. Norris and Emily do not start a rescue mission for several hours as they believe Rita is safe with Doreen - until Nick Tilsley (Ben Price) arrives back from the hospital. He says that he saw Rita returning to the Kabin at six o'clock and Norris immediately implores fire-fighters to begin a search for her. When she is found and told that the mayhem was caused by a crashed tram, Rita remarks, "What is it with me and trams?" in a humorous reference to Alan Bradley being hit by a tram, 21 years previously. In hospital, an exhausted Rita is found to have only minor injuries with cuts and bruises, she eventually makes a full recovery.
Rita is shocked when she bumps into her old friend Dennis, whom she has not seen since 1964, on the Street. As he has since fallen on hard times and is living as a homeless person, he is highly embarrassed when Rita recognises him, and he runs off. She later approaches Dennis at the soup kitchen and takes him to the Rovers to meet old friends Ken and Emily. Rita develops feelings for Dennis and tells Tina. Dennis feels guilty about living off Rita, and she supports him in his attempts to find a job, but becomes depressed when he gets a job in Birmingham. Rita tells Tina that she loves Dennis and Tina reveals that he feels the same about her. When Rita returns home, she finds Dennis waiting for her. They declare their love for each other and Dennis proposes. On her wedding day, Rita is kidnapped by loan shark, Rick Neelan (Greg Wood). He threatens to throw her into the canal, if Tina does not give him a bag of drugs, which she had seized earlier in the day. Tina hands over the bag and the police arrive to arrest Rick. Rita is taken to the registry office and she marries Dennis.
Rita supports Tina when she agrees to be a surrogate for Gary Windass (Mikey North) and Izzy Armstrong (Cherylee Houston). Tina confides in Rita numerous times about the surrogacy, and Rita is highly concerned when Tina goes into premature labour at The Rovers. Rita and Dennis meet Tommy, the Windasses and the Armstrongs at the hospital, where Tina gives birth to a little boy, who Gary and Izzy decide to name "Jake". He is put on a ventilator, which devastates Gary, Izzy and Tina. Tina begins to develop maternal feelings for the boy, and decides to keep him and raise him as her own son with Tommy. Tommy disagrees with the idea and confides in Rita, who says he should stand by her decision. He does so, but Tina's decision leads to a feud between Tina and the Windasses. Rita is present when Gary's angry mum Anna (Debbie Rush) slaps Tina for taking the baby, who Tina decides to name Joe, after her late father, and Stella Price (Michelle Collins) scolds Anna. Rita begins to wonder whether Tina has made the right decision, and when she tries to talk to her, Tina shouts at her, Tommy and Dennis and runs off. Tina soon brings Joe home and decides to hold a welcome home party for him at the Rovers. While Tina is working behind the bar, Tracy Barlow (Kate Ford) makes many snide comments about Tina's surrogacy battle, which leads to Tina throwing a glass of wine in Tracy's face. Tina also shouts at Rita for being too nosey and tells her, Tommy and Dennis to leave her alone. Rita decides to go and find Tina, who has been spotted at the Red Rec by Marcus Dent (Charlie Condou), and he tells Rita where he saw her. While at the Red Rec searching for Tina, Rita is targeted by a gang of youths who push her about and insult her age. Eventually, the youths physically attack Rita, pushing her over and running off with her belongings. Tina, Tommy and Dennis race to the Red Rec to find Rita, where they catch her sitting on a bench, distraught. Tina apologises repeatedly to Rita. When the police arrive to question Rita about the attack, it proves difficult for Rita to tell the story, so the police agree to come back when Rita is in a better state. Rita is later contacted and told that the youths have been captured and arrested.
Prior to 2006, Knox was reportedly the highest paid actress with the show, until Anne Kirkbride began to earn more. Knox's salary is £260,000 which producers pay to keep her in a secure future with the series. In April 2010 a spokesperson for Coronation Street announced that Knox has a job for life on the show and that she will continue to play her character Rita for as long as she wants to be there . In January 2009, it was speculated that the character was going to be axed from the show in a bid to save money but this was later denied by a show spokesman.  Knox was temporarily written out of the serial in August 2009 due to health reasons.
In September 2009, Knox took a break from the show due to ill health and returned on 15 March 2010. Her character Rita, was said to be on a world cruise with friend Doreen Fenwick, after selling her share of The Kabin to Norris Cole.
Relationship with Dennis Tanner
In May 2011, a Daily Mirror reporter announced that Rita and Emily Bishop (Eileen Derbyshire) would become love rivals, following Dennis Tanner's (Philip Lowrie) return. Lowrie hinted at a possible relationship between Dennis and Rita, saying "I asked Barbara Knox, who plays Rita, how many husbands has she had? She said three, so there might be a fourth, you never know!" Rita and Dennis begin a relationship and series producer Phil Collinson stated "Rita genuinely loves Dennis very much. Their storyline harks back to 1964, when he looked after her and took her in. Now he's grown to love her because she's been able to look after him. I like that we can tell a love story of people in their 70s, and it's a relationship that we're really committed to. I'd love for Rita to have a wedding, so watch this space! And if we did have one, she'd be Mrs Tanner - how great is that?" Collinson later revealed Rita and Dennis would get married and their wedding would coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
At the 2004 British Soap Awards Barbara Knox was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her portrayal of Rita. The 2006 ceremony saw Knox and Malcolm Hebden, who plays Norris, win the award for "Best On-Screen Partnership."
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