Rita Sullivan

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Rita Sullivan
Coronation Street character
Portrayed by Barbara Knox
Duration 1964, 1972–
First appearance 2 December 1964.
Introduced by Tim Aspinall (1964)
Brian Armstrong (1972)
Coronation Street: The Cruise (1995)
Coronation Street: A Knights Tale (2010)
Rita & Me (2014)
Classification Present; regular
Occupation Businesswoman
Home 10a Coronation Street

Rita Tanner (née Littlewood, previously Bates, Fairclough and Sullivan) is a long-standing fictional character in the UK television ITV soap opera, Coronation Street. Portrayed by actress Barbara Knox, the character first appeared on screen on 2 December 1964 for one episode, the character returned full-time on 31 January 1972.[1]


Rita Littlewood first appears for one episode on December 2, 1964 as an exotic dancer and a friend of Dennis Tanner (Philip Lowrie). She reappears over seven years later in January 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 becomes Rita Fairclough when she and Len marry in April 1977. In March 1982, they take in foster daughter Sharon Gaskell (Tracie Bennett), who leaves at the end of the year. Len is killed in a car accident in December 1983 and Rita is devastated to learn he had been having an affair. In January 1986, Rita takes in another 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 March 1989, 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 in December 1989 Alan tracks her down and tries to make her return to Weatherfield, but he is run down by a tram and killed in the attempt.

In 1992, she becomes Rita Sullivan when she marries Ted Sullivan. The marriage only lasts three months, as he dies from a brain tumour. When Rita collapses in her flat in July 1998 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. 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), she turns him down.

Rita invites Tina McIntyre (Michelle Keegan) to live with her when she is made homeless. Rita is shocked when she bumps into her old friend Dennis. 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 in June 2012, 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 is not very happy when Dennis decides he wants to be in the music industry again, so he contacts his old friend Ritchie de Vries (Robin Askwith). She feels insecure when Gloria Price (Sue Johnston) also decides to tag along with the whole idea, and becomes very close with Dennis, and the pair begin flirting. Rita begins a rivalry with Gloria, and when Dennis tries to look young again, Rita isn't very pleased. When they are in The Rovers, Dennis calls Rita "old", telling her that Gloria is ten years younger than her. Rita subsequently throws Dennis out of their house, so he sleeps at Gloria's. The next day, Rita has finally forgiven Dennis for his horrible insult, but when they are in the Bistro having a Valentine's Day meal, Gloria can't help but intervene and tells Rita that Dennis slept at her house the night before. Rita is furious and throws Dennis out again. Just as it seems that Rita and Dennis will live happily ever after, when Gloria announces she is leaving, Dennis decides to leave with Gloria at the last minute. He waves goodbye to Rita from Gloria's car as they drive out of the street and laughs. Rita looks on hurt and embarrassed in front of her friends. Dennis and Gloria don't last long and he returns to the streets when she finishes with him, this results in him having a trip to hospital which Rita finds out about. On visiting Dennis in hospital, Rita tells him that she cannot forgive him for what he has done but offers him her sofa until he can sort himself out. Sometime after living together Dennis begs Rita to take him back, she declines advising him that their marriage is over for good and the sooner he goes the better.


Prior to 2006, Knox was reportedly the highest paid actress with the show, until Anne Kirkbride began to earn more.[2] 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 .[2] 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.[3] Knox was temporarily written out of the serial in August 2009 for health reasons.[4]


The producers of the show decided to pair Rita with Mavis Wilton portrayed by Thelma Barlow by giving Mavis a job in Rita's corner shop; the characters' relationship has been described as a chalk and cheese comedy partnership. Christine Geraghty has cited Rita and Mavis' friendship as an example of a soap opera portraying an important, stable, intimate female relationship: "Rita is Mavis's boss, but she is also one of her closest friends".

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.

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.[5] 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!"[6] 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?"[7] Collinson later revealed Rita and Dennis would get married and their wedding would coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.[8]


At The British Soap Awards 2004, Barbara Knox was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her portrayal of Rita.[9] At the 2006 ceremony saw Knox and Malcolm Hebden, who plays Norris, win the award for "Best On-Screen Partnership."[10]

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