From saucy stage role to TV's female cop… Sarah Lancashire's journey

From saucy stage role to TV’s toughest female cop… Sarah Lancashire’s long journey to Happy Valley

As Sergeant Catherine Cawood, she has millions of viewers on tenterhooks ahead of this Sunday’s Happy Valley finale.

And for Sarah Lancashire, the gritty role in BBC1’s crime drama has marked a change of pace from the characters that made her a household name.

The Oldham-born actress, 58, is perhaps still best known for playing barmaid Raquel in Coronation Street, but has had a varied career since leaving drama school.

Her first major role, as a beauty contestant in swimwear and high heels, was on stage in 1986 in Manchester Library Theatre Company’s The Beauty Game.

Stage role: Sarah Lancashire (centre) in The Beauty Game in 1986

Road to fame: Lancashire with Bill Tarmey as Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street in 1986

Actor: Lancashire with Mark Wingett in The Bill in 1991 and back in the Rovers as Raquel in 1994

She then had a fleeting appearance in Coronation Street as Jack Duckworth’s prospective lodger, and also in an episode of The Bill, before returning to Corrie as Rovers Return barmaid Raquel, becoming one of the ITV soap’s best-loved characters.

Her character left the Street in 1996, walking out on hapless husband Norman ‘Curly’ Watts. Ms Lancashire said that quitting was ‘like jumping off a cliff at midnight’ but her desire to pursue other kinds of acting led to roles as a nurse in ITV’s Where The Heart Is, as a factory worker in BBC1 drama Clocking Off and as a lawyer in the BBC comedy series Chambers.

She signed a deal with ITV worth a reported £1.6million, which saw her star in an adaptation of D H Lawrence’s novel Sons And Lovers. A return to theatre saw her appear in the West End in musicals Guys And Dolls and, in 2011, Betty Blue Eyes.

Versatile: With James Fleet and John Bird in Chambers in 2000, and with Rupert Evans in Sons And Lovers in 2003

Talent: On stage in Betty Blue Eyes in 2011 and in Last Tango in Halifax in 2014 

Cooking up a cliffhanger: As a TV chef in Julia in 2022 and as cop Sgt Catherine Atwood in Happy Valley 

Ms Lancashire then starred in BBC1 comedy drama Last Tango In Halifax, which would run until 2020. It was written by Sally Wainwright, who also created Happy Valley, which first aired in 2014.

Before filming the final series of the crime drama, Ms Lancashire, who is married to TV executive Peter Salmon and has three children, began playing TV chef Julia Child in the HBO series Julia.

Happy Valley has gained a cult following in the US through Netflix. Fans there and in the UK are gearing up for an explosive final episode, with a trailer suggesting a fiery showdown between Sgt Cawood and villain Tommy Lee Royce, played by James Norton.

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