Mavis initially joined the Kabin in 1973 after spending two years at the Mark Brittain Warehouse as a clerk. Following a temporary move with her parents to Grange-over-Sands, she was re-hired at the Kabin and balanced her work there with nursing her bed-ridden auntie Edie Platt. Mavis finally escaped her overbearing relative in 1977 when she moved into The Kabin flat, where she led a quiet life with her pet budgie Harriet.
Mavis was to remain at the Kabin for over two decades, chiefly thanks to her strong friendship with the newsagent's manageress Rita Littlewood. Confident and glamorous, Rita took the shy spinster under her wing and a bond was formed. The 24 years they worked behind the counter together weren't without their lows; a born fusspot, Mavis often tested Rita's patience with her indecisiveness while Rita frequently took Mavis's loyalty for granted. Mavis longed to break out of her shell and in 1997 she retired to Cartmel to run a bed and breakfast.
There were few men in Mavis's life, and those who did show an interest, namely Jerry Booth, Derek Wilton and Victor Pendlebury, were just as dithering as Mavis and romance struggled to blossom. After a ten-year on/off relationship, Mavis and Derek were finally married in 1988, their second wedding day after a disastrous 1984 date in which neither the bride nor bridegroom had showed up at the church. Two years later, the Wiltons became the first owners of 4 Coronation Street, where the pompous couple regularly fell victim to the practical jokes of neighbour Des Barnes.
Mavis's move to Carmel came six months after Derek's sudden death from a heart attack. Finding it difficult to remain in Coronation Street without him, Mavis left Weatherfield for Cartmel where she remains to this day.
1937-1973: Life before the Kabin
Mavis Riley was born on 7th April 1937, to Tom and Margaret Riley. Growing up as an only child in a strict Methodist household, Mavis was a shy and sensible girl who was strongly attached to her parents. She was educated at Weatherfield Girls High School, leaving in fifth form as her mother believed that girls didn't need to be educated in order to make good wives.
Mavis's life eschewed the traditional route set out for her. After leaving school, she worked at her parents' off-licence in Weatherfield, though she herself was teetotal. Years of mostly shop and secetarial work followed, with Mavis continuing to reside at her parents' house.
In 1971, the Mark Brittain Warehouse opened in Coronation Street and Mavis gained employment there as a clerk in the wages office. That August, she attended a party at the Community Centre celebrating the engagement of her supervisor Emily Nugent and Ernest Bishop. Mavis was secretly bitter that Emily had found a man despite being even older than she was, but it wasn't until Ena Sharples persauded her to switch to gin that all her insecurities came flooding out, with a tipsy Mavis disparaging Emily for flaunting herself "like a latter day Rita Hayworth".
In fact, Mavis and Emily had a lot in common and were close enough that Mavis was invited to her wedding in April 1972. At the reception, Mavis met a kindred spirit in Jerry Booth, a local builder, and allowed him to monopolise her on the dancefloor. Though both wanted to take things further, Jerry didn't pluck up the courage to ask Mavis out until the following June, when he took her to the Rovers Return and they learned about each other over a pint and a pineapple juice. Mavis told Jerry that she didn't enjoy her job at the warehouse and was waiting for another opportunity to present itself. Sympathetic, Jerry arranged an interview at newsagent The Kabin, where Rita Littlewood was looking for an assistant. On the day, Mavis was so nervous that she gave herself hiccups and bolted from the shop mid-interview whilst Rita was dealing with a customer. Fortunately, Rita overlooked this and decided to give Mavis a chance.
1973-1975: Jerry and the Spaniards
And so began a life of early starts and over-the-counter gossip. Mavis and Rita were of a similar age but couldn't be more different; Rita was sexy, assertive and sarcastic, and Mavis initially found her intimidating. Over time, Rita became protective of Mavis and tried to build her up to be stronger, though Mavis's hysteria and indecisiveness did get on her boss's nerves at times.
Jerry continued to take Mavis out occasionally and Mavis hoped that a proposal was coming. At the end of 1973, Mavis's parents sold the house as they prepared to retire to Grange-over-Sands, leaving it up to Mavis whether to go or stay. Mavis expounded her dilemma to Jerry during a date at Mario's Italian restaurant, hoping that it would prompt him to declare his true feelings. However, trying to be a gentleman, Jerry did not influence her one way or the other, giving Mavis the impression that she wasn't important to him. Mavis decided that a casual relationship wasn't enough to keep her in Weatherfield and left for Grange-over-Sands early in the New Year.
Mavis found Grange-over-Sands boring and by early April she was back in Weatherfield working as a vet's receptionist. Her mother's sister Edith Platt had taken her in at 23 Jubilee Terrace and let her live there rent-free in exchange for looking after Mavis's predominantly bed-ridden relation. Auntie Edie was also tyrannical and manipulative, and was a burden to Mavis. Inevitably, Mavis bumped into her old friends again, including Jerry, and they resumed their relationship.
In July, Mavis had a row with the vet and resigned. A short spell at the Corner Shop followed which ended when the owner Maggie Clegg handed the reins over to the Hopkins family, who sacked Mavis for being surplus to requirements. However, her old job at the Kabin had just become vacant, and Rita eagerly re-employed her.
Mavis and Jerry's tepid romance hit a major snag when Jerry's ex-girlfriend Sheila Crossley visited the area. She was now married, but Jerry had never got over her and at a party at the Bishops', Jerry got drunk and gave a rambling speech to all the guests, including Mavis, about how much Sheila meant to him. Mavis saw Jerry as pathetic, and began to distance herself from him.
In October, Mavis and seven other Coronation Street women flew to Majorca on holiday after winning a "Spot the Ball" competition. There, she left her friends open-mouthed by going off with a Spanish nightclub worker, Pedro Diaz, and spent virtually her entire vacation with him. As they said goodbye to each other, Pedro declared his undying love for Mavis, but she knew that it was just a holiday romance and had no expectation of seeing him again. She was therefore astonished to receive a call from Pedro a month later saying that he was in the area and wanted to meet up. At the rendezvous, "Pedro" was revealed to be Carlos, a mild-mannered Spanish neighbour of Bet Lynch who had been put up to making the call by Bet and Ray Langton to humiliate Mavis. Regretting his part in the prank, Carlos came clean and took Mavis for a meal to make amends.
Mavis took a shine to Carlos and broke a date with Jerry to go out with him, at one point leading to a misunderstanding that she had two Spaniards on the go. After Christmas, Carlos suddenly asked Mavis to marry him. It was the first proposal Mavis had received and, fearing that it would be her only one, she accepted it. However, when Carlos began to rush her, explaining that he needed a work permit, Mavis realised that he was only using her to stay in the country and turned him down. Carlos then walked out of her life, leaving Mavis heartbroken.
In August 1975, Mavis tried out computer dating using the alias "Mavis Armitage". Without knowing her identity, Ken Barlow requested a date and they had a delightful meal at the Roebuck Inn. Her next pairing was Brian Collett, a foundry worker whose odd behaviour left Mavis so frightened that she went into hiding until Rita got the story out of her and dispatched Jerry to track Brian down and give him the once over. Jerry obliged, still caring deeply for Mavis, and found Brian to be a harmless and lonely man. Two months later, Jerry died from a heart attack.
In 1983, her life changed, when not one, but two, men wanted to marry her. She wanted both of them, but had to choose between Victor Pendlebury or Derek Wilton. In the end she choose Derek, but jilted him at the altar as she wasn't convinced of the strength of her feelings for him. Her guilt at having done this turned to indignation when she learned that Derek had jilted her too, as he felt the same.
However, Mavis finally decided Derek was the man for her. When Mavis finally said "I do" to him in November 1988, she meant it. Her marriage to Derek was an unusual one - the other residents of Coronation Street looked upon them as something of a joke, but neither cared as they had each other. They would spend evenings reading aloud to each other from the newspapers and discussing the events of the day.
Their happiness was cut short in April 1997, when Derek died suddenly. Mavis was quick to hit out at his funeral at the people who had considered them a joke, saying that they had loved each other and that was all that mattered.
Mavis surprised Rita when she suggested that they should go into business together. They discussed the possibility of running a guest house in Cartmel, a town in the Lake District. Rita went along with this for a while, but both realised it was a bad idea - as Rita said "We'd end up throttling each other before t'week were out." Mavis went ahead with the idea, bought the guest house, and Mavis and Rita had an emotional farewell, ending a partnership of twenty-five years.
Rita visited Mavis in 1998 and 1999 at her home in Cartmel, and they holidayed on a cruise together in 2002. Emily stayed with Mavis in July 2004. In 2012 Rita attempted to visit Mavis, but was pulled over for speeding by a colleague of Kirsty Soames who was trying to get Tina McIntyre into trouble. Rita took a weekday break in February 2015, to visit Mavis who had recently lost nine pounds from a diet. In September 2017, Rita told Gemma that she wished she invested more in her relationship with Mavis since she left Weatherfield as they currently only exchanged birthday and Christmas cards.
Creation and casting
The role of Mavis was initially a bit part, debuting on 11th August 1971 as a tiddly guest at Emily Nugent and Ernest Bishop's engagement party. She was next seen at the Bishops' wedding over two episodes in April 1972. In all three appearances, she was credited as "Miss Riley".
Born in Middlesbrough in 1929, Thelma Barlow came from a non-theatrical background. She'd been working as a secretary in Huddersfield when she joined a speech and drama course at night school. Her first experience of rep was with the Joan Littlewood Theatre Group, based in Devon. Barlow spent most of her career on the stage before breaking into radio and, eventually, television, in serials such as Vanity Fair. She was asked to audition for the part of Miss Riley after someone from Granada saw her perform at the Liverpool Playhouse.
Arriving at Quay Street studios for her first rehearsal, Barlow found the experience terrifying, recalling in a 1990 interview: "My first day was frightening because there was nowhere to sit. Nobody told me where the green room was and I walked around... sat about the set looking for somewhere to sit and eventually got into a corner with the script and Doris [Speed] came in and she said "Good morning" and then she walked away. [A] little later [she] came back and said, "do you think I could have my chair, love?"" (Des O'Connor Tonight, Thames Television, 1990)
The Kabin and Rita
Barlow accepted a full-time contract in 1973. In her first appearance as a regular in Episode 1292 on 4th June, her character rekindled her friendship with Jerry Booth, following on from their meeting at the Bishops' wedding, and was given a first name.
It was in her second week that Mavis was hired as Rita Littlewood's assistant at The Kabin newsagent, where she would remain for the next 24 years. Mavis and Rita became one of Coronation Street's most enduring and popular double-acts. On the relationship, co-stars Helen Worth: "It was one of those things where she could say what she wanted about Mavis, but nobody else could." And Sally Dynevor: "I loved Rita and Mavis. I think it's because Rita is so strong and Mavis is so weak but together they just work so brilliantly." (Both quotes from Rita & Me, ITV Studios, 2014) Thelma Barlow felt that the downtrodden nature of her character helped endear her to the audience: "I think Mavis's popularity was down to her vulnerability, really. All the teasing and leg pulling that went on from other characters brought out the protective side in the audience." (Fifty Years of Coronation Street, Headline Publishing Group, 2010)
Barlow was absent from the programme for three months in the first quarter of 1974 until she signed a new contract. She continued to act elsewhere when time permitted, taking several weeks off in 1988 to appear in a Chekhov play.
The death of actor Graham Haberfield on 17th October 1975 meant that his character Jerry Booth had to be written out. After a suitable gap, writers introduced a new love interest for Mavis in the form of sales rep Derek Wilton. The role went to Peter Baldwin, who had acted with Thelma Barlow in repertory some twenty years earlier, most notably in restoration drama The Way of the World at Bristol's Old Vic Theatre in which they played a married couple, despite never actually sharing the stage. Baldwin, who had remained friends with Barlow, later lodged at the boarding house she and her husband ran for fellow actors. When Baldwin joined Coronation Street in 1976, Barlow was told that someone she'd previously lived with had been cast before she knew the identity of her screen partner. (This Morning, ITV, 19th July 2012)
Derek wasn't a full-time part at first; Peter Baldwin's initial contract was for two weeks. He was seen in ten more episodes in 1976, clocking up 33 total appearances by the end of 1979. Derek was portrayed as a dithering but selfish character, turning up at Mavis's door when it suited him. According to producer Bill Podmore, the writers didn't like the idea of Derek as a regular character: "Many thought Derek was acceptable only in small doses, and believed his indecision would be a source of unbearable irritation if it became a permanent feature." (Coronation Street: The Inside Story, Macdonald & Co, 1990).
In 1984, Derek was brought back from a two-year hiatus for what would be his longest stint to date. Podmore planned for Mavis and Derek to marry and a wedding was planned but in the end he was persuaded not to go ahead with the union - a decision he later regretted: "I allowed myself to be talked out of a marriage between Derek and the twittering spinster, Mavis Riley, played so beautifully by Thelma Barlow. I felt almost immediately that I had made a mistake." (Coronation Street: The Inside Story). The wedding went ahead but with the bride and groom standing each other up. Nevertheless, the storyline allowed Thelma Barlow to take centre stage, which she relished: "I think the public reaction was about 30 percent marry Derek, 30 percent marry Victor [Pendlebury] and 40 percent don't marry either of them! It was fun because Mavis doesn't often hit the big headlines or anything like that. She's just consistently there." (The Coronation Street Story, Boxtree Ltd, 1995) On Mavis's wedding attire: "I sat down and designed the dress, went out and bought the material, took it to the dressmakers and had it made up. Then I chose that Princess Diana hat." On not wearing white: "She would just have been too worried what people would say, though in her heart she would love to have floated down the aisle as a virgin bride." (Both quotes from Coronation Street, Octopus Books Ltd, 1985)
Bill Podmore rectified his mistake four years later, handing Peter Baldwin a full-time contract in 1988. Mavis and Derek were then married on 9th November that year. Podmore: "I overruled some scriptwriters when I brought dithering Derek Wilton in on a regular basis." (Coronation Street: The Inside Story) One writer who supported Podmore's decision was Adele Rose: "We thought it was natural. They were both complete ditherers anyway and they were just made for each other. They were the opposite of Len and Elsie: Mavis and Derek together were even stronger than as separate units and we got a huge amount out of that marriage." (50 Years of Coronation Street: The (very) Unofficial Story, JR Books, 2010)
In her marriage to Derek, Mavis had to become a stronger woman to curb her husband's excesses. Barlow: "I always say she came in as a mouse but she ended up as a shrew, because he just needed giddyupping all the time." (This Morning, ITV, 19th July 2012) On the growth of her character: "She has changed over the years - how could she not, working with someone like Rita Fairclough?" (Coronation Street) Mavis and Derek was often sent up by their neighbours, particularly Des Barnes: "Derek and Mavis were figures of fun a lot of the time – people don't always recognise that those who are quiet and unassuming can have more to offer than people who make a lot of noise about life. Once they got together, it was those two against the world – they took strength from and supported one another." 
By 1995, Thelma Barlow was thinking about moving on. She signed her last contract with Coronation Street in 1996 and asked not to be killed off (The Mirror, 22nd May 1997). Barlow: "I thought I'm getting on so if I'm ever going to do any other work but this I'd better go.... I think it was that I thought I'd done it for so long and loved it for so long and I ought to just risk again and go out into the big world and see what happened." (Open House with Gloria Hunniford, Thames Television, 10th December 1999)
A side-effect of Thelma's departure was that her screen husband, Peter Baldwin, was told that he would be written out. Carolyn Reynolds: "Thelma wanted to leave. We talked to the writers and everybody felt that they didn't want Derek on his own and if Mavis was going, Derek should go too." (50 Years of Coronation Street) Producer Sue Pritchard made the final decision but the news was broken to a stunned Baldwin by Pritchard's replacement Brian Park on his first day in the job. Park: "The feeling was that Derek and Mavis had had their day" (The Sunday Mirror, 21st December 1997) The decision greatly upset Barlow, who said in an open letter paying tribute to Baldwin on his death in 2015: "It was a cruel blow to Peter, and to me and to the Street really, as Derek was such a popular character .
Tabloids reported on Thelma Barlow's resignation on 22nd May 1997, six weeks after Derek was killed off on-screen. Due to the timing of the announcement, it was popularly believed that she had quit in protest of Peter Baldwin's sacking. Park: "No. The fact was that Thelma Barlow was leaving before Peter Baldwin. She'd announced she was leaving and that was one of our prime [reasons] to kill off Derek. A little-known fact and I'm never quite sure where that story came from that she resigned." (50 Years of Coronation Street)
Other appearances and parodies
In 1995, Mavis was featured in video spin-off Coronation Street - The Feature Length Special along with Rita, Alec Gilroy, Curly Watts and Raquel Watts, produced for the 35th anniversary. Thelma Barlow has not played Mavis since 1997 but the actress carried out narration duties on the programme Gail & Me - Forty Years on Coronation Street in 2014.
In the early 1980s, Mavis became known for the phrase "I don't really know" due to a famous parody by Les Dennis and Dustin Gee on Russ Abbot's Madhouse, in which Dennis played Mavis and Gee Vera Duckworth. Barlow: "Suddenly everywhere I went people were doing Mavis impersonations. There was no escaping it. Little boys would shout it at me when I walked past, and once I was walking up Dean Street in Manchester and this huge great articulated lorry slowed down next to me and a big burly trucker leaned out and shouted "I don't really know" at me in the most effeminate voice possible. It was hilarious - although I doubt Mavis would've approved!" (Fifty Years of Coronation Street) In 2015, Dennis, now playing Michael Rodwell in Coronation Street, "reprised" the character of Mavis in the programme's Text Santa sketch, naturally uttering the famous catchphrase.
First and last lines
"Excuse me." (First line, to Ena Sharples)
"I hope you will be too." (Final line, in response to Rita Sullivan's wish that she'll be happy in her new life)