Rita was a nightclub singer in her youth, performing in spots including the Orinoco Club where she got to know manager Dennis Tanner. By 1972, she was the common-law wife of Harry Bates and mother of his children Terry and Doreen but left him that year for builder Len Fairclough. They were married in 1977 and lived at 9 Coronation Street before moving to No.7 in 1982. After just six years of marriage, Rita was widowed as Len died in a motorway accident. Rita's memories of her husband were forever tarnished when she discovered that he'd been seeing his mistress Marjorie Proctor at the time.
The Faircloughs became foster parents in 1981 and Rita continued to foster after Len's death. When she was asked to look after Jenny Bradley in 1986, Rita met Jenny's dad Alan and began a relationship with him that nearly cost Rita her life. In 1989, thuggish Alan secretly mortgaged Rita's house to pay for his business and assaulted her when she found out. Alan met his end in Blackpool when he was hit by a tram while pursuing Rita.
Rita married for a second time in 1992 to Ted Sullivan, a terminally ill man who died from a brain tumour three months later. Two broken engagements to Alec Gilroy and Colin Grimshaw followed before Rita's third marriage, to her old friend Dennis Tanner, in 2012. This was another short marriage as Dennis ran off with Gloria Price, leading Rita to divorce him.
Rita's pride and joy has always been The Kabin. From 1973 to 2009, Rita ran the newsagent, working first with Mavis Riley as her assistant, and later Norris Cole, who bought half of the shop from Rita in 2006 and the remainder in 2009, when Rita sold her remaining share after deciding to retire. Rita has since returned to work at The Kabin as a favour to Norris.
On her return in 1972 as Mrs Bates, Rita was living with Harry Bates, and his twelve-year-old son Terry. Terry was a pupil at Bessie Street School, where Ken Barlow was teaching. Rita made it obvious she was attracted to Ken, and it came to the attention of the headmaster, who told Ken to cool the relationship. Rita then began a relationship with Len Fairclough. When Len discovered that Rita hadn't really been married and that Terry wasn't her son, he soon cooled the relationship. Ironically, Ken was then told to end their relationship as she was a married woman.
Len was none too pleased when he found out she was married. When her marriage ended in violence, Rita leaned on Len and took a job singing in a nightclub. Len soon helped her set up a shop, The Kabin.
It was several months later, after Rita had left the Street, that Len, out for a night with Elsie and Alan Howard, saw Rita singing in a nightclub. This was the start of an on-off relationship which was to accumulate into a stormy eleven year relationship. In 1973, Len bought The Kabin, and installed Rita as manageress with the offer of the flat above it though she sometimes continued to sing, having been in the business since she was five when her mother entered her in a talent contest in Blackpool. By day, Rita worked behind the counter but was often frustrated by her assistant Mavis Riley. Nevertheless, they were very dear friends and Rita was sad to see her leave in 1997. The shop was originally at 14 Rosamund Street, but relocated to Coronation Street when a new building development took place in 1990.
Fiery Rita and stubborn Len faced a number of obstacles as well as breakups and makeups before finally marrying on 20th April 1977 after a five year on-off relationship. They'd already had one engagement in 1974, but broke it off. But this time Rita was going out of Len's life for six months on a singing contract to Tenerife.
A going away party was arranged for Rita. Len took her to the airport, but she never boarded the plane, and several weeks later they were married by special licence. In 1981, they were unable to adopt, due to their age, being too old, but for some time after much deliberation, took in a foster child, Sharon Gaskell in 1982.
Sharon enjoyed helping Len with the rebuild of No.7, as well as flirting with Brian Tilsley, to which both Rita and Brian's wife Gail didn't approve. However, Sharon stayed away from Brian after he told her that she was young and stupid. Depressed, she took a job as a kennel maid in Sheffield and after a sad farewell to Rita and Len, she left the Street.
Rita and Len may not have got on well at times, but Rita cared a lot about him. In December 1983, Len was killed after he fell asleep at the wheel of his van, which crashed into a bridge. The Street were celebrating the fortieth wedding anniversary of Hilda and Stan Ogden, which he was on his way to.
When Rita was told what had happened, she was devastated and her world turned upside down. Sharon returned to comfort her, and she was shocked to learn that Len had been having an affair. She tracked down the woman she was looking for - Marjorie Proctor - and the two mourned together.
As well as her three marriages, Rita has had three serious relationships, one with the violent Alan Bradley. In 1986, Rita took up fostering again, when Jenny Bradley, one of her paper girls lost her mother Pat in a road accident. She also met Jenny's missing father of eight years, Alan, who Jenny tried to reconcile with. Alan and Rita started a relationship, but Rita was unaware that Alan was also seeing Rovers barmaid Gloria Todd. She eventually found out about their affair and gave Alan an ultimatum. Alan chose Gloria, but Gloria changed her mind and ended their affair.
Alan and Rita eventually settled down to a peaceful relationship. Rita asked him to move into No.7 with her, after refusing his offer of marriage. In February 1989 Alan stole the deeds to Rita's house - which were in the name of her deceased husband, Len. He remortgaged the property for £15,000, and set up Weatherfield Security Systems in Curzon Street. There he started Dawn Prescott as a receptionist, but things began to go downhill when he tried to rape her.Dawn told Rita about the attack and about the letters that arrived in Len's name to the workplace. Rita discovered the fraud and on the night of Jenny's 18th birthday party, she confronted Alan at No.7. She told him that she had informed the building society about him and that he was about to go under. Alan went mad, hit her and tried to kill her by suffocating her with a cushion. She was saved by the return of Jenny and Martin Platt, who were concerned when she wasn't answering the phone.
Alan went on the run, but was captured some weeks later. At his trial he was given a two year sentence but was released as he had already served time in prison, and he walked out of the courtroom a free man. He started working on a building site opposite No.7 and began to stalk Rita, until eventually she had a breakdown and disappeared.
The Police suspected Alan had murdered Rita, and the site was dug up. Meanwhile, Bet and husband Alec found Rita singing at The Strand Hotel in Blackpool, where she had escaped to, but when Alan found out, he was furious and tracked Rita down. He followed her to Blackpool and found her in the street. He grabbed Rita and attempted to take her back to Weatherfield. Once Rita was in the car, Alan made his way round to the driver's side, but Rita jumped out and ran across the street. Alan gave chase. Rita avoided a tram but Alan didn't see it and was knocked down and killed instantly. As Rita turned and see Alan's body, her memory returned and she fell into Bet's arms, sobbing.
In 1990 Rita moved from No.7, letting the house to students, to flat 10a Coronation Street above The Kabin. She was pursued the next year by Reg Holdsworth, but she did not remarry until 1992, to Ted Sullivan. Rita met Ted at The Kabin; he was a sales rep for confectionery company Cartwright's. Shortly before their marriage, Ted confessed that he had a brain tumour. He died peacefully a few months later, sitting on a bench, watching a bowls game. Rita then abandoned plans to retire abroad, and decided to stay in the Street.
After Mavis left, Rita realised she needed another assistant for The Kabin as she couldn't cope on her own. In 1998, Rita took on Leanne Battersby, a cheeky teenager who Rita sees as a lot like herself at that age. Leanne soon became an asset to Rita, even though they didn't share the friendship and closeness that Rita and Mavis once shared. Their relationship fractured when Sharon Gaskell returned to the area. Leanne felt shut out and when she was falsely accused of stealing money, she quit her job to work at the Rovers.
After Leanne's departure, Rita briefly employed Blanche Hunt, but found her to be unbearable. She then hired Norris Cole. Fussy, gossipy, and judgmental, Norris and Rita had little in common, but they became friends.
In 1997, Rita became involved with Alec Gilroy, an old friend who had been her manager in her career as a night club cabaret singer, before her first marriage. In July 1998, Rita collapsed in her flat from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty gas fire that Steve McDonald had installed a few days previously. Luckily she was saved in the nick of time by Alec who was worried about her not turning up at the Rovers when she was supposed to.
Things took an unexpected turn when Alec, realising how he almost lost his best friend, proposed to Rita. After a few days, Rita accepted his proposal after initially turning him down. After a while they decided to live together and Alec had a connecting door installed between their two flats for easier access - much to the amusement of the other Street residents. In December 1998, Rita and Alec mutually ended their relationship when they realised that they couldn't trust each other. Alec left Weatherfield for good when he went to open up a wine bar in Brighton with his granddaughter Vicky.
Finally, Rita met Anthony Stephens, a cultured man who wanted to marry her. Rita soon learned he was still married, and that his wife Isabel had Alzheimer's. His grown-up children interfered in the relationship, and Anthony went to live in New Zealand.
Rita met Eileen Grimshaw's father Colin in December 2008. Colin was immediately attracted to Rita and he charmed her with presents; the pair soon hit it off. In February 2009, she admitted to Eileen that she really liked him and Eileen gave the couple her blessing. On 27th April 2009, Rita organised a party in the Rovers for Colin's 70th birthday. There he proposed to Rita, and she happily accepted.
The party was ruined by a vicious argument between Julie Carp and her mother Paula. Paula had no choice but to tell Julie, in front of everyone, that Colin was Julie's father, that he had had a relationship with Paula when she was only fourteen years old.
Rita was disgusted and immediately ended her relationship with Colin, refusing to hear his pleas and putting her engagement ring in The Kabin till. The support of Emily Bishop and Norris Cole helped her through. She told Norris that she felt incredibly silly and stupid. In spite of Rita's anger at Colin's actions, she visited him after he suffered a stroke. When she learned of his death, she initially chose not to attend his funeral, but changed her mind and showed up after the service to say her goodbyes and support his family.
As the twenty-first century unfolded, Rita began to have doubts about her future with The Kabin. In 2006, a break-in terrified her to the point where she was reluctant to leave her flat. In 2008, Tony Gordon convinced her to sell him The Kabin so he could replace it with a new business (the plans fell through when Kevin Webster would not sell his business). In 2009, Rita finally made the decision to retire after Ramsay Clegg's death spurred her to want to enjoy the rest of her life.
As Dennis Tanner returned to the Street, he and Rita became closer than ever. Dennis was all set to leave for a job at a DIY shop in Birmingham but had a change of heart and surprised Rita by not going and ultimately proposing. She accepted, and the couple married on 4th June 2012.
In December 2010, Rita was trapped in the Kabin when a tram crashed into the shop. She lay there for hours until it was discovered that Rita hadn't actually gone out that night but was actually trapped. Rita was rescued and the Kabin was rebuilt.
In 2011, Rita was reunited with former boyfriend Dennis Tanner, who was homeless. Rita took Dennis in and reintroduced her to Ken and Emily, and despite arguments from Norris, entered into a relationship with Rita. Rita and Dennis became engaged but thought he was cheating on her due to him secretly meeting Norma Fountain to help her threw a hard time. They eventually married despite Rita being kidnapped just before the ceremony.
Dennis left Rita with Gloria Price in order to return to the showbiz industry and as he felt trapped in the marriage, leaving Rita devastated. Although Dennis returned in April 2012, homeless again and in hospital. Despite his best efforts, Dennis couldn't win Rita back, so Dennis left Weatherfield.
In 2017, Rita started to forget things and even laid a place at the table for Ted, her dead husband. Rita was finally diagnosed with a brain tumour, the same thing which Ted died of, and her friends convinced her to go to get it removed, despite her reservations. In hospital, Rita reminisced about her life and her regrets - never having children and losing touch with Mavis. Gemma decided to rally friends - Ken, Audrey, Mary and Norris - around Rita, who made a full recovery from the operation and soon returned to the street and the Kabin.
Mavis RileySoon after The Kabin set up shop, Rita was asked to take on Deirdre Hunt, as her boyfriend, Len's partner Ray Langton, had initially wanted to buy the property. Rita refused, and instead hired Mavis, despite the fact she had been having hiccups during the interview.
Fluttery, shy Mavis and straightforward Rita were an odd mix, but supported each other through good times and bad and were close friends for nearly a quarter of a century.
In April 1997, Mavis's beloved husband Derek died on her birthday of a heart attack due to an road rage accident. Rita poured all her energy into Mavis's life in helping her cope with her grief. Rita persuaded Mavis to start a new life in the Lake District managing a Bed & Breakfast. Mavis agreed, and they made plans to sell their properties and The Kabin. At the last minute, Rita backed out and Mavis, anxious to get away from Weatherfield and her bad memories, went to Cartmel on her own.
Rita's Kabin assistant Norris Cole seemed to feel more for Rita than friendship, and proposed to her in 2007 (although she rejected his offer). A few years later, he was very jealous of her relationship with Colin Grimshaw.
In October 2006, Rita and Norris went on a holiday they had won to Hungary. Rita broke her toes whilst there and had to stay in hospital, while Norris returned. Rita returned in November to reveal that her foot was broken when Norris tripped her while trying to get to a bread bun first.
After Len's death, Rita eventually took in Jenny Bradley, a paper girl who had recently lost her mother. Rita and Jenny were initially very close, and Rita helped Jenny build a relationship with her long-absentee father, Alan Bradley. When Rita uncovered Alan's lies and planned to call the police, Jenny walked in on him trying to kill Rita. After Alan's acquittal, Rita disappeared, and Alan was suspected of killing her. When he tracked her down, he was hit by a tram. Jenny turned against Rita, blaming her for Alan's death.
In September 1993, Rita was pleased to see Jenny had returned out of the blue. Things weren't as they seemed though, as Jenny only came back to try and con some money out of Rita. But Rita saw right through Jenny, and gave her £1,000 and told her that she didn't want to see her again.
In March 1994, Rita felt lonely, so she started taking Sally Webster under her wing when Sally found out she was pregnant with her and Kevin's second child. Rita and Sally became very close - so close in fact that Sally invited Rita to spend a holiday in Blackpool with them. Sally wanted to make Rita see that her bad experience in Blackpool in 1989 with Alan Bradley was over with. To Sally's relief, Rita had a wonderful time there playing with Rosie.
When Sally gave birth to their second daughter Sophie, Rita was hurt to find out she was the last to know about it, due to an oversight. Rita later lent the family some money, but in 1995, when Kevin's father Bill returned to town, Sally and Kevin gave him the money to pay for taxes on his new business. Rita told Sally she'd given the family the money, not Bill, but Sally hit back that her family was not for sale. In spite of the friction, something of a bond remained, and Sally used Rita as a confidant during times such as her brief relationship with Martin Platt. In April 2009, when Sophie confessed to stealing sweets from The Kabin, Rita forgave her, praising her for her honesty and convinced her to just help clean the store as payment. Rita was shell-shocked when she, along with half of the Street, discovered that Sophie was a lesbian and was in a relationship with her best friend Sian Powers, but was one of the first to accept it and helped Sally to do the same.
Rita and Len fostered Sharon Gaskell in the early 1980s. Sharon was a tomboy who preferred working in the Builder's Yard to working in The Kabin. Rita tried to teach Sharon about self-respect when she decided to go on the pill so she could sleep with her boyfriend.
A few months later, Sharon was moved to a new foster home, but ran away to be with Rita and Len again. They got permission for her to stay with them until she turned eighteen. Unfortunately, she became infatuated with Brian Tilsley, who kissed her while he was drunk. When wife Gail found out what had happened, he lied that nothing had gone on, and she believed him. Rita confronted Sharon, who told Rita she was a hypocrite for talking about dalliances with married men and Rita slapped her. Reality also gave Sharon a slap, as Brian told her she was just a young and stupid girl. Sharon got the message and backed off. She became too humiliated to stay in Weatherfield, and moved to Sheffield to work as a kennel maid.In 1999, Rita received a wonderful surprise when Sharon returned. She had come by to visit Rita to invite her to her wedding in Nottingham. Rita persuaded her to hold the ceremony in Weatherfield. However, in March the wedding didn't take place as Rita had discovered Sharon's fiancé Ian Bentley was two-timing her with the new landlady of the Rovers, Natalie Barnes. Happy that Sharon decided to stay around after the wedding fiasco, Rita offered Sharon a job at The Kabin and Alec Gilroy's old flat. Sharon happily accepted. Much to the horror of Leanne Battersby, and a few others of Rita's friends, Rita offered The Kabin to Sharon as a birthday gift. Rita admitted to Sharon that she was lonely, that was why she offered her The Kabin. Her gesture was a living legacy from a woman who always looked upon Sharon as the daughter she never had. Rita was happy to pass on her experience knowing that The Kabin would be well looked after in years to come.
Rita's pride in Sharon soon turned to anger when Sharon, after a suicide attempt over Danny Hargreaves, revived her relationship with Ian. Making matters worse, Ian forced Sharon to sell The Kabin so they could buy a home in Bolton. Rita swallowed her pride and bought The Kabin back.
Rita also met up with her old friend Doreen. She had invited her to move into her flat which followed Doreen's eviction, much to the chagrin of disapproving Norris. While she and Doreen initially got on, enjoying reminiscences of the old days, Doreen outstayed her welcome, claiming that the council were delaying completion of works to her flat. Rita, who had come to the end of her tether, phoned Weatherfield Council pretending to be Doreen, and found out that the works were long since completed. After Rita confronted her, Doreen packed her bags and left Coronation Street, however she soon returned after being persuaded by the most unlikely of people - Norris.
Role in the community
Rita would often take part in events as a singer.
- Rita's absence from September 2009 to March 2010 was due to actress Barbara Knox taking time off for health reasons.
- During her singing career she was known as the 'Weatherfield Nightingale".
First and last lines
"Got your eyeful?" (First Line to Stan Ogden)