Date of Birth: 29 Jully 1933, Childham, Sussex, UK
Birth Name: Peter Francis Baldwin
Nicknames: Peter Baldwin
Peter Baldwin played the accident-prone chocolate novelty salesman Derek Wilton in ITV’s long-running Coronation Street and with his dithering on-screen wife Mavis (Thelma Barlow) became one of the comic mainstays of the serial when humour was an innate part of its popular appeal.
But in 1997 Baldwin was abruptly written out when a new producer, Brian Park, sacked him on his first day in the job as part of a wholesale purge of ageing male characters. Thelma Barlow was reportedly so upset by the removal of her on-screen partner that she resigned after more than 25 years in the cast.
“The Street is currently being terrorised by a smiling axeman,” complained the critic Victor Lewis-Smith. “Apparently it doesn’t matter that this is a first class soap, superbly scripted and flawlessly performed by a seasoned repertory company.” Baldwin himself was distraught. “The feeling was that Derek and Mavis had had their day,” he recalled.
For 21 years Baldwin had played Derek as a lovable if wimpish buffoon with the lightest of comic touches as he toyed with Mavis’s emotions. By the time they finally wed, the oddball couple were already middle-aged, and in the absence of children lavished their affections not only on each other but also on Mavis’s pet budgie and a pair of garden gnomes named Arthur and Guinevere, one of which became the subject of a notable comic plotline when it was stolen and a piece of its ear sent to Derek in a matchbox.
Baldwin made his Coronation Street debut in 1976 when, as a shy travelling salesman, he called in to the Kabin corner shop in the fictional Weatherfield to ask directions from Mavis Riley, the mousy spinster behind the counter. In the course of his stuttering 12-year pursuit of Mavis, Derek married his boss’s daughter Angela Hawthorne, while Mavis entertained a proposal of marriage from Derek’s rival Victor Pendlebury.
In 1984 Derek and Mavis became engaged, only to jilt each other at the church door. But in 1988 their romance was rekindled in a classic scene in which Derek, on his hands and knees, proposed to Mavis through the Kabin letterbox. Once married, they became one of the programme’s most enduring and eccentric double acts until Derek was written out, suffering a fatal heart attack in a road-rage incident in April 1997.
The elder of two sons of a primary school headmaster, Peter Baldwin was born on July 29 1933 at Chidham near Chichester in West Sussex. Taking an early interest in the stage, when he was 12 his parents gave him a toy theatre as a Christmas present which inspired a lifelong enthusiasm.
Leaving Chichester High School for Boys, he did his National Service in the Army before enrolling at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Baldwin worked in various repertory companies before joining the West of England Theatre Company at Exmouth in Devon in 1960 in a production of Congreve’s The Way of The World, appearing opposite Thelma Barlow for the first time and sharing a house with her and other members of the cast.
After a spell with the BBC Repertory Company, Baldwin made his television debut in 1969 in ATV’s Girls About Town, created by Adele Rose, a regular Coronation Street writer. In 1976, while appearing in The Browning Version at the Kings Head Theatre in London, he was invited by Granada Television to audition for the part of Derek Wilton. Another actor from the same agency had been asked but was unavailable, and Baldwin went in his place.
For the next 12 years he featured intermittently in Coronation Street while making other television appearances including the miniseries Goodbye Mr Chips (1984) and Bergerac (1987). He was playing Mr Birling on the West End stage in An Inspector Calls (Westminster Theatre, 1987) when he was asked back to Coronation Street, and offered a long-term contract as a regular character.
During periods of unemployment as a jobbing actor, Baldwin worked at Pollock’s Toy Museum in London and from 1980 managed Pollock’s traditional toy shop in Covent Garden. After the death of Benjamin Pollock in 1988, he took over the ownership of the shop and, as a recognised expert on 19th-century toy theatres, published a history of the genre, Toy Theatres of the World (1993).