Irma (formerly Freda) Barlow (née Ogden) was a Coronation Street resident in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The eldest of Stan and Hilda Ogden's children, Irma married Ken Barlow's footballer brother David in 1965 and the couple ran the Corner Shop together until 1968, when they emigrated to Australia. Their son Darren was born there later in the year.
In 1970, the Barlows were involved in a car crash which only Irma survived. Irma returned to Weatherfield and bought into the Corner Shop, working there with co-owner Maggie Clegg. In 1972, Irma sold her share and moved to Wales, deciding to leave Weatherfield behind for good.
Bubbly, cheeky and down to Earth, Irma had a rocky relationship with her quarreling parents and hoped for a better life than theirs. After her move to Wales, she stayed out of their lives. On the day of Stan's funeral in November 1984, Hilda received a telegram from Irma in Canada where she had now chosen to settle down and start afresh.
1946-1965: Early life
Freda Ogden was born on 28th September 1946, the eldest child of Stan and Hilda Ogden. Freda was like her parents in some ways, less in others; the Ogdens lived in near-poverty as neither parent brought in much money and lazy Stan was a heavy drinker and was occasionally violent to his family. Nevertheless Hilda was dedicated to Stan and stood by him but Freda was sick and tired of his excuses and in 1961 left home, having had enough.
In 1964, Stan, working as a long-distance lorry driver, tracked down Freda, now having changed her name to Irma, to Weatherfield, where she had taken on jobs at the Corner Shop and Rovers Return Inn in Coronation Street after being a machinist at Elliston's Raincoat Factory. Irma's brother Tony and sister Sylvia had been taken into council care, but Stan swore he had changed and bought a house in the street, No.13, promising a fresh start for the family. Irma had her doubts but moved into the house with Stan, Hilda and her younger brother Trevor.
At Christmas, Irma went out with footballer David Barlow, who was in town visiting his family. The Ogdens approved of David because of his money, but Irma found out David was suspended for accepting a bribe - which he was later cleared of. David returned to play, but when he came back permanently, retiring from football, he took Irma out again, having been impressed that she had stood by him during the bribe fiasco. Irma liked David; he was steady and reliable. He and his brother Ken were successful though Ken thought the Ogdens were too common.
1965-1966: Marrying David
David popped the question to Irma during a trip to the Blue John Mines. Irma immediately accepted, flattered that somebody like David would be interested in her. However, their engagement wasn't a bed of roses as when David didn't like Irma excluding him when she went dancing. Irma didn't like his reaction and returned the ring, but they made up when David apologised.
As traditionally the bride's father paid for the wedding, Stan was panicking about the cost, but they eventually got married in secret at Ridgeway Road Registry Office, tired of their families taking potshots at each other. David's footballer friends acted as witnesses. Their families and friends found out and surprised the couple by showing up after the wedding and holding a surprise reception.
David and Irma looked forward to a well-off new life in Cheshire, but while playing football, David was injured and the doctor told him his football days were over. The Barlows couldn't afford the house they were interested in anymore and had to remain at 17 Attlee Street where they had been living for a while. When Lionel Petty announced he was moving, Irma convinced a reluctant David that they should buy the shop - David had higher aspirations than living in Coronation Street and buying the shop would be as much as accepting a mediocre lifestyle. Irma talked him round as no other work was coming his way.
By 1966, Irma was getting bored with the shop. She and Lucille Hewitt got jobs as machinists at the new PVC factory across the street, leaving poor David with Hilda as his new assistant. Irma found the work hard going and kept burning the plastic and she was warned by works manager Jack Benjamin, who told her to work faster or she would be sacked. After blowing up her machine, Irma was moved to folding plastic, which she was better at, but she soon got fed up with the factory and went back to the shop.
Irma was friends with Ken's wife Valerie, and the two sometimes went out. Flirty Irma enjoyed the attentions of Ron Jenkins and Brian Thomas when she and Valerie went to the cinema. Ron tried to make a date with Irma and stole her compact, refusing to give it back until she agreed to a date. Realising she had put her foot in it, Irma introduced Ron and Brian to Ken and David, scaring them off.
1967-1969: Baby talk
In 1967, Irma told David she wanted to have a baby in two years. Irma got pregnant but miscarried after four months - David was keen to try again but Irma was convinced her miscarriage meant she couldn't have children. David held out, hoping Irma's decision would change over time but looked into other options for them, including fostering, which they pursued, fostering Jill Morris for a few days over Christmas.
David still had his ambitions of a better life, preferably in football, and went on to manage the all-woman Weatherfield Hotspurs. Irma didn't like the thought of David working with so many women and joined the team but was terrible at football and quit.
In 1968, even David was getting bored with the shop and was interested in playing football for a team in Australia, considering himself recovered from his earlier injury. Irma didn't want to live in a foreign country but was talked round by David and the couple sold the shop to Les and Maggie Clegg.
1970-1998: Life after David
The Barlows' new life came to an end in 1970 when a car crash took the lives of both David and Darren. Bookie Dave Smith loaned the Ogdens £600 for Hilda to fly to Australia and bring Irma home. Irma soon found herself back in the shop when Stan bought a 30% share using money the residents had raised for him to pay Dave back. Irma worked at the shop to pay Dave back the money herself and after a few weeks Dave asked her out. Irma accepted for the fun of it but put an end to the relationship when she found out that as stake for the £600 Dave had acquired the deeds to Stan and Hilda's house.
Having apparently moved on from her grief rather quickly, Irma moved into the shop flat with Bet Lynch. However, Irma was suffering from depression and when reminded of her losses she got confused and kidnapped toddler Anthony Lock from outside the post office, thinking he was Darren.
Irma continued seeing men, including Billy Walker and Joe Donelli. Joe had killed Steve Tanner in 1968 but got away with it, and confessed the murder to Irma, telling her he would kill her if she told anyone. The next few weeks were hell for Irma as she lived in fear of what Joe would do. Ultimately he took Irma hostage in the shop flat, holding a pair of scissors to her throat. Joe eventually shot himself inside Minnie Caldwell's house after Stan volunteered to replace Minnie as his hostage.
Irma had moved to Canada by 1984, where she sent Hilda a telegram of condolence after Stan's death. While Hilda was pleased with it, Trevor argued that she should have attended the funeral. Vera Duckworth had also passed comments about Irma's absence.
Irma was born into a low income family and quickly learned to rely on herself after leaving home at fifteen. She was usually responsible in matters of work and money and instinctively dealt with hardships by herself, preferring to muddle through silently rather than ask for help. She was also frequently pessimistic and prone to sulking when things didn't go her way.
Most of the time, however, she was bubbly and friendly, always on the lookout for a good laugh. Her desire to simply enjoy life drove many of her pursuits, although it also meant she was easily bored and often flighty. Her personality attracted her to the apparently desirable lifestyle as the wife of footballer David Barlow, as the experience of being raised by Stan and Hilda showed her the kind of life she didn't want.
Family and friends
Upon their arrival in Coronation Street in 1964, Irma saw little of her mischievous brother Trevor and nothing at all of Tony or Sylvia. She lived with parents Stan and Hilda until 1965, when she moved in with David. Her relationship with Stan had suffered from years of enduring Stan's drunken, and often violent, behaviour as a little girl, which Hilda had put up with as she tried to keep the family going. As a teenager and twentysomething, Irma knew that Stan wouldn't change his layabout, workshy ways and most of the time was simply bored of his excuses.
Irma got on well with Hilda most of the time, but often joked about Hilda's loud, usually public, ranting either at Stan or on his behalf against others. Hilda was hurt when Irma broke off contact in the 1970s and never visited.
Hobbies and interests
Irma played one of the ugly sisters in the Street's production of Cinderella. At the Rovers Christmas concert in 1969, Irma was Hylda Baker to Bernard Butler's Cynthia. At a fancy dress party at the Mission in 1966, Irma was a Flapper girl.
- Irma first appeared in Episode 326 on 27th January 1964, five months before her parents Stan and Hilda Ogden were introduced. Sandra Gough remained in the programme until 1968 when her screen husband Alan Rothwell quit his role as David Barlow, and Irma was written out with him. In 1970, then-Producer June Howson wanted to bring the couple back and, when Rothwell declined an invitation to return, brought Gough back herself, and David was killed off to explain his absence.
- In her debut episode, dialogue credits her as Irma Smedwick.
- In 1971, Sandra Gough abruptly left the series, requiring scripts to be hastily rewritten and Janet Barlow to replace Irma in an upcoming storyline with Alan Howard. Sandra returned after recovering but left again in December of that year. Sandra was quoted in the press revealing her intentions: "I was taking more and more time off, hoping that they would sack me. I was sick of being Irma. It was driving me mad."
- In a 2012 episode of "The Corrie Years - After the Street" Sandra Gough was interviewed and revealed why she had left so abruptly. She told how Alan Rothwell had wanted to leave for some time & had told her that he wouldn't leave because they (The producers) would write her out as well. One day she went to Alan and told him they were going to tell the Producer they were both leaving. When she came back a few years later she said "my mother had a bone disease and was very very ill. I asked them (The Producers) for months and months, please write me out, please write me out...then in the end just to finish filming one Friday...and I never went in on the Monday" She went on to say "I am very sorry and I will say ashamed to do that" she appeared surprised how the story of her disappearance appeared in all the papers because she said "I phoned and told them...I said I'm going because you won't let me go properly, I'm going"
First and last lines
"Eh kid, d'you mind looking out the window and telling us if there's a fella outside?" (First line, to Valerie Barlow)