Sheila Crossley (née Birtles) was a factory worker at Elliston's Raincoat Factory in the early 1960s. Sheila and her friend Doreen Lostock frequented Coronation Street and lived in the Corner Shop flat from 1962 to 1963. Despite their low-paying jobs, Sheila and Doreen were laid back about their lives and spent most of their time socialising and partying.
In 1963, Sheila had an affair with Neil Crossley, who was put off by her infatuation with him and dumped her, which left Sheila suicidal. Sheila moved back to her parents house to recover but the affair had left her pregnant. She gave birth to a son, Danny, but gave him up for adoption. In 1966, Sheila returned to the Street and lodged with Elsie Tanner at No.11, also taking a job at the local PVC Factory. During her stay, Sheila had a brief relationship with Jerry Booth, who had long held a torch for her, but she left him for Neil Crossley after a chance encounter. Sheila and Neil married soon afterwards.
After leaving the Street, Sheila remained a close friend of Elsie's and occasionally helped her out when she had a crisis. Her last visit to Coronation Street was in 1974.
1940-1963: Early life
Born in Manchester to protective parents, Sheila Birtles found work at Elliston's Raincoat Factory in Victoria Street when she left school and spent most of her time in the Coronation Street area. Sheila and her best friend from the factory, Doreen Lostock, could often be found flirting with the men of the Street and going to the disco hoping to meet people. Sheila was more level-headed than fun-loving Doreen but enjoyed a good time just as much.
In 1962, when her parents moved to Rawtenstall, Sheila moved into the Corner Shop flat in Coronation Street with Doreen, eager to be free from her parents at last. Soon after, Sheila began flirting with nervous builder Jerry Booth and agreed to a date with him, but the date was a disaster as the motorcycle Jerry had borrowed fell into a ditch and they had to walk ten miles to get home. Sheila was willing to see Jerry again, but asks him not to take things too fast.
Sheila's parents were constantly pressuring her to move to the country to live with them, but the lure of her carefree lifestyle was too strong. In 1963, Sheila took on an extra job, helping Jed Stone with his market stall on Saturdays. When people wrongly assumed they were dating, word got back to Sheila's parents, who showed up to have a word with Jed.
1963 onwards: Neil Crossley
That same year, Neil Crossley took over as manager of Gamma Garments, a clothing retailer where Doreen worked. Neil was a bad manager and took the shop's takings for himself, but Sheila quickly fell in love with Neil and dumped Jerry so she could go out with him. Neil only thought of her as a bit of fun and thought nothing of standing her up, but Sheila was too infatuated with Neil to realise he badly he was treating her, and willingly paid back money he owed out of her own rent money. When Sheila confronted Neil when he stood her up on a date, Neil hit her and left Weatherfield.
Following Neil's departure, Sheila was in a daze and sunk into a depression. She refused to let her friends help her and was sacked from Elliston's when she took too much time off. Sheila's mentality took another blow when Neil met her and told her he didn't want to see her again. Sheila locked herself in her flat, intending to kill herself by overdosing on tablets, but she couldn't bring herself to do it and was rescued by Dennis Tanner. A doctor came to see her and she broke down, letting out the emotions she had been bottling up. At the doctor's recommendation, Sheila left Weatherfield to stay with her parents and recover there.
In 1966, Sheila had a surprise encounter with Jerry on a blind date. Sheila was keen to see more of Jerry, but only as a friend. She moved into No.11 as Elsie Tanner's lodger, and got a job at the new PVC Factory across the Street. Sheila quickly admitted she was in love with Jerry and told him about her son. Jerry and Sheila wanted to marry, but Jerry was still married to Myra Dickinson. Myra's father was suspicious of Jerry and Sheila's relationship and hired a private investigator, but when Jerry's three-year wedding anniversary passed he was able to start divorce proceedings.
Later in the year, Sheila bumped into Neil Crossley on a train, and realised she felt stronger for Neil than Jerry. Neil asked Sheila to marry him, and the pair left Weatherfield together to get married, leaving Jerry heartbroken over Sheila again. The Crossleys settled in Scarborough and later Sheffield.
During her second stay in the Street, Sheila had made a firm friend in Elsie and for several years was someone she turned to during difficult times. In 1969, Sheila paid a brief visit to the Street to see Elsie when she had to go to court for stealing dresses from Miami Modes, and in 1973 Elsie told her husband Alan Howard she had gone to see Sheila when she had actually went to see Dennis in prison. Sheila corroborated Elsie's story when Alan contacted her. Her last visit to Weatherfield was in 1974, when she stayed with Ernie and Emily Bishop, as Elsie was no longer living in the Street. Though he was dating Mavis Riley, Jerry was enamoured with Sheila, making things awkward between them.
- In Episode 37, Doreen Lostock twice refers to Sheila as "Sheila Cordingly".
- In 1962, Sheila was visited by Edwin, a distant cousin. Edwin briefly dated Emily Nugent.
- Sheila's other friends from Elliston's included Glynis and Christine Hardman. When Christine considered throwing herself off the factory roof to free herself from the Street, Sheila became hysterical and refused a policeman's urging to go up and talk Christine down.
- Sheila first appeared in Episode 8 on 4th January 1961, the first character to be introduced after the original set of characters had been established.
- Along with Doreen Lostock, Sheila appeared in minor roles throughout 1961. Early scripts didn't carry names for them and referred to them as 'the Barm Cake girls', although by the time their episodes were transmitted they had been named. Sheila and Doreen's friendship has since proved a successful motif for later young characters who have appeared in the show.
- Sheila was absent from November 1961 to April 1962 due to the Equity actors' strike.
- The scripted scene in Episode 288 (Sheila's breakdown) was different from what was eventually shown on screen. Originally, Sheila was supposed to go through with her suicide attempt, swallowing tablets and vomiting them into the bin. This was actually recorded, but news of the plot broke in the papers only days before broadcast and Granada was forced to cut the scene short because of so many viewer complaints, omitting the actual suicide. In the finished episode, Sheila doesn't try to kill herself, instead she sits, traumatised and catatonic. Despite this massive storyline change, only Sheila's scenes were re-recorded, and subsequent episodes were not rewritten, so other characters seem to react to something that didn't actually happen. Reportedly, actress Eileen Mayers preferred the original version, as she was less able to show off her acting skills in the revised scene. This scene was finally shown on 20th July 2011 as part of a documentary called The Corrie Years.
First and last lines
"No look, I'll tell you what - I'll toddle on ahead and you two stay and have a natter and see when you can make it. Then you can let me know in the Rovers." (Final line, to Ernest and Emily Bishop when she invited them to come and stay with her in Sheffield).