Shirley Armitage started working at denim factory Baldwin's Casuals around September 1983. Shirley came from a big family, with nine living within the same house in Nelson Street. Shirley was the fifth child of seven children, and grew up on a council estate in Weatherfield.
At the factory, Shirley was one of the youngest machinists and usually stayed quiet while the louder personalities, chiefly Vera Duckworth and Ida Clough, led the gossip. She occasionally spoke up to back the girls against Mike Baldwin, for example when she favoured a strike when Mike announced that some of the staffs' jobs would be at risk because of a new computer system at the factory in July 1984.
In 1985, Shirley chatted to Curly Watts at a dance at the Community Centre and let him walk her home afterwards. Curly had been shy about asking her but they hit it off and Curly later chatted her up at a flat-warming party thrown by Kevin and Sally Webster in August 1987. They started seeing each other on a casual basis after that.
By the following year, Shirley was getting sick of living in such a crowded home and decided to ask Alf Roberts if she could rent the shop flat, the Websters having moved into No.13. Alf asked for a reference but in the short time it took her to get one from Emily Bishop, Curly had also made enquiries about the shop and Alf had agreed to let him move in. When Shirley and Curly compared notes, they were puzzled as Curly hadn't been asked for a reference. Thinking Alf racist, Curly decided to refuse the flat but Shirley had an idea of her own - they could move in together. Curly agreed and Alf backed down when Emily threatened to tell people about his racism.
The unexpected move marked a big change in both Shirley's and Curly's lives, as well as their relationship, with Shirley becoming the first woman Curly had ever slept with. Their next obstacle was winning over each other's families, no easy task as even putting aside the race issue, Shirley's parents disapproved of her living in sin. Eventually, Mrs Armitage was convinced of Curly's love for Shirley, but Curly's parents never accepted Shirley. Mrs Armitage was accepting enough to let Shirley's younger sister Lucy stay with the couple for a few weeks in August.
Later that year, Curly enrolled in a business studies course at college. Shirley wasn't convinced it would be a good move for the couple as only Shirley would be earning while he was studying, but she did admire Curly's ability and caused a stir at work by showing them Curly's report on Mike making the machinists work in terrible Victorian conditions. Mike got Curly to hand it over to him, threatening to sack Shirley otherwise.
Curly's new career was to split the couple up. In April 1989, Shirley threw a surprise party to celebrate the couple's first anniversary but Curly spoiled it by throwing everyone out as he had an important exam the next day. Shirley realised that Curly was too serious for her and immediately decided to pack her bags and move back in with her parents. Desperate to keep hold of Shirley, Curly broke down and proposed marriage, promising to change, but Shirley knew that the relationship had run its course and walked out.
- Shirley was first seen in Episode 2340 on 5th September 1983. She didn't have a proper introduction and was a recurring character for most of her time in the show, although she was featured more prominently between 1988 and 1989.
- Shirley is notable as the first regular black character in Coronation Street. In his 1990 memoirs Coronation Street: The Inside Story, Producer Bill Podmore points out that the increased usage of Shirley was due to Lisa Lewis's acting ability and was not designed to introduce a token ethnic character. He also recalls, with sadness, some uncomplimentary correspondence he received after the storyline between Shirley and Curly was screened: "Several viewers were disgusted that I could have sanctioned such a relationship; none of them had the courage to sign their letters, which speaks volumes. I'm sure the writers of such poisonous words represent a tiny minority of the British people, but even so it is sad and disturbing to realise some people can still cling to such beliefs."
First and last lines
"It's French, innit?" (First line, to Ida Clough)
"There's nothing else I can say, nothing. Please leave me alone. It's over Curly, finished." (Final line)