Ricky Tomlinson shared a special bond with his on-screen daughter Caroline Aherne.
The Royle Family cast became like one actual big happy family during their days on set in Manchester – with days full of laughter.
Ricky’s fondest memory was during the 1999 Christmas Special in which Denise, played by Caroline, went into labour and his character Jim was left to comfort her.
He found the scene with Caroline particularly poignant for two reasons, explaining: “I think it was so special to her because she didn’t have children.
“And it was so special to me because my own girl, my Kate, was born on Christmas Day.
“And that’s why the tears were real. The cameraman was the son of Corrie character Stan Ogden and at the end he was crying and said: ‘That’s it. We don’t need another take.’ It just stands out in my mind.”
Ricky would be reminded of the emotional scene when Caroline tragically passed away in 2016.
Caroline was just 52-years-old when she died from lung cancer, and had selflessly refused to put her nearest and dearest through the torment she suffered.
When the cancer returned she only told a handful of her closest friends she had between three and 12 months to live, but she sadly passed away just two months later.
“Her death is the biggest shock in the world. It’s knocked me for six,” confessed Ricky, who was unaware of how truly ill she was.
Heartbreakingly, the actor actually believed that his on-screen daughter was recovering after speaking to her brother, Patrick, but sadly she died alone in her home in Timperley, Cheshire.
“Patrick said she was in good spirits last time we spoke,” explained Ricky in 2016.
“We were planning to meet in a pub in Manchester where I was doing a little talk two weeks ago, but he didn’t show up.
“Someone said: ‘Everything’s fine. He’s gone back to Spain.’ And I thought that’s good… she must be on the mend because he wouldn’t have gone away if she was ill.”
Ricky had also been encouraged after speaking to Caroline’s fellow Royle Family creator Craig Cash just weeks before her death.
Before publicly revealing she was battling lung cancer in 2014 at the Macmillan Cancer Improvement Partnership, Caroline revealed a heartbreaking wish to her writing partner and on-screen husband.
The Gogglebox voiceover star asked asked Craig if he would take her place when she was unwell, so he took over as a relief host when she took time off to receive treatment.
Ricky and Craig had discussed meeting up with Caroline before her death, but they didn’t get to have a final reunion.
“Craig told me ‘She’s not bad, Ricky.’ And I was so pleased. I’m a bit of a bloody weepy and I wouldn’t get in touch with her, see. I’d start crying,” said Ricky.
“So I’ve not seen her properly, other than the odd event, since we worked together. But I spoke to Craig and we were going to get together.”
Ricky admitted he struggled at Caroline’s funeral, a private service for her close family and friends in her home town Manchester.
Many of the Royle Family cast and crew attended and Craig, who played her on-screen husband Dave, gave a speech in the packed church.
Ricky was in floods of tears while sat next to Sue Johnston, who starred as his wife and Caroline’s mother in the BBC sitcom.
“I’m so bloody shocked. She was absolutely wonderful and amazing to work for. Kind, funny, witty,” he told The Sunday Mirror.
“A true professional and one of the most generous people I ever worked with.”
Ricky explained that Caroline, who had previously suffered from bladder cancer as well, never once complained while filming the hugely popular series.
“She never talked about her health, ever. I can never ever remember her complaining,” he told the Sunday Mirror after her death.
“She must have gone through a lot but I never saw her looking unwell.
“She never flagged in work and the atmosphere when she was writing and acting was brilliant.”
Over the years, Ricky has called for Caroline to be awarded a posthumous BAFTA fellowship and for an annual National Caroline Aherne Day, to allow the country to celebrate her genius.
The Royle Family, which ran from 1998 to 2000, featured five special episodes airing from 2006 until 2012.
A sixth was in the works before Caroline tragically passed away in 2016 – and Ricky does not want there to be a reunion without her.
“Not for me, if it’s not broke don’t try and fix it”, he told the Loose Women earlier this year.
“She was wonderful. How many people of my age love going to work? How many people can’t wait to get up and go to work in the morning and have a laugh? That’s what it was like.