For 15 years, Shirley Stelfox, who has died of cancer aged 74, played the television soap Emmerdale’s preacher of morals, the prudish, churchgoing Edna Birch, who always spoke her mind. When Edna was first seen in 2000, she complained to the bishop about the village’s vicar, Ashley Thomas (John Middleton), planning to marry Bernice Blackstock (Samantha Giles), whom she regarded as a scarlet woman. Her failure to stop the wedding did nothing to prevent her interfering in villagers’ lives after that.
Stelfox’s long, flowing hair was hidden by Edna’s trademark pudding-basin hat, adding to the character’s hard-faced exterior. However intolerant Edna might have been of humans, she always showed compassion for her dogs, Batley and Tootsie, and was heartbroken when they died. Stelfox knew she had moulded a much-loved soap character