Annie Sugden

Last updated

Annie Sugden
Annie brearly.jpg
Emmerdale character
Portrayed by Sheila Mercier
Duration1972–1996, 2009
First appearanceEpisode 1
16 October 1972
Last appearanceEpisode 5218/5219
10 February 2009
Created by Kevin Laffan
Introduced byDavid Goddard (1972)
Mervyn Watson (1995, 1996)
Anita Turner (2009)
Classification Former; regular
Other namesAnnie Pearson
Annie Kempinski
Annie Brearly

Annie Sugden (also Pearson, Kempinski and Brearly) is a fictional character from the British television soap opera Emmerdale . She was played by Sheila Mercier as a regular character between 1972 and 1994, with occasional guest appearances in the show after her original departure. Mercier cut back on location filming during the late 1980s and eventually left the serial in 1994 due to the gruelling schedule. Annie was one of Emmerdale's original characters, appearing in its first episode on 16 October 1972 and became the longest serving female character in the series' history. She was the soap's "first matriarch", the maternal force behind the Sugden family, who were collectively one of Emmerdale's main focal points. [1]


Over the years, the character featured in a number of storylines, including being widowed twice, coping with the deaths of various other family members, financial woes, nearly dying in a farmhouse fire, an addiction to tranquillisers and sustaining injuries in the Emmerdale plane crash, which left her in a three-month coma. Mercier and Frazer Hines, who played her on-screen son Joe Sugden, were the only two original cast members to appear in the show for its 20th anniversary. [2] Though the character left the serial in 1994, she has made occasional appearances since this time and last appeared on-screen in February 2009, in a special tribute episode to mark the death of Clive Hornby who played her on-screen son, Jack Sugden. [3]

Mercier has previously made guest appearances in 1996 and in 2000 for a special web broadcast in which Annie talked to her troubled screen son Jack. The broadcast was available for viewers to download on the official Emmerdale website. [4] Despite having married Amos off-screen in late 1995, she was credited upon her return in 2009 by her most famous name, Annie Sugden.

Character creation and development

Annie Sugden was created by Kevin Laffan, the creator of what was then known as Emmerdale Farm who also wrote the serial's first 212 episodes. Laffan was said to be "keen on dominant women" and it has been said that he created a "memorable heroine" in Annie Sugden, "the wife of the ne'er-do-well…who drank himself to an early grave" (the first episode opened with his funeral). [5] The show originally focused upon the struggles of Annie and her family, with the first episode of Emmerdale Farm (1972) being billed as "the living story of the Sugden family - the excitement of country life around." [4]

Actress Sheila Mercier – whose career had been mainly theatrical – was chosen to play the role and went on to be the serial's longest running original actor. Mercier has commented "I had done a lot of television from the stage of the Whitehall, but very little else before joining Emmerdale Farm…I remember, at first, playing to the Gods! Tristan de Vere Cole, one of the first directors on the programme, told me to take [my performance] down until it was so low I was almost muttering. Then, Gordon Flemyng - another of the directors - played back to me a scene I did so that I could see what I had done wrong." [6] In her 1994 autobiography, Mercier recalls how on so many occasions she wanted Annie to cry but the director, David Green, said "Annie does not cry. She cries all her tears into the pillow at night."

The character of Annie Sugden has been described as a firm favourite with viewers, from the opening scene of Emmerdale Farm with Annie standing in the farmhouse kitchen, to the day she left. [7] As peacekeeper between her sons, Joe (Frazer Hines) and Jack (Andrew Burt/Clive Hornby), Annie was soon placed at the centre of the soap's action. [7] The character was involved in numerous storylines, including marriages, bereavements, tragedies and family problems. Commenting on her "most gripping" storylines, Mercier has said, "Annie's daughter, Peggy Skilbeck's (Jo Kendall) death, Peggy's twins' deaths and Annie's father, Sam Pearson's (Toke Townley) death, which all called for lots of tears." [8]

In the 1985 Emmerdale Farm Celebration Edition 1000 Episodes Magazine, Annie's personality is described:

Annie Sugden as she appeared in 1972. Annie Sugden.png
Annie Sugden as she appeared in 1972.

Ever since she was widowed thirteen years ago, Annie Sugden has felt responsible for Emmerdale Farm and the Sugden family. Life has not been easy for her, coping with financial crises, warring sons and the loss of her only daughter. But she has faced the problems courageously. She's a strong, level headed woman, loyal to her family but not blind to their weaknesses, and she speaks her mind when she feels it's called for. Annie's honesty is usually appreciated and people often turn to her for advice, but the years haven't dulled her sense of humour. She enjoys a joke as much as anyone in the family. [9]

Commenting on her character in 1985, Mercier said: "Annie Sugden has changed a great deal over the years. At the beginning she was very terse. She was the head of the family and let everyone know it. She ruled with a rod of iron. She'd had a tough life. She'd had a rough ride with her husband Jacob, who used to drink the money away and sit in the Woolpack until all hours. Her son Jack didn't live at home then and it was Annie who kept the farm together. Until Henry Wilks (Arthur Pentelow) came along they were poor farmers, living hand-to-mouth. But now things are different. Jack has made a success of Emmerdale and Henry's interest in the farm and Annie herself has made her relax. She's mellower now."

Despite suffering from arthritis, Mercier managed to undertake location filming for the show from 1972–1990. In the final episode of Emmerdale Farm before the transition to Emmerdale, broadcast in November 1989, she appeared on location at Lindley Farm near Harrogate, which served as the exterior for Emmerdale Farm, for scenes in which Annie greeted son Jack on his return from a trip to Italy.

From the early 1990s, Sheila Mercier cut back on her appearances, usually working only in the studio. However, she appeared on location in a car during the 1993 plane crash episodes. Annie Sugden reportedly poured more than 6,000 cups of tea in the farmhouse studio, where she was most often seen. After she retired in 1994, she has appeared in only a handful of Emmerdale episodes, making guest appearances in 1995 and 1996. However, in 2000 she came out of retirement briefly to take part in a special internet mini-drama, which ran side by side with the Emmerdale television broadcast. Mercier talked live on the Net with her troubled screen son, Jack, played by Clive Hornby. [10] The broadcast was available for viewers to download on the official Emmerdale website. Mercier was also invited to return to the Emmerdale set to celebrate with the crew at the official 30th anniversary party. In an interview in 2002, Mercier said she had no desire to return to acting, "I don't want to act. I watch TV, read and live like an ordinary person." [7] However, for the show's 5000th episode in May 2008 a special documentary was transmitted across the ITV network, Mercier (aged 89) made another appearance along with Hines, Frederick Pyne and Jean Rogers the actors who played Joe, Matt and Dolly Skilbeck, respectively.

In February 2009, Mercier reprised the role of Annie for two episodes, where Annie attended her son Jack's funeral, following the death of actor Clive Hornby. Mercier said, "It will be a pleasure to return for this special tribute episode to Clive. I'm sure it will be a fitting way to celebrate the life and memory of one of Emmerdale's dearest characters". [11] This was Mercier's last appearance before her retirement from acting, and her death in December 2019.

On 18 August 2020 it was announced Annie would die off-screen on 28 August, after Sheila Mercier's death in December 2019 last year. [12]


Annie Sugden, born on 5 July 1920, is the only child of young labourer Sam Pearson and his wife Grace. Annie marries local farmer Jacob Sugden and he moves her into Emmerdale Farm. They have three children; Jack, Peggy and Joe. Annie's mother dies in the same year her daughter Peggy marries Matt Skilbeck. The audience is introduced to farmer's wife Annie Sugden in the soap's first episode in 1972. It was a time of sadness for the Sugden family, as Annie was burying her recently deceased husband, Jacob, who had died after spending much of his later years in the pub, The Woolpack, drinking away the family's farming profits. Early central storylines in the serial followed Annie as she struggled to come to terms with the death of her husband, support her family, and run Emmerdale Farm, set in the Yorkshire Dales in the fictional village of Beckindale. Matriarchal Annie aimed to rebuild the ailing farm by reuniting her two feuding sons, Jack and Joe. She sold part of Emmerdale Farm to village outsider, Henry Wilks, who had made his fortune in the wool industry and brought his business acumen to Beckindale. Early in the series, Woolpack landlord Amos Brearly decided a woman's touch was needed in his pub and proposes to Annie but she turns him down. Tragedy follows the Sugdens; Peggy dies of a brain haemorrhage a few months after giving birth to twins and three years later, Peggy's twins are killed on a level crossing, leaving Annie to comfort their father Matt. Annie's father Sam dies and Jack's wife, Pat Sugden dies two years later, forcing Annie to help Jack raise his young son Robert Sugden. A few years later, Emmerdale Farm begins collapsing due to subsidence. Although the family moves into Hawthorn Cottage, Annie remains unhappy until it was renamed Emmerdale Farm.

Annie and her second husband, Leonard Kempinski, whom she had married in October, plan to go on holiday to Spain. The night they are supposed to fly out, a plane crash into the village. As Joe is driving them to the airport, the wing of the plane collides with the car. Joe escapes with a broken leg; however, Annie is in a coma for several months. The cries of her new granddaughter Victoria Sugden finally wake Annie from her coma but she is devastated to discover Leonard has died. Widowed again, Annie is left to mourn a second husband. At Jack's wedding to Sarah Connolly, Amos announces that the residents of Beckindale have decided to rename the village Emmerdale, in honour of Annie. He remarks that people had voted for the name Emmerdale as they held Annie in such high regard. After moving to Spain in July 1994, Annie returns to Emmerdale the following year to bury her son Joe, who had died in a car accident. 23 years after his first proposal, Amos Brearly proposes to Annie again; this time she accepts. Annie and Amos return to Spain where they marry on 5 November 1995, though Annie returns briefly in November 1996 to ask Jack to sell Emmerdale Farm; he refuses. After a 13-year absence, Annie returns to the village for Jack's funeral. Jack had been staying with her in Spain and had suffered a fatal heart attack; she accompanies his body to Emmerdale. She grieves with Jack's family, which includes his widower Diane Sugden, Victoria, and his adoptive son Andy Sugden, before returning to Spain after his funeral.

Following her departure, Annie is often contacted and mentioned by her relatives, many of whom go to stay with her during times of crisis. Diane rings Annie to inform her of Alan Turner's death; Annie sends flowers. Diane goes to stay with Annie after she takes ill and stays for two months. Annie donates €300 to Sarah Sugden's fundraiser page for her cancer treatment. Annie cannot attend Robert's wedding to Aaron Dingle as it is very short notice, but she hopes Robert will be happy with his new husband. The day after the wedding, Robert reveals a letter from Annie which tells him that his father Jack and grandfather Jacob would be so happy to see him settle down, and she hopes he will visit her with Aaron very soon. Following Victoria's rape, Victoria and Robert visit Annie to cheer Victoria up. Victoria visits Annie and upon her return in December, Victoria reveals to Diane that Annie was very upset to hear about Robert been sent to prison. Months later, Victoria receives a phone call from Diane with news that Annie has died peacefully at the age of 100 on 28 August 2020, Victoria and Diane then head down to Norfolk see Matt & Dolly Skilbeck to arrange Annie's funeral. Her ashes were scattered by Victoria over the fields that once belonged to 'Emmerdale Farm'.

In other media

The character Annie Sugden has been the topic of several tie-in books related to the Emmerdale serial. These include Annie Sugden's Country Diary, written by Lee Mackenzie and published in 1978. The novel gives Annie's account of her childhood and early adult life in Beckindale. It is described as a "story of the long, hot summers between the wars, the village school and the open fields [..] Annie's heart-warming memories of the good times and the hard times amongst honest working folk in the Yorkshire dales [...] the Diary of a country lass who loves life, despite its trials and tribulations". The novel gives an account of Annie's parents, her "sensitive musical" mother, her "down-to-earth, prosaic" father, her "first and truest" love, Laurence Stanton, and her "reluctant" marriage to Jacob Sugden, right up until she became the owner of Emmerdale Farm. [13] Annie Sugden's Emmerdale Farm Cookbook was also released in 1984. [14]


The character was selected as one of the "top 100 British soap characters" by industry experts for a poll to be run by What's on TV, with readers able to vote for their favourite character to discover "Who is Soap's greatest Legend?" [15]

Related Research Articles

<i>Emmerdale</i> British soap opera

Emmerdale is a British soap opera set in Emmerdale, a fictional village in the Yorkshire Dales. Created by Kevin Laffan, Emmerdale Farm was first broadcast on 16 October 1972. Interior scenes have been filmed at The Leeds Studios since its inception. Exterior scenes were first filmed in Arncliffe in Littondale, and the series may have taken its name from Amerdale, an ancient name of Littondale. Exterior scenes were later shot at Esholt, but are now shot at a purpose built set on the Harewood estate. The programme is broadcast in every ITV region.

Jack Sugden Fictional character from the British soap opera Emmerdale

John Jacob "Jack" Sugden is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Emmerdale. The character was originally played by Andrew Burt from 1972 to 1973 with a brief return in 1976, when the actor left for Italy to write a book. On his return in 1980 he was played by Clive Hornby. Hornby remained in the role until 2008 when he was forced to take a break from Emmerdale due to illness. His last on-screen appearance was on 21 February 2008, and his absence was explained by the character visiting his mother, Annie Sugden in Spain. Although Hornby was intended to return, he died from his illness in July 2008 without returning to the programme. Jack was written out following Hornby's death, dying off-screen of a heart attack in February 2009.

Frank Tate (<i>Emmerdale</i>)

Frank Tate is a fictional character from the British television soap opera Emmerdale, played by Norman Bowler. He made his first appearance on 21 November 1989 and remained a regular for almost eight years, before Bowler opted to quit in 1996, leading to his character’s exit the following year.

Amos Brearly Fictional character from the ITV soap opera Emmerdale

Amos Brearly is a fictional character from the British television soap opera Emmerdale, played by Ronald Magill. He made his first appearance during the serial's debut episode on 16 October 1972. Amos ran The Woolpack pub and was the village gossip. A double act was later formed between Amos and Henry Wilks, which lasted for 19 years. Amos became known for this bushy sideburns and catchphrase "Nay, Mr Wilks". Magill left the show in January 1991, but reprised the role for several brief appearances until July 1995.

Sarah Sugden Fictional character from Emmerdale

Sarah Connolly is a fictional character from the British television soap opera Emmerdale. She was first played by Madeleine Howard from 1988 until 1994 then by Alyson Spiro from 1994 until 2000.

Joe Sugden

Joseph "Joe" Sugden is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Emmerdale, played by Frazer Hines. He first appeared on-screen during the soap's first episode broadcast 16 October 1972 and remained in the programme until 1983. After a brief return in the following year, Hines reprised his role on a permanent basis in 1986, a landmark year for the show under Richard Handford. He made his last appearance in August 1994, and subsequently died off-screen the following year. In 2019, Hines confirmed that he would like to return to the soap despite his off-screen death.

Henry Wilks Fictional character from the ITV soap opera Emmerdale

Henry Wilks is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Emmerdale, played by Arthur Pentelow. He ran The Woolpack public house, along with Amos Brearly for nearly 20 years. Henry ranks as the sixteenth longest running character in the history of the show.

Sam Pearson

Samuel Kitchener "Sam" Pearson is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Emmerdale played by Toke Townley, for 12 years from the serial's first ever episode in 1972 until Townley's death in September 1984, almost two months prior to Sam's death. Sam was the father of Annie Sugden and grandfather to Peggy Skilbeck, Joe Sugden and Jack Sugden. Sam was one of the original nine characters of the series.

Rachel Hughes Fictional character from Emmerdale

Rachel Hughes is a fictional character from the British television soap opera Emmerdale, portrayed by Glenda McKay. She made her first appearance during the episode broadcast on 7 September 1988 and departed following the character's death on 12 May 1999.

Leonard Kempinski is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Emmerdale, played by Bernard Archard. He made his first appearance on 15 December 1992 and remained a regular in the programme for just over a year, before his character was killed off in the Emmerdale plane crash of New Year's Eve 1993.

Sheila Betty Mercier was an English actress, of stage and television, best known for playing Annie Sugden in the soap opera Emmerdale for over 20 years, from the programme's first episode in 1972 until the mid-1990s, with a guest return in 2009.

Matthew "Matt" Skilbeck is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Emmerdale, for a period of seventeen years from 1972 to 1989. One of the series' original characters, he was played by Frederick Pyne. Matt served as the eighteenth longest running character in the history of the show.

The Woolpack

The Woolpack is a fictional public house on the popular ITV soap opera Emmerdale. Its sign is a wool bale, a popular symbol in sheep-rearing country. It has played host to many of the soap's storylines and is the focus of the programme.

The ITV soap opera Emmerdale has featured numerous major storylines since it began in 1972. A viewer poll conducted in January 2021 found that the top three storylines/episodes voted by viewers were the Emmerdale plane crash of 1993, the Storm of 2003 that occurred on around the 10th anniversary of the plane crash, and the Hotten Bypass Crash in 2016.

The Emmerdale Plane Crash, also known as the Beckindale Air Disaster, was a storyline for the British soap opera Emmerdale, broadcast on ITV. The episode aired on 30 December 1993, and gave Emmerdale its highest-ever viewing figures of 18 million.

Kathy Glover

Katherine "Kathy" Brookman is a fictional character from the British television soap opera Emmerdale, played by Malandra Burrows. She made her first appearance during the episode broadcast on 26 November 1985. In 2001, new series producer Steve Frost decided to write the character out. Burrows briefly reprised the role in 2005, as Kathy returns for the funeral of Seth Armstrong. She was one of the show's central characters throughout that time.

Phil Pearce was a fictional character on Emmerdale Farm, played by Peter Alexander in the 1980s, beginning in 1986.

The Sugdens, are a fictional family in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale. Introduced during the show's conception in 1972, they were the main family for storylines between the 1970s and 1980s and remained as such for many years. The families original unit consisted of widowed farmer Annie Sugden, alongside her children Peggy Skilbeck, Jack Sugden and Joe Sugden. Subsequently these characters went on to produce more generations of Sugdens.


  1. "Emmerdale's path to soap success". BBC News. 17 March 2005. Retrieved 2 October 2007.
  2. "Emmerdale Farm/Emmerdale". Nostalgia Central.
  3. "Tribute Episode". ITV. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2009.
  4. 1 2 Kelly, Jon (18 March 2005). "Emmerdale Week: Those were the dales." Daily Mirror . Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  5. Barker, Dennis (20 March 2003). "Kevin Laffan". The Guardian . London. Archived from the original on 21 March 2003. Retrieved 20 March 2003.
  6. "Annie Sugden". Retrieved 20 March 2003.
  7. 1 2 3 "Where are they now? - Sheila Mercier". The Daily Record. 12 October 2002. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  8. Roberts, Brian (16 October 1997). "As Emmerdale Farm celebrates 25 years, we find out what happened to the 9 original cast members". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  9. Emmerdale Farm Celebration Edition 1000 Episodes Magazine, published in 1985
  10. "EMMERDALE ON THE WEB". Daily Mirror. 10 July 2000. Archived from the original on 19 October 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  11. "Dales stars returning for Hornby tribute". Digital Spy. 2 December 2008. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2009.
  12. "Emmerdale to write in Annie Sugden death storyline after Sheila Mercier's real-life passing". Digital Spy. 18 August 2020.
  13. Mackenzie, Lee (1987). Annie Sugdens Country Diary. Star Books, London. ISBN   0-352-30256-9.
  14. Emmerdale Farm Cookbook. Ward Lock Limited. 1984.
  15. "Who is Soaps' Greatest Legend?". What's on TV . IPC Media . Retrieved 8 July 2012.