Driving a maroon Jaguar, drinking from a crystal decanter of single-malt whisky and living in a well-appointed apartment – in contrast to the other characters’ terraced houses – Baldwin brought a much-needed frisson of glamour, danger and, yes, even sex to the rain-slicked cobbles. He was the polar opposite of safe, boring Barlow. The anti-Ken, if you will. Hence it was a masterstroke when the pair were set up as love rivals.
Their simmering rivalry would continue in 1986 when Mike married Ken’s daughter Susan (Wendy Jane Walker) – against her father’s wishes, of course. This ultimately resulted in the arch enemies having a custody battle for Mike and Susan’s son Adam (Iain De Caestecker) after Susan died in 2001.
Their feuding erupted into numerous fist-fights over the years. On one unforgettable occasion, Barlow marched into Baldwin’s factory to sock him on the nose. On another, Mike punched Ken, knocking him over a table in the Rovers Return. Viewers lapped it up, cheering from their sofas. Briggs and Roache became old hands at on-screen brawling and enjoyed doing the stunts themselves.
Yet it wasn’t non-stop fisticuffs. Sometimes the old foes were forced to work together – notably when Deirdre was wrongly imprisoned in 1998 (cue the infamous “Free the Weatherfield One” campaign) and when they both became hostages during an armed supermarket robbery in 2000.
In a saga dubbed “the “Freshco siege”, the pair were tied up together and held hostage. Ken even helped Mike combat a panic attack. The duo resolved to put the past behind them and agreed to end their feud. Naturally, it was only a temporary reprieve.
With his camel coat and mischievous twinkle, wideboy-made-good Baldwin was a forerunner of Eighties TV’s duckers, divers and strivers, such as Del Boy Trotter (Only Fools & Horses) and Arthur Daley (Minder) – only more successful than both. His roguishness could also be detected in “Dirty” Den Watts from rival soap EastEnders, who came along in 1985.
During the Nineties, Baldwin found enduring love with third wife Alma Sedgewick (played by fellow Carry On alumnus Amanda Barrie, aka Cleopatra in Carry On Cleo). Their romance enabled Briggs to show another, softer string to his acting bow, as the pair bickered affectionately and fondly poked fun at one another. By all accounts, this reflected Briggs and Barrie’s relationship off-screen. The beloved duo even scored a UK chart hit with a version of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s Something Stupid.
Devotees were deeply saddened when the couple later divorced due to Mike’s incorrigible philandering. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Mike returned to Alma’s side to help nurse her through her final days, before she died of cervical cancer in 2001. An estimated 15m viewers tuned in to see Alma’s death. The National Grid reported a huge power surge at the episode’s climax, when millions popped their kettles on for a consoling cuppa.
The Noughties saw the ever-enterprising Mike pivoting from denim to lingerie, opening underwear factory Underworld. He formed a close bond with his nephew and protégé Danny (Bradley Walsh). In a typical soapy twist, it gradually transpired that Danny was actually Mike’s secret son.
In 2006, Briggs finally departed the role after a 30-year stint, citing the hectic filming schedule as his main reason. Briggs was into his seventies by now and wanted a slower pace of working life. By now, Mike Baldwin was suffering from Alzheimer’s and his last days included heartbreaking imaginary meetings with barmaid Bet Lynch, with true love Alma and with his mother. He even danced one more time with old flame Deirdre. So powerful was the storyline that Briggs backed a successful fundraising appeal to help those affected by the disease.