Annie Sugden

Annie Sugden (also Pearson, Kempinski and Brearly) is a fictional character from the ITV 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]

Annie Sugden
Annie brearly.jpg
Sheila Mercier as Annie Sugden (2009)
Emmerdale character
Portrayed bySheila Mercier
Duration1972–1996, 2009
First appearance16 October 1972
Last appearance10 February 2009
Created byKevin Laffan
Introduced byDavid Goddard (1972)
Mervyn Watson (1995, 1996)
Anita Turner (2009)
ClassificationFormer; regular
Other namesAnnie Pearson
Annie Kempinski
Annie Brearly

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 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 developmentEdit

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.

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 screen appearance prior to her death in December 2019.


Born Annie Pearson in Beckindale on 5 July 1920, she was the only child of young labourer Sam Pearson and his wife Grace. Annie married local farmer Jacob Sugden in 1945. He moved her into Emmerdale Farm and they had 3 children Peggy born in 1944, Jack in 1947 and Joe in 1949. Annie's mum died in 1968 the year her daughter Peggy married Matt Skilbeck. The audience was 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 proposed to Annie; she turned him down. Tragedy followed the Sugdens. In 1973, Peggy died of a brain hemorrhage a few months after giving birth to twins and three years later, Peggy's twins were killed on a level crossing, leaving Annie to comfort their father Matt. Annie's father, Sam, died in 1984, and when Jack's wife, Pat, died in 1986, Annie was forced to help Jack raise his young son Robert. In early 1993, Emmerdale Farm began collapsing due to subsidence. Although the family moved into Hawthorn Cottage, Annie remained unhappy until it was renamed Emmerdale Farm.

In December that year, Annie and her second husband, Leonard Kempinski, whom she had married in October, planned to go on holiday to Spain. The night they were supposed to fly out was the night of a plane crash. As Joe was driving them to the airport, a wing of a plane collided with the car. Joe escaped with a broken leg; however, Annie was in a coma for several months. The cries of her new baby granddaughter Victoria finally woke Annie from her coma but she was devastated to discover Leonard had died. Widowed again, Annie was left to mourn a second husband. At Jack's wedding to Sarah Connolly in 1994, Amos announced that the residents of Beckindale had decided to rename the village Emmerdale, in honour of Annie. He remarked that people had voted for the name Emmerdale as they held Annie in such high regard. After moving to Spain in 1994, Annie returned to Emmerdale in 1995 to bury her son Joe, who had died in a car accident. 23 years after his first proposal, Amos Brearly proposed to Annie again; this time she accepted. Annie and Amos returned to Spain where they married on 5 November 1995, though Annie returned briefly on 7 November 1996 to ask Jack to sell Emmerdale Farm; he refused. After a 13-year absence, Annie returned to the village on 9 February 2009 for Jack's funeral. Jack had been staying with her in Spain and had suffered a fatal heart attack; she accompanied his body to Emmerdale. She grieved with Jack's family, which included his widower Diane Sugden, Victoria, and his adoptive son Andy, and returned to Spain after his funeral.

In October 2013 Diane rings Annie to inform her of Alan Turner's death; Annie sends flowers.

In May 2014, Diane informs Andy's former lover, Debbie Dingle, that Annie still lives happily in Spain. The following October, Andy encourages Debbie to take herself, and Annie's great-grandchildren Sarah and Jack, both through Andy, to see Annie with Debbie's father Cain Dingle. They do, and Diane believes that Annie will be pleased with them all.

In November 2015, Diane goes to stay with Annie after she takes ill and stays for two months.

In August 2016, Victoria informs Robert that Annie will be very upset to hear Andy has gone on the run but Robert tells Victoria that it's best Annie knows. In November, Diane informs Victoria that she spoke to Annie on the phone and she is in great health.

In January 2017, Diane informs Debbie that Annie has donated 300 euro to Sarah's fundraiser page for her cancer treatment. In February, Robert marries his boyfriend Aaron Dingle, and Diane reveals to Debbie and Victoria that Annie won't be attending as it was 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. In April, Victoria rings Annie to tell her about her problems with Adam in the hope Annie might give her some advice. In November 2017, Robert becomes a father and Victoria rings Annie to give her the news.

In July 2018, Victoria rings Annie to tell her that Sarah is fighting for her life due to a heart problem. In August 2018, Diane visits Annie for two weeks.

In May 2019, following Victoria's rape, Victoria and Robert visits Annie to cheer Victoria up. In November 2019, 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.

In other mediaEdit

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.[12] Annie Sugden's Emmerdale Farm Cookbook was also released in 1984.[13]


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?"[14]


  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 2009-01-04.
  4. ^ a b "EMMERDALE WEEK: THOSE WERE THE DALES." The Mirror. Retrieved 20 March 2003.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Barker, Dennis (20 March 2003). "Kevin Laffan". London: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 21 March 2003. Retrieved 20 March 2003.
  6. ^ "Annie Sugden". Retrieved 20 March 2003.
  7. ^ a b c "Where are they now? - Sheila Mercier". The Daily Record. 12 October 2002. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  8. ^ "As Emmerdale Farm celebrates 25 years, we find out what happened to the 9 original cast members". The Daily Mirror. 16 October 1997. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  9. ^ Emmerdale Farm Celebration Edition 1000 Episodes Magazine, published in 1985
  10. ^ "EMMERDALE ON THE WEB". The 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. ^ Mackenzie, Lee (1987). Annie Sugdens Country Diary. Star Books, London. ISBN 0-352-30256-9.
  13. ^ Emmerdale Farm Cookbook. Ward Lock Limited. 1984.
  14. ^ "Who is Soaps' Greatest Legend?". What's on TV. IPC Media. Retrieved 8 July 2012.