The death has been announced of Emmerdale star Paula Tilbrook, who played the character of Betty Eagleton for 21 years. She was 89.

The veteran actress passed away in December and her death was announced with the publication of an obituary on industry website The Stage on Wednesday.

"Paula Tilbrook will be best remembered for her 21-year stint in ITV soap staple Emmerdale as the sherry-loving village gossip Betty Eagleton," read the obituary.

"Joining the show as the ex-Tiller Girl returned home in 1994, she effortlessly established Betty as an iconic, straight-talking northerner who quickly moved to the centre of many of the soap's most popular storylines," it continued. 

Launching the first Emmerdale stamp with her co-stars in June 2005 Photo: Press Association

"When she retired in 2015, Inside Soap magazine remarked of her final episode: 'Funny, feisty and smart as a whip. They don't make 'em like actress Paula Tilbrook anymore!'"

Over the years Tilbrook also appeared as a number of Coronation Street characters - most notably Vivienne Barford in the early 1990s - and had a guest role in Brookside. Among her many other television credits were Tales of the Unexpected, Last of the Summer Wine and the acclaimed Channel 4 feature drama Walter opposite Ian McKellen. On the big screen her credits included Yanks, A Private Function and Butterfly Kiss.

Paying tribute, Emmerdale tweeted: "We are saddened to hear of the passing of our much loved colleague, Paula Tilbrook. 

"Paula was at the heart of Emmerdale for many years and she will be greatly missed by all who worked with her and by the fans of her character, Betty. 

"We have lost a great talent and a wonderful friend but she will forever live in the memories of those lucky enough to have known her."