The True Life Love Story That Inspired “Last Tango in Halifax”


Back in the forties, students Dorothy Crowther and Alec Walker both had crushes on each other. Because of Alec’s shyness, however, neither one knew of the other’s affections and nothing transpired between the two.

They moved on, married other people and found themselves widowed in their later years.

By chance, Dorothy found Alec on the social media site Friends Reunited. After sixty years of separation, they met once again and fell in love. They wasted no time in getting married this time around.

Does this story sound familiar?

That’s because this true life love story is the inspiration for the BAFTA winning BBC series Last Tango in Halifax.

Created by Dorothy’s own daughter from her first marriage, Sally Wainwright, the show first aired in 2012. The third season is currently underway.

Better Than Fiction

As good as the television series is, Dorothy and Alec’s story is far more extraordinary, and heartbreaking than any show. In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Dorothy opened up about her real life love story with Alec Walker.

Dorothy Crowther and Alec Walker grew up in West Yorkshire. Their mothers being friends, they had known each other since infancy. By the time they were pupils at Elland Grammar School, Dorothy had a crush on Alec. But Alec was too shy and to Dorothy seemed uninterested in girls.

After graduation Alec joined the Civil Service and moved to Harrogate.

Dorothy stayed closer to home. At 20, she met the outgoing and sociable Harry Wainwright. Two years later they married and went on to have two daughters, Diane now 52 and Sally now 50.

The first ten years of their marriage were happy ones. But things would later turn sour after Dorothy discovered her husband to be a womanizer.

“It became awful. I suppose I suspected there were other women, but for a long time he didn’t tell me.

“Then at some point — I think it was about halfway through our marriage, after 25 years — he told me there had been others, not one woman, but quite a few of them.”

Dorothy was miserable. Without a job and two dependent daughters, she was unable to leave her husband. To make life tolerable she insisted that they move away from their home town and all the other women.

The couple settled in a small community in Wales. Dorothy felt happier but their marriage would never be the same.

In his later years, Harry developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Despite everything that had happened between the two, Dorothy stayed by his side and cared for him until his death in 2001, just 3 months before their 50th wedding anniversary.

Finding Love Again

But despite her heartbreaking marriage, Dorothy would once again fall in love.

During a visit at her daughter’s in December of 2003, Dorothy discovered the social media site Friends Reunited. She found only two people from her old class at Elland Grammar School. One of those two classmates was Alec Walker.

Alec had also married after school and had two children, a boy and a girl. Like Dorothy he had found himself widowed in later years. But unlike hers, his marriage had been a happy one.

Dorothy made contact with Alec and after some back and forth the two realized they lived in neighboring counties. They made a date. Dorothy invited Alec over for coffee at her place before having a lunch out.

“At first I didn’t recognize him, he looked so different — it had been nearly 60 years, after all, but there was something about him.

“He wasn’t especially good-looking, but he had a really lovely smile, and a way with him.

“When we started chatting, it seemed as though there hadn’t been that gap. We’d just picked up from when we were at school.

“We lost track of time and we talked so much that when we finally got to the restaurant, they’d stopped serving lunch. We liked each other right away.”

It wasn’t long before the two were dating. Dorothy’s happiness was apparent to everyone around her, especially to her daughter Sally.

“She said I’d completely changed, and I had,’ says Dorothy.

“I was miserable in my first marriage and I’d forgotten what it was like to be happy. Alec and I were always being silly and laughing together and Sally had never seen that.

‘We didn’t openly acknowledge where things were going at first. He’d sort of put his hand under my arm to go across the road. I started to really love him, I couldn’t help it.

“I know people see it as a bit odd when older people fall in love but it feels exactly the same as it does when you’re young.”

The couple married and spent four happy years together. But their joy would end all too soon.

Tragedy struck the couple in 2009 when Alec abruptly died from heart failure. Dorothy was heart broken to lose the love of her life but learned to carry on. She finds solace in watching the weekly airing of Last Tango in Halifax.

For others who have the chance at finding love later in life, Dorothy has just one bit of advice:

“The thing about me and Alec is we were so happy, we never argued, we were always laughing. I know it sounds funny, the idea of someone falling in love and getting married in their 70s.

“But if anyone else finds themselves in such a position, I have one thing to say to them — go for it!”

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