Edna Birch was a long-time resident of Emmerdale and was certainly a staple of it. She first appeared in 2000, but had been living in the village for years beforehand. Edna was a woman of faith, devoutly Christian, and strongly standing by her beliefs, she would often voice her opposition to the goings-on in the village. Edna wasn't up for extended conversation, and she was often reclusive in the village, so her true companions over the years, were her beloved dogs, Batley, and Tootsie. Edna made her final appearance in October 2015, and she died seven months later in May 2016. She was 79 years old.
Edna was played by Shirley Stelfox.
Prior to 2000, widower Edna had lived in the village for years. However, she first popped up in May 2000, when the local vicar Ashley Thomas began a relationship with the raunchy Bernice Blackstock. Edna was sternly against their coupling, and would do everything in her power to split them up. However, their relationship endured, and they eventually got engaged.
Edna still didn't approve of Ashley and Bernice being together, and was further disgruntled when she found Ashley tied up to a lamppost, naked, on his stag night.
In August 2001, Edna's granddaughter Eve showed up in the village, and she lets her stay for a short while. A wild child, Eve would often get herself into trouble. This was evident early on when in September 2001, she was involved in the hit-and-run manslaughter of her school's headmistress, Jean Strickland. Edna was most disappointed in her niece for helping to cover it up when the truth eventually came out.
In January 2002, Edna is left upset when her beloved dog Batley falls ill, and village vet Paddy Kirk reveals that Batley has to be put down, which devastates Edna. She is later left furious when Eve confesses that she kicked Batley, causing his illness. Edna sends Eve back to France in retaliation for what she did.
Edna continued to grieve for Batley, but found solace in a new canine companion, Tootsie, whose old owner recently died. The owner's daughter gives Tootsie to Edna, seeing how attached to her Edna has become. Later on in 2002, Len Reynolds shows signs of affection for Edna, only to be rejected when she does not reciprocate his feelings. Nevertheless, they become friends.
In 2004, Edna becomes a receptionist at Home Farm, working under the recently arrived King family. Around this time, she is also run over by Sam Dingle. Thankfully, she survives the incident, and forgives Sam. She continued to work for the Kings for another couple-years, until 2006, when she runs into trouble with them. In October 2006, Eve invites Edna to her wedding to longtime beau James Jenson. This results in Edna confiding in her boss Tom King that Eve was not her granddaughter, but her great-niece, and her father Peter was not her son, but her nephew! This is because Edna's sister Lily had Peter out of wedlock, making him a bastard child, which was widely unaccepted in those days, so Edna and her late husband Harold raised the child in place of Lily. Edna falls in love with Tom and believes he may feel the same, only to be let down when she realises he's in love with Rosemary Sinclair. She is further shocked when Tom blackmails her with the secret of Peter's birth parents, so when Peter arrives, she is forced to tell him of his true genealogy. Peter takes the news very badly, and discontinues contact with Edna following Eve's wedding.
In May 2007, Edna is saddened by the death of Len during the village's 500th anniversary celebrations. She falls out with Pearl as Pearl knows that Len was truly in love with Edna and not her, but they soon make peace and she supports Pearl in her efforts to keep her home. In October, Edna's sister Lily arrives in the village, and decides to stay with her. Their different personalities made their relationship a bittersweet one. Things grow sour however, when in January 2008, Edna discovers that Lily is growing cannabis in her garden, and threw her out of the house. The sisters eventually make amends, but Lily decides to stay at the village B&B and then with Pearl Ladderbanks.
In September 2008, Edna is roped into one of Lily's schemes when Peter returns in debt. Lily wins a car worth £15,000 with her colleagues, and gives Peter the winning ticket to claim the car, despite splitting the car's profits with the colleagues. Edna demands that Peter return the money, which he refuses to do. Eventually, out of the kindness of her heart, Edna takes out some of her life savings to pay Lily's workmates back. What Edna did remains a secret.
Edna is shocked when Lily is diagnosed with a brain aneurysm in December 2008 and will need surgery to get it removed. The surgery is a success, and Edna is pleased. Following this, though, Lily began a relationship with Eddy Fox, a relationship Edna disapproved of, as she thought Lily was too old to go through such childish antics. Lily leaves the village with Eddy in August 2009.
Edna is not best pleased when she has a garden ornament stolen by Aaron Livesy. Paddy eventually makes him return it, and Edna thanks them both. This marks the beginning of a grudging relationship between Aaron and Edna, who is never afraid to give him home truths, but genuinely cares about him.
Edna befriends Sally Spode and supports her as she leaves her vicar husband after claiming he has abused her. When Sally later claims she's been having an affair with Ashley, Edna is torn on who to believe. As Sally's true colours are exposed, Edna does her best to have Sally removed from the village.
In April 2010, Eve returns to the village, having split up with James due to his amounting debt. Edna encourages Eve to get a job and support herself, but much to her frustration, she doesn't. Edna asks Moira Barton if there's any work going at her family's farm. Eve eventually gets a job as a farmhand.
In January 2011, a fire rips through the village after a small blaze is started at the post office by corrupt police officer Nick Henshall. Edna falls victim to this fire, but she's later rescued from smoke inhalation, along with Pearl and Betty Eagleton.
Eve leaves the village in August 2011, moving to Mexico to begin life anew. Edna is pleased that she's picked up her life again.
In December 2012, Edna becomes concerned when Tootsie falls ill, and is later diagnosed with spleen cancer. Edna is devastated at the prospect of losing her longtime companion. On Christmas Eve, Edna's house is burgled by Cameron Murray, but he manages to pin the crime on Alex Moss, who has conveniently "disappeared", adding fuel to Cameron's theory. Throughout 2013, Edna pours her life savings into Tootsie's chemotherapy to remove her cancer.
This takes an unfortunate toll on her health when she is found unconscious by Jimmy King in February 2014, having been unable to afford heating or food. On the positive side, Tootsie's cancer is gone. Edna begins letting people help her more, and Ashley's father Sandy becomes her lodger.
In May 2014, she befriends a bereaved Dom Andrews when his daughter Gemma is accidentally killed by Belle Dingle. When Edna wins money on a scratch card, he is one of the people she helps, dropping an envelope full of cash through his door. He later leaves the village for greener pastures.
More about Edna's past life is revealed in August 2014 when she visits Aaron in prison and confides in him that her husband once had a homosexual affair with a man by the name of "Mr White". This affair happened at a time when homosexual activity was still illegal in the United Kingdom, so Edna reported White to the police and he was imprisoned. Edna later meets White, first name Lawrence, in November 2014 when he moves to the village to take over Home Farm. The two agree to put the past behind them but amicably avoid each other.
Edna continues to be involved in community life, working free shifts at the cafe after a helicopter crash devastates the village and kills waitress Ruby Haswell. Edna later lets Harriet Finch move in with her and Sandy when Ashley leaves Harriet for his ex-wife Laurel.
Edna scales back her involvement in village matters in late 2015, and begins communicating with Sandy via a walky-talky when he's out and about. In early 2016, Edna is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so to mask this, she says she's going to take care of an ailing Lily in Bournemouth. Ashley's son Arthur picks up a call from the hospital and tells his dad that the doctors want to see him about Edna. Ashley and Lily are by Edna's side when she dies, as Ashley reads an extract from the Bible. Edna's funeral is held ten days after her death, conducted by Harriet. Ashley, who no longer believes in God, skips the service with Sandy. Sandy continues to "talk" to Edna via walky-talky, and when Ashley regains his faith, Sandy is sure Edna somehow helped. Tootsie was taken care of by Harriet following Edna's death.
Having left a lasting legacy in the village, Edna has been mentioned numerous times since her death. In March 2017, her prized secret diary was stolen by Faith Dingle so she could make herself out to be a psychic and hold a psychic night to raise money for Sarah Sugden's cancer treatment. Faith used the diary, which contained Edna's confidential and often mocking opinions of the goings-on in the village, so she could pass herself off as psychic. The night provides for certain nostalgia, as Faith references Edna's views on many villagers, including the late James Barton, as well as Edna's former employers, the Kings. The charade is eventually uncovered.
- "You wouldn't have been pleased if I got a chance to speak out." (First line, to Ashley Thomas)