The life and loves of Ken Barlow
CORRIE STAR WILLIAM ROACHE IS 90. McMULLEN
HE was paid the princely sum of £10 an episode and signed up to a 13 week contract in 1960 to appear in a new ITV soap opera called Coronation Street.
Now William Roache is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest-serving actor in a television soap opera, having played Ken Barlow in thousands of episodes of Corrie.
The first black and white episode was broadcast live at 7pm on December 9, 1960, and introduced viewers to 21-year-old student Ken as he sat down to an evening meal with his mum and dad, Ida and Frank Barlow.
“No, thanks” were the first words he uttered on screen as he turned down his mum’s offer of some bottled sauce. “But I got it specially,” she said, “you always loved it when you was little.”
Soon his father was accusing him of being “snooty” and warning hotel cleaner Ida “he’ll be having you change into evening gowns for your meals next”.
The following year Ken became the first character to ever swear on Coronation Street when he uttered the word “bl**dy” – the utterance attracted 83 complaints.
The Coronation Street legend is now celebrating his 90th birthday and is the last remaining member from the original 1960 cast still working on the ITV series.
“I don’t feel nearly 90 at all,” he said. “The Coronation Street cast are like a second family to me and I can’t quite believe I’ve been lucky enough to play Ken Barlow for over 60 years.”
William Patrick Roache was born on April 25, 1932, and served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, reaching the rank of captain, before he turned to acting.
He appeared on stage and TV and had an uncredited minor role as a space centre operator in Norman Wisdom’s 1960 comedy film The Bulldog Breed, but Coronation Street turned him into a household name.
Legend has it that the soap’s creator Tony Warren saw him in Granada TV play Marking Time and invited him to audition for the role of Ken. The audition called for him to read a newspaper with a Lancashire accent.
He once told Channel 4 show Sunday Brunch: “When we started there were only 15 cast members and we were all in every episode. That’s when you had that lovely community feel. You could all go off in a bus to Blackpool.”
The TV veteran escorted Queen Elizabeth when she visited the Coronation Street set last year and told her he had first seen her when she visited Jamaica in 1963, when he was serving as army officer. He has also welcomed famous visitors like Prince Charles, Cilla Black and Margaret Thatcher over the years.
During his time on Corrie, his character Ken has developed a reputation as something of a ladies’ man, marrying four times to three women – Valerie Tatlock, Janet Reid and Deirdre Langton – and dating more than 20 women. One of his early girlfriends was Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley. It has led to him being dubbed the Cobbles Casanova.
The character was also involved in a number of dramatic storylines with his third on-screen wife Deirdre Barlow, played by the late Anne Kirkbride, who featured on the show between 1972 and 2014.
One of the most memorable moments made newspaper headlines in Britain in 1983 after it was revealed that Deirdre was having an affair with Mike Baldwin, played by Johnny Briggs. The storyline captured the interest of both the media and viewers, with 20 million people tuning in to watch Ken’s discovery of the affair.
William was awarded an MBE in the 2001 New Year Honours and an OBE in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to drama and charity and called it “a wonderful honour”.
He said: “I can’t tell you how proud I am! Coronation Street has given me so much in life and I absolutely love the programme and everyone who works on the show.”
He brought out his autobiography Soul On The Street in 2008 followed by Life And Soul: How To Live A Long And Happy Life, in 2018.
Twice married, he is a spiritualist and took part in Druid rituals in the 1970s. His son Linus Roache, with his first wife Anna Cropper, has followed in his acting footsteps and his son James, from his second marriage to wife Sara, is also an actor and played him in The Road To Coronation Street in 2010.
The soap veteran had to take some time off from Coronation Street after testing positive for Covid-19, but has said in the past that his goal is to be the first 100-year-old working in a serial and believes meditation helps, calling it “like a tea break from life”.
It certainly seems to be working for the TV favourite who says: “I will get to 100, see how I feel and maybe add another 20 years on.”
LOOKS AT THE LIFE OF THE WORLD’S LONGEST-SERVING TV SOAP ACTOR