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Lowestoft date for Corrie actor

PUBLISHED: 14:53 13 June 2007 | UPDATED: 15:54 22 October 2010

EMMA LEE

William Roache’s alter-ego Ken Barlow is the longest-standing resident of Britain’s most famous fictional road – Coronation Street. He will be talking about his life and career at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, on Saturday. EMMA LEE spoke to him.

When actor William Roache was offered a part in a new kitchen sink TV drama serial set in the north of England in 1960, he really wasn't keen to take it.

The job was only supposed to last for 11 weeks, but 47 years - or 23 girlfriends and three wives to be precise - later his character, Ken Barlow, is Coronation Street's longest-standing resident.

The show's writers, have dished out plenty of juicy storylines for Roache to get his teeth into during that time.

Ken's first wife Valerie was electrocuted by a hairdryer, his second estranged wife committed suicide and he was involved in a long-running feud with his love rival Mike Baldwin.

His on-off romance with Deidre has kept millions hooked - they first married in 1981, on the same day that Prince Charles married Lady Diana, and when they remarried in 2005 it was the day before the Prince of Wales married Camilla Parker Bowles.

In fact the unlikely romeo has always been a real hit with the ladies - Ken's former girlfriends include Bet Lynch, Wendy Crozier, Alma Baldwin and Elaine Perkins, who was played by Joanna Lumley.

He's been through numerous career changes, including teacher, journalist and taxi driver. He's lived in no less than eight different houses in the fictional Greater Manchester suburb of Weatherfield and has probably lost count of how many hours he's spent propping up the bar in the Rovers Return.

And that's barely scratching the surface. In fact, Ken Barlow is one of the longest-surviving continuous TV show characters in the world.

Roache brings his one-man show, An Evening With William Roache, to the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, on Saturday. A mixture of anecdotes and audience questions, it's a must-see for Corrie fans.

Charming and chatty, speaking to the EDP from his Cheshire home, the veteran actor says that the audience can ask him anything they want.

“For the first hour I will talk about my life and times. And then in the second half I answer questions from the audience. I've done the show seven or eight times already and the audience have been brilliant - the audience can ask me anything they want. Ivery open and friendly. We have a bit of banter back and forth.

“People are so hot on Coronation Street - they know it so well, so much detail - right back to the beginning. Some can remember more than I can,” he laughs.

How did he end up playing Ken for so long?

“It was only meant to run for 11 weeks. And I didn't want to do it. I'd had a lead in a play, had done some films and had a flat in London. But my agent persuaded me to do it. It turned out to be a very long 11 weeks,” he says.

“Ken's very intelligent, but his domestic life is just a mess. He's had 23 girlfriends and three wives. One daughter's in jail, a son is a bigamist. But the fact that his family is so dysfunctional makes it such good stuff and him such a great character to play.

“And he has two or three good storylines a year which you can really get your teeth into,” he says.

His highlights have included his running feud with Mike Baldwin, played by Johnny Briggs. Over the years they had various tussles - including several over women. It ended last year with Mike's death - ironically he passed away in Ken's arms.

And, of course, there's his on-off romance with Deidre, played by Anne Kirkbride, opposite whom he's played some of Ken's most emotional scenes.

“Anne and myself have a great working relationship. Actors work in different ways and we work very well together,” he says.

Given how often he's on our TV screens, Roache very often gets recognised. But he says that nature of fame has changed over the years.

“What people don't realise is that in the 1960s there was no such thing as a 'soap' - it was what was called kitchen sink drama - a realistic drama serial, along the lines of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. A proper state-of-the-art show. That's why actors like Ian McKellan want to appear in it. And we were actors, not celebrities. I got to work alongside some amazing actors, such as Violet Carson (who played Ena Sharples) and Jack Howarth (who played his father-in-law Albert Tatlock).

“But it's all changed - now you have things like the soap awards, and the younger cast members especially get all the interest in their private lives. Of course they've grown up with that attitude to celebrity so they know what to expect. But I think I should go to the younger generation for advice about how to handle fame.”

Roache divides his time between his Cheshire home when he's working at the famous Granada Studios in Manchester, and a cottage at Abersoch in North Wales.

Now in his mid-70s, with a gruelling six-day-a-week filming schedule to contend with, has he thought of slowing down? The answer will please his legions of fans.

“Retiring isn't an option,” he says emphatically.

An Audience with William Roache is at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, on June 16. Tickets cost £12.50 (£11.50 concessions). For information and bookings contact 01502 533200.

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