Coronation Street legend William (Bill) Roache MBE is one of the stars of the world’s longest-running television drama series.
Roache has played Ken Barlow for more than 57 years, ever since the first episode of Coronation Street premiered on Dec. 9, 1960.
His portrayal of the often-conflicted patriarch of the troubled Barlow clan — a frustrated intellectual with a lifelong way with women — has earned accolades and awards and it’s made Roache one of Britain’s most beloved actors.
READ MORE: ‘Coronation Street’ cast: Then and now
Roache is preparing to take the stage in Toronto to give fans a rare glimpse into his personal life for the Ken Barlow Effect. Audiences will also be invited to hear him share stories about his experiences on and off the famous set, the plotlines and the iconic actors he’s worked with over five decades.
Roache spoke to Global News about his time thus far on Coronation Street and what he would like to see happen to Ken Barlow next.
Global News: You’ve been playing Ken Barlow on Coronation Street since the first episode aired in 1960. Do you see yourself ever retiring from the role?
William Roache: (Laughs) No, while I can do it and while they want me I will continue. I’ve been in the show for 58 years now and I’m in the Guinness Book of Records and got the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). So what else is there? I said I want to be the only centenarian still working in a soap and that’s what I intend to do.
How has the atmosphere of Coronation Street changed over the years?
WR: It’s changed tremendously, mainly because in the 1960s when we started the cast was only 15 of us. It was very small and very close. But it’s a very big cast now. There’s also the method of filming that has changed. In the early days, we used to have rehearsal all week because we only did 2 episodes a week and then record them. Now, we have no rehearsal, we film from 8 in the morning until 7 at night so we have to know our lines. But it’s still a very happy company and the cast is still the same as it always was. It’s about a community.
Is it hard to see other cast members leave the show and go onto new projects like when the character Jason Grimshaw left or Tina McIntyre?
WR: Yes, it’s like a family but some people you are closer to than others. The biggest wrench for me was Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow. I missed her as a friend, colleague, actress and the character as well.
Ken Barlow seems like he almost has superpowers because he can survive anything. When your character was pushed down the stairs, were you told from the beginning which character would do this?
WR: They kept that a secret from all of us for as long as they could. I wasn’t told initially, no. But initially I was going to be shot but then they thought “that’s not quite Coronation Street.” It was a good story and none of us knew until just about a week before we actually filmed it. It could have been any one of about six people so it was very intriguing.
What has it been like for you having so many members of the Barlow family on the show?
WR: That is wonderful! The new producer Kate Oates came in three or four years ago and at that point, it was just Tracy, Amy and myself. So to have Peter come back was just wonderful. It’s great we all get on so well although on-screen it’s a dysfunctional family but we actually get on very, very well.
How does it feel to still be very much at the heart of the action after all these years on Coronation Street?
WR: It’s nice and the people are so wonderful. Years ago my character was the one having affairs and those things happening. But now my character is the peacemaker or attempted peacemaker in the family. Having been hit on the head and then my character had a stroke. The producer called me in and said “You’re going to have a stroke Bill and then you’re going to be shot,” but then they changed that to knocked down the stairs. I got a bit worried I thought “are you trying to tell me something?” But that was not so, but I enjoyed it. It’s all been very good.
What would you like to see happen to Ken Barlow next?
WR: Well, I would like him to continue in more of the same. He’s become this sort of elder statesman of his family. They are like a little mafia family. I’d just like for him to continue and maybe get a bit more wisdom and helpful to his family. But certainly carrying on with the family, that’s where the stories come from.
Roache will be in Toronto at the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on Friday, June 1. He will also take the Ken Barlow Effect to Hamilton at the Studio in Hamilton Place on Sunday, June 3.
Tickets and more information are available on www.strollpro.ca.