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'Ken Barlow'

May 2007

THERE is an episode of The Office: An American Workplace during which lame-brained boss Michael Scott, the Yankee David Brent, sings the praise of the Wikipedia website, for its usefulness, because (to paraphrase) “everyone can put information on there”.
Of course, he’s missing the point. That’s exactly why it’s such an unreliable source of research. As I discovered when getting a backgrounder on Ken Barlow doppelganger William Roache.
“He is big fan of the heavy rock band Deep Purple but reportedly no longer attends their concerts on account of his ear drums having burst at a gig in 1993,” it reads.
Ahem, not quite.
“Sorry?,” says Roache, amused by the absurdity of the misinformation.
“No, I’m afraid I’ve never been to a Deep Purple concert. I had bad hearing because when I was in the army I was an officer in charge of the mortar platoon and one of the bombs stuck. I was almost completely deaf for three weeks. I’ve still got bad hearing.”
He adds: “They come up with some very strange things on the internet.”
Such as, that you’re a druid.
“Now that was way, way back. That old chestnut. That was part of my study of things. I’m interested in esoteric philosophy and that side of things. I’ve got a book coming out in October which is about my life on the Street and also my philosophical views on life. It’s called Soul On The Street.”
Corrie socked to the BBC rival EastEnders, winning Best Soap at this week’s British TV Soap Awards — not that it’s a career high for the 75-year-old.
“With any award you have to look at who is voting and I think it was the readers of Soap Magazine combined with a judging panel, so it was mainly youngsters.
“So when they talk about Best Actor and Best Actress what they mean is the ones that they like the best.
“But it’s still nice to get a popular win but it mustn’t be taken too seriously on the acting side.”
During his acceptance speech on behalf of his colleagues — but edited from the broadcast — he was interrupted after beginning “I would like to say to all the other nominees...” by a cast member behind him shouting “you’re rubbish.”

Has he reprimanded the cheeky youngster?
“I haven’t found out who it is,” he laughs.
In a couple of weeks the grandfather of the Street returns to the region where he was born for what will be a rare trip these days.
“My parents are both long gone and I have no family round there at all so there’s no reason to go back.
“The house I grew up in until I was 18 has also gone. Wileda bought it up and extended over it so the lovely garden and big Victorian house that I used to love going back to visit is no longer there.”
That was the eight-bedroomed Rutland House, which was the Roache family home for three generations.
My own grandmother, a nurse in Ilkeston and Sandiacre, knew his late father, a GP in Ilkeston for many years. He gets that a lot.
“I like it when I go back there and there are people who remember my father. It’s nice to hear. And also my grandfather but there aren’t many who will remember him now.”
His reason for a trip down from Lancashire is for his An Audience With... show at Mansfield’s Palace Theatre.
“I do them every so often, as and when I can get the time off from the schedule.”
Which is tougher than ever, he says.
“Twelve hours days sometimes and when you get home you have reading to do.”
He also needs to watch the latest episodes.
“We film five or six weeks in advance, all out of sequence, so you’ve no idea what is in one episode, so I have to watch it to know what’s happening.”
Of late Barlow is shacked up (albeit platonically) with the mother of his youngest son while Deirdre, neck muscles straining like giraffe with a spastic colon, begs him to come home. So she can nag him a bit more, no doubt. And blow smoke in his face.
“Oh, yes!” he splutters when I ask if her smoking is for real.
“What you see isn’t Deirdre it’s Anne (Kirkbride). No, I don’t like it, I have to stand off set. But the new rules are coming in this July so it’ll be OK.”
The current storyline is “typical Barlow” he says.
“Over 45 years I’ve had ups and downs. There was a time in the middle when I thought he wasn’t being written right, which is when they created the Deidre/Ken/Mike (Baldwin) triangle, which really hit the public eye.
“Because he’s meant to be a teacher and the intellectual they tended to make him a little ponderous but he’s great now and I enjoy him. I get some really good stuff to do.”
Does he like him?
“As a person he’s very reliable, he’s a good guy, he wants to be the voice of Wetherfield, he’s desperately trying to keep the family on an even keel. He has the mother-in-law Blanche, Deirdre all over the place, a bigamist son, murdering daughter, illegitimate son... he’s enough on his hands sorting that out.”
Was he surprised when Johnny Briggs (Mike Baldwin) decided to leave last year?
“A little. He had made noises about it. I miss him in the sense that every so often there was a really good story between Ken and Mike.”
While Baldwin went out in Barlow’s arms, laying on the cobbled street outside his Underworld factory, scripted away with a heart attack, Roache has no such plans for his own exit.
“I don’t want to go. I have no intention of going. While I’m able to and they still want me I shall keep going.”
William Roache, Palace Theatre, Mansfield, June 13, £13.50, 01623 633133.

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