Having been a mainstay of Coronation Street for 56 years, you’d have thought that William Roache would be feeling secure about Ken Barlow’s future. But not so. Having been told that his character would be suffering a stroke, the 84-year-old actor started to get concerned that this would be it for his time on Corrie.
“When I first heard about it, it did make me feel paranoid about my job,” he admits. “The first thing I said was, ‘do I get better?’ But, of course, I’m loving the storyline to bits. Having been here since the beginning, I’m very fortunate to have a very viral and vibrant story.”
Last night’s double bill saw the Barlow family repositioned front and centre on the ITV soap thanks to ne’er do well Peter’s comeback and Ken’s stroke, while upcoming episodes will see the clan start to grow thanks to the return of both Ken’s son Daniel Osbourne and grandson Adam Barlow.
Naturally, Roache is delighted to see new producer Kate Oates expand the Barlow presence on the Street: “Many producers have brought in a new family and usually, within a year, that family has gone. But the Barlow family is historic. There’s history for each one, which is absolutely wonderful.
“Daniel is Ken’s illegitimate son by a hairdresser, and they’ve made him Ken as he once was – a university graduate with a degree in literature. Adam, meanwhile, is the son of his daughter and his archenemy Mike Baldwin – so what a clever move that is. The genes are there for them to instantly dislike each other. Ken is going to try to be the peacemaker, but I can’t see it working very well.”
In the immediate future, though, fans will follow Ken on his road to recovery – a storyline that saw Roache consult a specialist for advice on how best to portray the effects of someone affected by a stroke.
“I wanted to make sure it was medically correct, especially when it came to working out a way for me to speak,” he says.” As an actor, you don’t act the deformity, you act trying to speak through it. So Pippa Tyrell, who’s a professor of stroke medicine at Manchester University came on set to work with me on how we could do it. I suggested that I bite my tongue, which Pippa said was perfect. And then, later on, I’d stop biting my tongue and start talking out of the corner of my mouth. I wanted to get it right and I think we did.”
And will we now be seeing a more vulnerable Ken as a result of what’s happened to him? “Well, he mustn’t get stressed,” Roache laughs ruefully. “He does try to see the good in people, but what chance does he have with a daughter who’s a murdering psychopath, a son who’s a lying alcoholic bigamist and two new arrivals who have there own baggage. What a great situation for Ken to be in!”
Yet despite Ken’s stresses on screen, Roache’s own enthusiasm for the role he’s been playing since 1960 remains undimmed. “I think it would be good to be the first centenarian actor still in a soap,” he says. “I’m very much a here-and-now man. And I’m thrilled to bits with this storyline. When I looked up to see all the Barlows around Ken’s hospital bed, I got excited in my heart. I hope we’ll end up being like a Mafia family – we’ll in-fight like crazy, but if anybody else attacks us, we’ll be out there getting them. It’s absolutely wonderful.”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Coronation Street below.