You’ve been in Coronation Street since the very start in 1960 — have you ever thought about leaving?
I got to a point in my 40s where I said to myself, “If I’m ever going to have a change, it should be now.” But then I thought, “A change to do what?” I’d seen many colleagues come and go — one or two, like Arthur Lowe [who left in 1965], did really well, but generally, few who’d left did as well as when they’d been on the Street.
And I realised that I had a great job that gave me satisfaction. I was proud of the show when it started and I still feel that way. I feel fortunate to have been in it for so long.
Does acting keep you young?
There’s no doubt having to learn lines keeps you mentally active. You see people who retire after having very active, mental jobs and there’s a sense of them slowing down. We have to keep up to the mark with everybody else, which I love.
Will you ever retire?
No! I never think about it. I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m lucky in that I’m in a job where I can age. I’m actually falling to bits in front of people’s eyes and that’s what I’m meant to do! If I were playing James Bond, I’d grow out of the age where I could play the role.
But Ken Barlow is me — he’s getting older and I’m getting older with him. Though I’ve now decided that I’m actually getting younger…
Younger? How does that work?
Well, a few years ago, I made the decision that I was going to start getting younger. It’s a belief system, really. A lot of people think that if they’ve got an ache or pain in their joints, then it must be age. But it’s nothing to do with age. Age has no ailments attached to it whatsoever — all your cells renew themselves equally all the time. If you’ve got an ailment, it’s probably because you’ve been eating the wrong stuff or living the wrong sort of life. The body was actually designed to go on forever.
Do you exercise?
I play golf. I have a friend who does fitness — he gave me some weights and exercises to do, but I should do them more often. I do meditation — it teaches you to be peaceful inside. And there are certain basic principles to a good life: get a minimum of eight hours’ sleep a night, drink fresh clean water, get some fresh air and eat good, healthy food. We all know that. But our lives are so stressful and people don’t get the sleep they need.
Is life at Coronation Street more stressful with six episodes a week?
I’d say there was more pressure in the early days. There may have been only two episodes, but the first one was live and the second was recorded in a way that meant it couldn’t be edited. So there was much more pressure then. These days, there’s no rehearsal time — we just come in and do it. But I like that method. I really enjoy it.
Ken seems to have become a Mafia boss to the Barlow family… Yes, there is a superannuated Don Corleone element to Ken. If you look at Ken’s family, he has a daughter who’s a serial killer and a son who’s an alcoholic bigamist, so they’re like a little Mafia family and I try to keep them all together.
Do you give tips to the younger cast members?
No — I feel that they could give me advice. The young ones are so good — so confident and competent. Occasionally, some of them ask me for advice, but they really don’t need it
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Coronation Street below.