Head to Head: Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow

Do you love or loathe the Corrie stalwart? Two writers thrash it out

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Why I Love Ken by David Brown

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You could see terror on the face of Ken Barlow when he was pounced upon by a blowsy stripper during Monday’s episode of Coronation Street. It was understandable, because she left him looking like he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards and then pushed back through it forwards for good measure.

Poor Ken was obviously dreading what Deirdre would do to him if he once again arrived home reeking of knock-off Chanel and with his neck covered in lovebites. After all, this is a guy with form: four-times married and with a line of exes that would stretch from the viaduct to the Red Rec, Ken has certainly led an eventful life.

Back in 1960, this left-wing firebrand was the Street’s original Angry Young Man (OK, Mildly Disgruntled Young Man), who felt that his neighbourhood was a chafing shackle from which he wanted to be freed.

But 51 years later, having dropped his flannel trousers in countless back-to-back terraces, Ken is still there. These days he’s even rocking canal boats with his passion – just ask boho actress Martha Fraser, who was powerless to resist the force that is Ken in heat.

His appetite for extramaritals is only one of the things that makes him an endlessly fascinating character. Just think of all the drama that’s been heaped on him, from supermarket sieges to suicide bids by way of a brief stint working as a male escort. Plus there’s the fact that you can’t throw a barm cake in the North West without hitting one of Ken’s illegitimate children.

But it’s the Deirdre-Ken-Mike love triangle of 1983 for which he’s destined to always be remembered. It was a plotline so explosive that when the Barlows finally reconciled, the scoreboard at Old Trafford flashed with the result “Ken 1 Mike 0”, which was met with a roar of approval from the crowd watching the Man United v Arsenal league cup semi-final. 

How many other residents could engender such fierce loyalty on the part of fans? Should Ken ever depart, there’d have to be a national day of mourning. At the very least, a Barlow-style militant petition would have to be sent to his home at number one.

Mind you, even if you gave Ken an A–Z and a TomTom, I doubt he could find his way out of Weatherfield. It’s a dark, dangerous world out there, my friend. Best to stick with Albert Tatlock’s heirlooms and your impassioned opinion pieces in the Gazette. Although indulging in lap dances at the Rovers may be out of the question from now on.

 

Why I Loathe Ken by Tim Glanfield

Apparently Tony Warren wrote the character of Ken Barlow as a “zeitgeist” of modern times, an antidote to the anti-intellectual sentiments common on the streets of working-class Salford in 1960, and a beacon of hope and aspiration within a climate of repression.

Ironically, 51 years later, the only character who’s never left the Weatherfield cobbles is dear old Ken. For more than half a century, the world has kept spinning but Ken has stood still. Friends, foes and lovers have married off, followed their dreams or died… but for all his affected heirs, graces and Babycham communism, Ken still has nothing to lose except the chains that keep him in Manchester.

And so why should I like Ken Barlow? Is he a good man? 

No. He’s a serial adulterer who, even deep into his 70s, hasn’t managed to learn his lesson. How his silver tongue of monotone inanity manages to attract the ladies, I’ll never know. However, far from being a lovable rogue, Mr Barlow has become a boring old lech after many decades as a dull young philanderer.

Is he a fun man? No.

Ken’s idea of a good time (outside of adultery) is three hours down the local library followed by a further three hours nursing a half in the Rovers and talking about what he did down the library. Despite having more than half a century of material to work with, the most interesting thing he manages most episodes is, “Have you seen this article in the Gazette?”

A family man? Hmm?

Well, he’s got a family, and what a fine job he’s done…

There’s Lawrence, his long-lost son, who we met for the first time last year. It turns out he’s a massive homophobe and has disowned Ken’s grandson. 

 

Then there’s Peter. He’s an alcoholic and nearly once killed his son by getting slaughtered and burning down the flat. Tracy (adopted) is, of course, a murderer and the root of all evil, Susan is dead and Daniel is estranged. 

One has to wonder what kind of a man could produce such a menagerie…a good guy, a person you’d want round for tea? Rather you than me. 

 

Yes, Ken is a constant in a topsy-turvy world, but so is a hangover – that doesn’t mean you want to spend time with one.

Mr Barlow (and certainly not William Roache, the actor who plays the character and who sued The Sun in 1990 for suggesting he was like his on-screen persona) is one of the few “heart-sink” characters in soaps.

Not much can spoil my enjoyment of Corrie, but really, I just don’t know how many more sanctimonious sermons on the Street from Ken Barlow I can take…