Who are the longest-serving actors in soap?

Some very familiar faces

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Soaps are unique, in so much as viewers follow characters over years and, in some cases, decades. The trials and tribulations of Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow, for instance, stretch to the 1960s, while Ian Beale’s ups and downs have been a mainstay of EastEnders since it began in 1985. Here, we present a show-by-show guide to the stalwarts of soapland, and find out who’s carrying around the most historical baggage.

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Coronation Street

William Roache (Ken Barlow)
First appeared: 1960
Roache is now the world’s longest-serving soap actor, having appeared as Ken Barlow in the first episode of Corrie in December 1960. At the time, snobby Ken was a student, but he went on to try a variety of trades, from journalist to trolley pusher. He is, though, best known for his priapic ways: 1983’s Ken/Mike/Deirdre love triangle and his 1989 affair with Wendy Crozier being just two moments of high passion and tension.

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Eileen Derbyshire (Emily Bishop)
First appeared: 1961
Emily was a mainstay of the neighbourhood for decades before heading off to Peru in January 2016 to join her nephew Spider. ITV has never stated that Eileen Derbyshire has permanently left the soap, with that 2016 departure billed as “a sabbatical”. So the door is open for Emily to make a comeback, though there are no current plans for her to make a return.

Coronation St: Emily Bishop (Eileen Derbyshire) 1996

Barbara Knox (Rita Tanner)
First appeared 1964
She’s the flame-haired former nightclub chanteuse, who is now the Street’s Kabin Queen. And over the years, Rita has provided no end of drama, though fans will probably cite the torment she endured at the hands of abusive Alan Bradley as her best-remembered storyline.

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Helen Worth (Gail Rodwell)
First appeared: 1974
Put-upon Gail has seen off so many husbands that it’s now starting to look suspicious, particularly because the majority of them have ended up six feet under. What sustains her is her (sometimes misguided) love for her children, in particular golden boy Nick, who she seems able to forgive no matter the misdemeanour.

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Michael Le Vell (Kevin Webster)
First appeared: 1983
Kev is the Street’s everyman, at home either under the bonnet of a car or supping pints in the Rovers. Long-time viewers know that there are two iconic things about Kevin: his 1980s’ moustache and the purple bomber jacket, the latter having seen him through a marriage break-up and several affairs.

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EastEnders

Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale)
First appeared: 1985
While other Walford residents have come, gone and come back again, we’ve charted Ian’s journey from boy to businessman. Along the way, he’s had numerous marriages, some notable bereavements (daughter Lucy and ward Steven) and even a period of homelessness. But despite being the closest the Square has to a tycoon, he’ll unfortunately always be remembered for his bog-washings by long-time rival and enemy Phil Mitchell.

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June Brown (Dot Branning)
First appeared: 1985
Aside from a four-year period of absence in the mid-1990s, Dot has been busy chain-smoking and disseminating gossip since July 1985. She’s gone from blinkered bigot to moral guardian and is now beloved by all her family and neighbours. A recent plotline saw her become a millionaire after she discovered that she was Dr Legg’s main legatee.

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Letitia Dean (Sharon Mitchell)
First appeared: 1985
Sharon has morphed from pampered teen princess to femme fatale in her years on (and away) from the Square. After enduring a troubled childhood in the company of playboy dad Den and drunken lush mum Angie, Sharon went on to get involved with both Mitchell brothers, before recently embarking on an illicit fling with toyboy lover Keanu. Currently pregnant, Sharon has yet to discover whether the father of her unborn baby is Keanu or husband Phil.

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Gillian Taylforth (Kathy Beale)
First appeared: 1985
Along with Den Watts, Kathy’s comeback after 15 years away ranks as one of EastEnders’s most miraculous resurrections. Having long believed to be dead, Kathy made a high profile return in time for the soap’s 30th anniversary. Since then, the plotlines have seen her once again come face to face with her rapist James Willmott-Brown before exorcising those demons by buying the establishment formerly known as the Dagmar and turning it into a gay bar.

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Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell)
First appeared: 1990
Hard-man Phil must now have more bionic limbs than the Six Million Dollar Man, having survived various assassination attempts and car crashes. And then there’s the damage he’s done to himself thanks to addictions to both booze and crack. At the moment, Phil thinks he has a stable family life with wife Sharon, little realising that she’s been seeing hunky mechanic Keanu behind his back…

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Emmerdale

Chris Chittell (Eric Pollard)
First appeared: 1986
Suave ladykiller Eric was introduced as the village villain but became more avuncular over the decades as his evildoing edges were softened. As is often the case with long-serving characters the most drama has come from the fact he’s had numerous wives – the second of his fifth marriages ended in grisly circumstances when he was wrongly accused of bumping off his spouse, Elizabeth Feldmann. Val, wife number five, also died in 2015 but Eric didn’t get the blame for that one.

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Steve Halliwell (Zak Dingle)
First appearaed: 1994
The flat-cap wearing patriarch of soap’s lovable rogues has been there since the chaotic clan were first introduced, and is now the last original Dingle standing. He has fought cancer, mental health breakdowns and almost killed bad boy son Cain. He’s grieved for another son, Butch, and beloved wife Lisa who was killed off in 2019 when co-star Jane Cox, up until then the longest-serving female cast member, quit.

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James Hooton (Sam Dingle)
First appeared: 1995
Simple Sam is a gentle soul but still a Dingle, hence the fact he’s been banged up twice. Best remembered for his heart-tugging euthanasia story when he helped terminally-ill wife Alice to die, Sam always gives his heart away too quickly and his happy-ever-after with kooky cleaner Lydia Hart was rocked by revelations of her tragic past.

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Mark Charnock (Marlon Dingle)
First appeared: 1996
Another member of the Dingle clan, neurotic chef Marlon has always wanted to distance himself from his rabble of relatives in the pursuit of a quiet life – that hasn’t really worked out when you consider he’s had four wives, survived being shot, as well as almost being drowned by a serial killer, and meeting a daughter he never knew existed until she was five. Hardly ‘quiet’, is it?

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Dominic Brunt (Paddy Kirk)
First appeared: 1997
Village vet and Marlon’s BFF, bumbling Paddy came as a light-hearted locum and was quickly part of a romantic double act with larger-than-life leopard print-loving Mandy Dingle. In more recent times his reputation as a comedic character has given way to more dramatic plots, notably cheating on wife Rhona and the tragic death of baby girl Grace with partner Chas Dingle.

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Hollyoaks

Nick Pickard (Tony Hutchinson)
First appeared: 1995
Tone was a mid-90s floppy-haired teenager in Hollyoaks’ first ever episode, the geek of the original group of shiny young adults the soap initially revolved around. Almost a quarter of a century, three marriages, several kids, failed business and bucketloads of drama later he’s still there, now regarded as the patriarch of the lively Chester village. His entrepreneurial spirit and penchant for occasional pomposity makes him a cross between Ken Barlow and Alan Sugar.

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Stephanie Waring (Cindy Cunningham)
First appearance: 1996
Hollyoaks’ longest-serving female cast member (though she took a few breaks in the 2000s) is actually the second actress to play sinful Cindy, replacing Laura Crossley (who?!) after just a few months. Cind has grown from insecure schoolgirl who hid a teenage pregnancy to manipulative, maneating minx with a string of husbands and lovers behind her and a brave struggle with bipolar disorder.

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Mandy Morgan (Sarah Jayne Dunn)
First appeared: 1996
Mandy has survived abuse by her evil dad, the grief of brother Lewis’s suicide, the cot death of daughter Grace, the death of mum Helen in a car crash, husband Luke’s sexual assault that drove him to alcoholism, son DJ’s spina bifida diagnosis and a love life best described as ‘eventful’. Dunn took a break between 2010 and 2017, presumably for a much-needed lie down.

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Jimmy McKenna (Jack Osborne)
First appeared: 1996
The ex-cop turned landlord moved in with his family in the soap’s early days and is living proof Hollyoaks isn’t just about the youngsters – now in his 70s, Jack has always been at the centre of the action. It hasn’t been a quiet life, whether he’s been racking up affairs with girls young enough to be his daughter; having secret love children crop up; faking his death; forcing his family on the run, not to mention the four wives and romance with serial killer Breda McQueen, plus a dead brother played by Brynden Tully from Game of Thrones.

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Ellis Hollins (Tom Cunningham)
First appeared: 2003
Ellis has literally spent a lifetime in soap. He’s played Tom since he was three and shows no sign of going anywhere. Tom was the child of Gordon Cunningham and Helen Richardson, born into two mighty Hollyoaks dynasties in 1999. After three years of being played by various babies during the character’s minimal screen time, Ellis was cast, Tom became a proper character and a star was born. These days Tom is even a dad himself to little Steph, and lives a life of luxury from the life insurance policy of his parents that he cashed in on his 18th birthday.

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Neighbours

Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson)
First appeared: 1985
Think ‘Neighbours’ and, after Kylie and Jason, you probably think of poisonous Paul, the JR Ewing of the sunny Aussie suburb Erinsborough. Dennis was there from day one as Jim Robinson’s ruthless eldest son, and despite a nine-year gap from 1993-2004, is still one of the most iconic faces of the show, ruling Lassiters with an iron rod. Endless wives and lovers, seven kids, prosthetic limbs – he’s done it all.

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Alan Fletcher & Jackie Woodburne (Karl & Susan Kennedy)
First appeared: 1994
Ramsay Street’s reliable mum and dad since the mid-90s, they’ve raised three kids of their own, been surrogate parents to several of their neighbours in need of guidance, notably Toadie Rebecchi, survived infidelity, divorce and found their way back to each other after marrying other people. Their infamous ‘blue box’ hidden in the bedroom confirms the pair manage to keep the passion alive.

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Home and Away

Ray Meagher (Alf Stewart)
First appeared: 1987
A stalwart since the pilot episode of the hit Australian soap set in a rural seaside community, Alf was an instant icon with his gruff ‘Stone the flamin’ crows!’ vernacular that created many a catchphrase of native slangwords. A respected member of the Summer Bay community, don’t be fooled by his grumpy demeanour, Alfred is a big softie. Meagher holds the official Guinness World Record for being the longest-serving actor on Australian TV for his uninterrupted stint.

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Emily Symons (Marilyn Chambers)
First appeared: 1989
Developed from ditzy supporting player to fully-fledged fan favourite, bubbly Maz first appeared in Home and Away’s early days and had a touching Pygmalion-style romance with stuffy teacher Donald Fisher. Symons relocated to the UK for a while, and played barmaid Louise in Emmerdale for seven years, but the pull of her homeland and her most famous character brought her back in 2010 and she’s been there ever since.

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