Already the world’s longest-running continuing drama, Coronation Street notches up another milestone as it reaches its 10,000th episode on Friday 7th February – and who better to explain the secret to the soap’s enduring popularity than the man who has been there since day one?
“We’re about people,” shares living legend William Roache, aka cobbles icon Ken Barlow. “Tony Warren set the heart of Coronation Street as a community that cares, and you can’t go far wrong with that.”
While numerous programmes and styles have fallen in and out of favour with audiences since the show began back in 1960, the template it set created an entire industry that became the most resilient and prolific genre in British TV.
“You can have police dramas, hospital dramas, all sorts of things,” continues Roache. “We’re just about people in general so you have all of that, you have police and hospitals as part of it. As long as the stories are character-based it could go on forever. Well, 60 years in television terms is almost forever, isn’t it?”
Roache recalls the early days, with one of the biggest of the many changes in TV production since then being the fact the episodes went out live. “Episode one, 9th December 1960, was live, a lot of things were back then, even some commercials.
“So that’s how we did it, we used to go out on Friday and Monday at 7pm, and we did the Friday episode live. Then we recorded the others ‘as live’. That went on for about three months, and then a strike knocked that out of sync. After that we then recorded the episodes, but in a way that couldn’t be edited. So it was almost like doing it live.”
As a way of marking the 40th anniversary milestone in 2000, Corrie embarked on its first live edition in decades, and have since repeated the feat twice – for the 50th in 2010 and ITV’s 60th birthday in 2015.
“It’s really frightening doing them nowadays because we’re not used to it,” confides Roache. “The change in how we make it is unbelievable, totally different. There’s no rehearsal now, but we used to have three days to rehearse plus a dress rehearsal, then record the episode straight through.
“We have to turn up knowing it and ready to go, we can do pick-ups and retakes but not many. I prefer it, often you get some wonderful spontaneity that way.”
The hour-long 10,000th special sees Ken and a gang of carefully-selected stalwarts including Rita Tanner, Audrey Roberts, Gail Rodwell, Eileen Grimshaw, Jenny Connor and Sally Metcalfe embark on a coach trip to Blackpool. The reason for the jaunt is to scatter the ashes of Rita’s late husband, and Ken’s former frenemy, Dennis Tanner, also an original member of the ensemble from the first edition.
Corrie promise a fan-pleasing mix of drama, humour and twists which will see tensions rise and one resident decide to leave the cobbles for good.
As for Roache, an official Guinness World Record holder for the length of his TV tenure, and an MBE since 2001, he maintains he never planned to remain the role for so long. “Who would have believed it?” he laughs. “If they’d offered me a 60-year contract I probably would have run a mile at the time!”
Visit our dedicated Coronation Street page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.