Who are the longest-serving actors in soap?
Some very familiar faces.
The comfort soaps provide has often to do with watching the same characters going through ups and downs for years, or even decades.
While soapland is known for a high turnover, welcoming new faces and airing dramatic exits, its success is partly owed to those who stay in the face of whatever life may throw at them.
Think The Archers' Patricia Greene as Jill Archer or Coronation Street's William Roache as Weatherfield's resident philander Ken Barlow. These soap mainstays bring their craft to the shows' wild storylines and help make them fresh and relevant, continuing drawing in a good chunk of loyal viewers.
Whether on the cobbles or the Dales, let's take a look at soap royalty with our updated guide to the UK's longest-serving (and currently still active) actors from The Archers, Corrie, EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and more.
Who is the longest serving UK soap actor?
The coveted top spot goes to Patricia Greene, who has been voicing Jill Archer on The Archers since 1957.
Also appeared in Casualty and Doctors, the actress holds the title for the longest-serving soap actor in any medium with her 66-year-long stint on BBC 4's radio drama.
Greene portrays the loving but stern matriarch of the Archer family, continuing to play a prominent role in a regular capacity. Her character has endured many tribulations throughout the years, including the loss of her husband Phil in February 2010 following the death of her co-star and soap veteran Norman Painting.
Who are the longest serving UK soap actors?
1. Patricia Greene as Jill Archer (The Archers)
First appeared: July 1957
Greene made her debut in the role of Jill Archer in July 1957. Upon arriving to Ambridge, the character caught the eye of Phil, who was recently widowed after the death of his first wife Grace. He and Jill started dating shortly afterwards and married in November of the same year.
Jill helped the family with a number of entrepreneurial ventures, including starting a short-lived bed and breakfast, but mostly filled the traditional role of cooker and helper, also due to the pressures of her mother-in-law.
In 2019, she started seeing nursing home volunteer Leonard Berry (Paul Copley).
2. William Roache as Ken Barlow (Coronation Street)
First appeared: December 1960
Roache has been playing Ken Barlow on Corrie since 1960, with a short break between 2013 and 2014. Originally, the soap was meant to revolve around his character, an aspiring journalist dreaming of a new life well beyond the cobbles, and then expanded to incorporate more characters and storylines.
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While Ken managed to fulfil his career ambitions, he never really left Weatherfield. There, he became involved in a number of passionate love triangles, including the infamous affair with Wendy Crozier (Roberta Kerr), which resulted in the end of his marriage to Deirdre (Anne Kirkbride), as well as his extramarital relationship with Martha Fraser (Stephanie Beacham) later on.
When Martha returned to the cobbles last year, Ken's head immediately turned despite him being in a relationship with Wendy. Some things never change.
3. Barbara Knox as Rita Tanner (Coronation Street)
First appeared: December 1964
Knox first joined the ITV soap as Rita Tanner (then known as Rita Littlewood) in 1964 before returning in a regular capacity in 1972.
In her 51-year-long stint on the soap, Rita has proved to be a mother figure for many a Weatherfield residents, but her most precious baby was probably her newsagent shop, The Kabin. Despite retiring in 2009, Rita returned to The Kabin to help the new owners after Norris Cole's (Malcolm Hebden) death.
4. Brian Hewlett as Neil Carter (The Archers)
First appeared: February 1973
Hewlett has been voicing Neil Carter since 1973.
First introduced to the radio show as a teenager, his character went on to become a key player in Ambridge with his work at the farm. Among Neil's most notable storylines there are his election to the parish council and his wife Susan's (Charlotte Martin) imprisonment.
5. Helen Worth as Gail Rodwell (Coronation Street)
First appeared: July 1974
Worth debuted in the role of Gail in 1974. The daughter of Audrey Roberts (Sue Nicholls) and Ted Page (Michael Byrne), Gail is the half-sister of Corrie baddie Stephen Reid (Todd Boyce) and is the soap's most married female characters, with five ceremonies under her belt.
6. Patricia Gallimore as Pat Archer (The Archers)
First appeared: 1974
Radio star Gallimore has been playing the role of Pat since 1974.
Née Lewis, the character was introduced as a love interest to her future husband Tony Archer (Colin Skipp; David Troughton from 2014). The hard-working Pat has endured many a heartaches during her time at Ambridge, including the loss of her son John and the accident that almost claimed the life of her husband.
7. Charles Collingwood as Brian Aldridge (The Archers)
First appeared: March 1975
The Canadian-British star has been a part of the Ambridge community since the mid-1970s, when he joined the cast as villain Brian Aldridge.
A farmer with an eye for business and several extramarital affairs, Brian's wrongdoings came back to haunt him when he was forced to retire after his involvement in the dumping of toxic chemicals was revealed.
8. Trevor Harrison as Eddie Grundy (The Archers)
First appeared: 1979
Also featured on Crossroads, Harrison is best known for playing the role of Eddie Grundy on The Archers.
Eddie's moral compass isn't always reliable as the character is often involved in daft schemes. The constant in his life appears to be his wife Clarrie (Heather Bell), who has stood by him through thick and thin.
9. Sue Nicholls as Audrey Roberts (Coronation Street)
First appeared: 1979
Another Corrie veteran, Nicholls has been playing hairdresser Audrey since the late 1970s.
Single mother Audrey has been in many short-lived relationships before finding steady love with Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley). The pair would remain together from 1985 until his tragic death in 1999. At the centre of a storyline about depression and alcohol abuse, Audrey managed to pull through thanks to her loved ones and re-opened her salon in 2022.
10. Timothy Bentinck as David Archer (The Archers)
First appeared: 1982
Bentnick took over from Nigel Carrivick in 1982, voicing David, the second son of protagonists Phil and Jill Archer.
Having shown an early interest in the farm, David is the one who would go on to assume responsibility for Brookfield. He is married to Ruth (Felicity Finch).
11. Charlotte Martin as Susan Carter (The Archers)
First appeared: 1983
Martin has been playing social climber Susan Carter since 1983. Married to Neil, the character has been involved in prominent storylines, including being sent to prison for harbouring her criminal brother Clive (Alex Jones).
12. Michael Le Vell as Kevin Webster (Coronation Street)
First appeared: October 1983
Le Vell has been playing Kevin Webster sine 1983, with a short break between 2013 and 2014.
A mechanic and the owner of Webster's Autocentre, Kevin is now married to Abi (Sally Carman), with the pair sharing son Jack and Abi's son with Imran (Charlie de Melo), Alfie. Kevin previously tied the knot with Sally (Sally Dynevor) and had daughters Rosie (Helen Flanagan) and Sophie (Brooke Vincent) through that marriage.
13. Alison Dowling as Elizabeth Pargetter (The Archers)
First appeared: 1984
Dowling plays Jill and Phil's younger daughter Elizabeth. She became lady of Lower Loxley through her marriage to the eccentric Nigel Pargetter (Graham Seed). Now a widow, she has managed to build Lower Loxley into a successful business and is in a relationship with Vince Casey.
14. Adam Woodyatt as Ian Beale (EastEnders)
First appeared: February 1985
EastEnders' longest-serving cast member, Woodyatt has been playing Ian Beale since 1985.
Ian has been married five times and has had countless feuds in Walford, including a long-standing one with Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden).
Though he technically left Albert Square last year, he returned to the show for a cameo appearance during Dot Branning's (June Brown) funeral in December.
15. Letitia Dean as Sharon Watts (EastEnders)
First appeared: February 1985
Dean was first featured on EastEnders in 1985 as one of the soap's original main characters.
Married several times, Sharon resents Ian for the death of her son Dennis Rickman Jr (Bleu Landau), locked in a boat later crashed by Phil and Sharon's lover Keanu Taylor (Danny Walters). She and Keanu share son Albie, with Sharon allowing her ex to see the toddler during a surprise return at the end of last year.
16. Gillian Taylforth as Kathy Beale (EastEnders)
First appeared: February 1985
Taylforth is one of EastEnders' pillars, having played Kathy since 1985. The actress took a prolonged break from the soap in 2000 before returning to Walford in 2015.
The owner of LGBTQ+ bar The Prince Albert, Kathy has been at the centre of bonkers storylines, including faking her own death.
17. Sally Dynevor as Sally Metcalfe (Coronation Street)
First appeared: January 1986
Dynevor has been portraying Sally Metcalfe since 1986.
The former councillor and mayor of Weatherfield, Sally has been married twice. She shares daughters Rosie and Sophie with her first husband Kevin Webster. Married to Tim Metcalfe (Joe Duttine) since 2015, Sally almost had a change of heart when Tim's Las Vegas wedding to Charlie Wood (which he assumed to be invalid) came to light in 2020. He and Sally were officially married after he obtained a divorce.
18. Sally Ann Matthews as Jenny Bradley (Coronation Street)
First appeared: January 1986
Matthews debuted in the role of Jenny in 1986 and first left Weatherfield in 1991. Despite being on the soap again for several cameos throughout the years, she only reappeared in a regular capacity in 2015 with a dramatic storyline. At the time, her character Jenny was sectioned for having kidnapped Kevin's son and returned to the street in 2016 with a job at Underworld.
The owner of the Rovers, Jenny was recently in a relationship with Leo Thompkins (Joe Frost). The pair seemingly broke up when Leo went to Canada without her. Actually, the engineer was murdered by Stephen Reid, who covered his crime by making it look as though his victim had fled the cobbles.
19. Derek Thompson as Charlie Fairhead (Casualty)
First appeared: September 1986
Thompson is the longest-serving actor on BBC medical drama Casualty, having played the role of Charlie for more than 35 years.
The clinical nurse specialist is a constant presence at Holby City Hospital, known for his sense of humour and his several brushes with death. From being held hostage at work to having a heart attack, Charlie has survived very dramatic — and potentially fatal — situations.
20. Chris Chittel as Eric Pollard (Emmerdale)
First appeared: September 1986
Chittell made his debut as Eric on Emmerdale in 1986 and has continually appeared in the role since.
Originally introduced as the show's baddie, Eric villainous ways have been significantly toned down since his marriage to Val Lambert (Charlie Hardwick) and his efforts to build a relationship with long-lost son David Metcalfe (Matthew Wolfenden).
- Carole Boyd as Linda Snell (The Archers) - First appeared: 1986
- Felicity Finch as Ruth Archer (The Archers) - First appeared: 1987
- Philip Molloy as Phil Grundy (The Archers) - First appeared: 1989
- Simon Gregson as Steve McDonald (Coronation Street) - First appeared: 1989
- Steve McFadden as Phil Mitchell (Coronation Street) - First appeared: February 1990
- Natalie Cassidy as Sonia Fowler (EastEnders) - First appeared: December 1993
- Steve Halliwell as Zak Dingle (Emmerdale) - First appeared: October 1994
- James Hooton as Sam Dingle (Emmerdale) - First appeared: February 1995
- Nick Pickard as Tony Hutchinson (Hollyoaks) - First appeared: October 1995
- Mark Charnock as Marlon Dingle (Emmerdale) - First appeared: October 1996
- Jimmy McKenna as Jack Osborne (Hollyoaks) - First appeared: November 1996
- Stephanie Waring as Cindy Cunningham (Hollyoaks) - First appeared: December 1996
- Dominic Brunt as Paddy Kirk (Emmerdale) - First appeared: February 1997
- Jane Danson as Leanne Battersby (EastEnders) - First appeared: July 1997
- Alan Halsall as Tyrone Dobbs (Coronation Street) - First appeared: November 1998
- Tina O'Brien as Sarah Platt (Coronation Street) - First appeared: October 1999
- Ellis Hollins as Tom Cunningham (Hollyoaks) - First appeared: December 1999
- Emma Atkins as Charity Dingle (Emmerdale) - First appeared: March 2000
- Jeff Hordley as Cain Dingle (Emmerdale) - First appeared: March 2000
- Jack P. Shepherd as David Platt (Coronation Street) - First appeared: April 2000
- Sue Cleaver as Eileen Grimshaw (EastEnders) - First appeared: May 2000
- Samia Longchambon as Maria Connor (EastEnders) - First appeared: May 2000
- Louiza Patikas as Helen Titchener (The Archers) - First appeared: 2000
- Jennie McAlpine as Fiz Stape (Coronation Street) - First appeared: April 2001
- Lucy Pargeter as Chas Dingle (Emmerdale) - First appeared: October 2002
- Lacey Turner as Stacey Slater (EastEnders) - First appeared: November 2004
- Jessica Fox as Nancy Hayton (Hollyoaks) - First appeared: July 2005
- Adrian Lewis Morgan as Jimmi Clay (Doctors) - First appeared: September 2005
- Kieron Richardson as Ste Hay (Hollyoaks) - First appeared: February 2006
- Jennifer Metcalfe as Mercedes McQueen (Hollyoaks) - First appeared: June 2006
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