Nothing quite prepares you for the moment when Bill Roache walks into a room and sits down in front of you for a chat. I was lucky enough to have had such an experience last week when I travelled to Manchester on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog. There was a ripple of excitement in the air mixed with a palpable reverence for the Corrie stalwart of 56 years and counting as he settled in to talk about his years on the show and what lies in store for Ken.
We were treated to a preview of last night’s episodes before interviewing Bill, and I was shocked to see Ken experience a stroke. Like many viewers tuning in to Monday’s double, all kinds of questions ran through my mind, and while I may have been frantic, Bill was as calm and collected as you might imagine.
“When I first heard about it, of course, I was a bit paranoid” he explained. “The first thing I said was ‘do I get better?’ And then I said, the only thing I want is medical advice.” Bill worked with an expert to learn about the onset, whether or not he could speak, and if his method of portrayal was accurate. “As an actor it’s good to have something to do like that” he explained, “but you want to get it right, which I think we did.”
Asked if we are to see a more vulnerable Ken, Bill noted, “Ken has always been a peacemaker, and he’s got his daughter who’s a murdering psychopath, his son Peter who is an alcoholic bigamist and lies, and now you’ve got the two children who come and are historically connected, but they’ve both got baggage, and yet Ken always tries to see the good and keep the peace. However, now, the one thing he mustn’t have is stress. What a great situation” he laughs, “brilliant.”
Describing new producer Kate Oates as “absolutely wonderful”, Bill continued, “when she told me about this, I was just absolutely thrilled to bits. The Barlows have always been female, what with Blanche and Deirdre, and the two children, and suddenly it’s four males.” Revealing that returned sons Peter and Daniel, and grandson Adam, surround him in his hospital bed, Bill remarked, “I actually felt this sense of family and it was really quite exciting. I hope they become like a mafia family, you know, we in-fight like crazy but if anybody else attacks us, we go out and get ’em.”
This makes it all the more fitting for someone to have remarked that he sounded like Marlon Brando. “But, maybe Marlon Brando sounded like me, I don’t know” he smiled, adding “I don’t mind having something in common with Marlon Brando.”
Bill’s excitement about this development is infectious. “I’m loving it” he enthused, “I’m thrilled to bits that having been in the show for 56 years, being 84 years old myself, I’m very fortunate to have such a vital and vibrant story.”
He has high hopes for the Barlow clan, and sees the idea as “brilliance” on the part of Kate and the writers. “Many producers have brought in a new family, usually within a year, most of that family are gone” he notes. “This family, they’re historic. There is the history for each one which is absolutely wonderful.”
Asked if experiencing a stroke on the show made him paranoid about his health in real life, Bill declares, “no, it made me feel paranoid about my job.” He continues, “I don’t act, I try to be. So, to be having a stroke is not good, you set things going in your body. But I do protect myself from that and I tell myself I’m just an actor enjoying playing this. But on the other hand as an actor to have something positive to do is brilliant and I just love it.”
More laughter ensued when Bill waxed lyrical about Chris Gascoyne, who was sitting in the room with us to listen in on the interview. But his sentiments were very much sincere and from the heart. “I love him as a man, and I have tremendous respect and admiration for him as an actor” he revealed, “so I couldn’t be more fortunate. My son Peter – from Ken’s point of view, he’s an alcoholic bigamist who lies, – but Ken still loves him. There’s still that love there. And he’s hoping some day he will get him on the right course and make him a good father to his own son.”
In a rather surreal and brilliant moment, Chris Gascoyne asked if he could pose a question. He wanted to know if Ken felt any guilt about Peter.
“Ken is riddled with guilt” replied his on-screen father, “all of his children got farmed out one way or another at some time or another. But he did, I will say this, at the time he believed he was doing the right thing, he thought wherever he was sending them was better than being with him, and he was probably right.”
With regard to having advice for the young Barlows, or anyone joining the show, Bill was very humble in saying “these young actors come in and they’re so good, they really are very very good. I honestly feel I should go to them for advice.”
I told Bill that I loved the idea of a male Barlow dynasty, but asked if there might be a lady to help him cope. “Well there’s been a little bit of Ken / Audrey hasn’t there” he notes, “and it’s very much on the perimeter, but I do feel if Ken needed a shoulder to cry on, or a female point of view, or a little bit of female company, Audrey is still sort of there. Whether that develops or fades away or remains the same, we’ll have to wait and see. Who knows. I love acting with Sue” he revealed, but added, “At the moment, Ken has got more than his hands full dealing with his very dysfunctional family.”
And then on to the question which concerns us all the most. Will Ken recover?
“It can be very severe, but it can be recovered within days, weeks, months or not at all, so that left it wide open for the writers to do it” Bill explains. “The writers weren’t very helpful on this, they just said Ken is at the state that he’s got to, and we were filming out of order.” He continues, “We actually had to move two scenes further down the line because I honestly didn’t know how I’d be.” This really does leave us none the wiser, which is no bad thing, as it seems people really did enjoy the surprise of not knowing about this huge development.
So, after 56 years, does Bill have a show highlight? “No” he reveals, “I’m very much a here and now man, and I can honestly say, when Kate told me, apart from my paranoia when she told me about the stroke, I was absolutely thrilled. I love acting with Chris, I love being with him and the two boys are absolutely wonderful.”
The sense of occasion that accompanied this most enjoyable interview was so deserving of a Corrie legend such as Bill, and it was entirely fitting for it to end with an enthusiastic round of applause.
This interview was conducted on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog.