Tuesday 28 February 2017

'Why saying goodbye to Deirdre left me dumbstruck' - Corrie's Bill Roache

The Coronation Street residents pay their respects to Deirdre.
The Coronation Street residents pay their respects to Deirdre.
Deirdre Barlow's funeral
Ken Deirdre wedding
Roache

The news of actress Anne Kirkbride's death in January shocked her fans. The 60-year-old actress, known to millions as Coronation Street's Deirdre Barlow for the last 42 years, had been off screen for a few months, following that infamous scene in which a fed-up Deidre hurled a trifle at the wall, yelling: "Jelly shouldn't run, it should wobble!"

Fervently private, few people knew that, away from screens, Kirkbride had been battling cancer.

Now, six months on, it's time for the residents of Weatherfield to say goodbye to the much-loved character.

Deirdre's husband Ken is happily planning a surprise 60th birthday party for her, when her old friend Bev Unwin, with whom Deirdre has been staying, arrives on the street to break the news of her death.

Anne Kirkbride
Anne Kirkbride

"It's totally and absolutely out of the blue, and in complete contrast to what we were expecting, so it's a terrible shock," explains actor Bill Roache, who's played Ken since the soap's first episode in 1960.

"When something really big happens, you don't do anything. You're dumbstruck, literally - bang.

"If it's something as awful as that, you don't scream, you don't shout, you don't cry, you are just literally struck dumb. So that's how I played it."

So, instead of planning a celebration, he finds himself organising a funeral.

The faces of Deirdre Barlow
The faces of Deirdre Barlow

"There are some lovely scenes with Bev, where she talks about how Deirdre died, which was very peacefully, so that's a blessing for Ken," continues Roache, who explains how conversation moves on to why Deirdre stayed away for so long.

"He thought she'd gone off him, found another man, or something like that, but it turns out it was because of [their daughter] Tracy's awful behaviour," he says.

"She was so embarrassed about Tracy having the affair with Tony and upsetting her best friend Liz," reveals the 83-year-old actor.

Understandably, Ken is left reeling from this revelation.

Ken and Deirdre first wedding in 1981.
Ken and Deirdre first wedding in 1981.

"He's been deprived of the last few weeks and months with the person he loves, so he has this double emotion to deal with; tremendous grief at the loss of Deirdre, and colossal anger at Tracy."

While Ken isn't the sort of man to show his emotions, it's hard for him not to break when he is handed Deirdre's glasses.

"It's highly emotive as glasses are very personal, they're very close to the person," says Roache, not least Deidre's eyewear, which have iconic status.

"But of course, when I got the glasses, they were also Anne's.

LOVE TRIANGLE: 'Coronation Street' actors William Roache (left), who played Ken Barlow and Johnny Briggs who played Mike Baldwin with Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow
LOVE TRIANGLE: 'Coronation Street' actors William Roache (left), who played Ken Barlow and Johnny Briggs who played Mike Baldwin with Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow

"Anne had worn those glasses for 20 years, so there was a complete merger for me. There was no Bill and Ken and Deirdre and Anne, it was just one. I felt the loss of both."

In an emotional episode, written by Damon Rochefort and due to be aired on Monday, July 13, the residents will pay their respects at Deirdre's funeral, which happened to be filmed either side of the weekend of Kirkbride's memorial service in Manchester Cathedral.

"It's classic Barlow really, nothing ever goes smoothly and the funeral is no exception, as Ken has three things going on," explains Nottinghamshire-born Roache.

"He's got the grief of losing Deirdre, the anger at Tracy, and then his son Peter doesn't turn up when he's meant to be a pall-bearer.

"So poor old Ken's trying to think of his eulogy and he's got all those mixed feelings going on. But that's good. It's good writing and a good story, it gives it a three-dimensional aspect."

As fans of the soap know so well, Deirdre was pretty much the only person who always forgave the callous and wayward Tracy, played by Kate Ford.

"Deirdre spent a lot of time trying to excuse Tracy's behaviour, which was inexcusable. Ken would have a go at her for her behaviour, quite rightly, and so that all comes out," says Roache.

"He really goes at her. How she never listens, she never cares, brought her misfortunes on her own head, and I say awful things to her in the church.

"But the Street goes back so far, it draws on its own history, so when we have a row, it isn't a row just about the situation, you draw on all that's gone on in the past."

Peter, played by Chris Gascoyne, does briefly return, and he, Ken and Tracy spend the evening of the funeral dissecting their troubled family and attempting to lay ghosts to rest.

"Whether it's sorted by the end, and they can accept that nobody's perfect, you'll have to wait and see.

"Ken hasn't behaved well, Peter hasn't behaved well, Tracy hasn't behaved well. So at the end of it, hopefully they can come out more cleansed, as it were, maybe clear the air a bit," he says.

The actor adds that there are lots of exciting story-lines coming up for the Barlows.

Tracy's ex Robert makes an appearance at the funeral, admitting he still has feelings for her, Peter's son Simon is misbehaving, and then there's Tracy's daughter Amy, "who's coming out as quite a tough little character".

"Any child brought into the Barlow household is bound to suffer some deep psychological scarring," notes Roache.

But first, it's time to bid a fond farewell to Deirdre, to reminisce about the good and bad times and pay homage to one of Weatherfield's most memorable characters.

"I think, from Annie's point of view, she's had a wonderful send off, both as a person in the memorial service and from the story that plays out on screen," Roache adds.

"Everybody loved Annie, they really did, and the stories show and respect that."

Deirdre Barlow's funeral will air on Monday, July 13 on ITV and UTV Ireland

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