William ROACHE (1932-)

William Roache This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 679
  • Subject No: 673
  • Broadcast date: Wed 16 Oct 1985
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 24 Sep 1985
  • Venue: Granada Studios, Manchester
  • Series: 26
  • Edition: 1
  • Code name: Scholar

on the guest list...

  • Bill Podmore
  • Sue Jenkins
  • Lisa Lewis
  • Ron Davies
  • Michael Le Vell
  • Sean Wilson
  • Helene Palmer
  • Kevin Kennedy
  • Thelma Barlow
  • Bill Waddington
  • Jill Summer
  • Eileen Derbyshire
  • Bill Tarmey
  • Elizabeth Dawn
  • Nigel Pivaro
  • Helen Worth
  • Chris Quinten
  • Jean Alexander
  • Anne Kirkbride
  • Barbara Knox
  • Julie Goodyear
  • Sara - wife
  • Beryl - sister
  • Jane - niece
  • Christopher - nephew
  • Kay Mottram - mother-in-law
  • Sid Mottram - father-in-law
  • Hester - mother
  • Laurie Brown
  • John Pepper
  • Gertie Senior
  • Selwyn Pritchard Hughes
  • Brian Blessed
  • Verity - daughter
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Norman Wisdom
  • Suzi Quatro
  • Arthur Marshall
  • Mike Yarwood
  • Jeffrey Archer
  • Alfred Marks
  • Derek Jameson
  • Cyril Smith

production team...

  • Researchers: Caroline Blackadder, Angela Clark, David N Mason
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Terry Yarwood, Michael D Kent
  • Associate Producer: Brian Klein
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

Street Life

from Elsie Tanner to Eddie Yates

ITV This is Your Life

A special edition celebrating ITV's 21st anniversary

Behind the Scenes

the programme's best kept secrets

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

The day we lost The Big Red Book

Further secrets revealed by producer Malcolm Morris

This Is Your Life

The Daily Mail profiles the programme's history

BBC axes This Is Your Life

Press coverage of the BBC's announcement

This Is Your Life Set For TV Comeback

Press coverage of the programme's relaunch

Thelma Barlow

Elizabeth Dawn

Derek Jameson

Sue Jenkins

Anne Kirkbride

Alfred Marks

Suzi Quatro

William Tarmey

Bill Waddington

Norman Wisdom

Mike Yarwood

William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life William Roache This Is Your Life

Screenshots of William Roache This Is Your Life

William Roache autobiography

William Roache recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his book, Ken and Me...

A few weeks prior to Edwina's death, and completely unknown to me of course, Sara was negotiating for me to appear as the subject of This Is Your Life.

Apparently it's usually the spouse the producers approach, and this can cause problems. I heard a wonderful story, which I like to think isn't apocryphal, about Ronnie Barker. It seems that This Is Your Life was conspiring with his wife to get him on the programme and she wrote their telephone number inside a pair of knickers. I don't know what possessed her to do this, but in any event Ronnie found this particular item of underwear, rang the number and blew the whole thing.

There was no danger of this kind of mishap occurring with me because Sara handles the business side of my professional life and she's always making phone calls I know nothing about. In fact, she had been dealing with the producers for several weeks, and actually had a meeting with them the morning of Edwina's death. Then, of course, they dropped the whole thing, and she assumed that was the end of it.

But no, they later came back to her, and when they found she had never mentioned it to me the show was re-scheduled for the 24th September 1985.

Every so often This Is Your Life featured someone from Coronation Street. I'd been a guest at other people's about eight times myself. And I had a feeling that, being the longest-running cast member, it was possible they would eventually get around to me. It wasn't something I actively thought about, or longed for, but it was in the back of my mind. However, having appeared on other people's, I knew what the drill was.

The pattern was always the same. After technical run-through on a Wednesday we would all be herded on to a train and taken to the Thames studio in London. Once there, we would sit having a drink in the hospitality room, located in the bowels of the earth, while the victim was picked up. Then we all trooped on. We would stay overnight in a hotel and get back to Manchester the following day. It was all a bit of a chore, to be honest, because it had to be squeezed into a working week.

So I knew that if the Street's producer, Bill Podmore, came to me and said, 'You're wanted in London on Wednesday evening.' It would have given the game away. But that didn't happen. There was a telethon going on, and Thames said they wanted a group of us from the Street to go on, say a few words and wish this charity event success. I was to be the cast spokesman. This was going to be recorded at about five o'clock in the afternoon on Wednesday 24th September, at Granada. 'It doesn't matter what you wear,' Bill Podmore said, 'just come in casual clothes.'

Rehearsals finished at about three-thirty that day. It wasn't worth going home, so I shambled around the studio, apparently causing absolute panic. Because, as I was to learn later, for the first time the show was going to be done in a studio at Granada. As I wandered around killing time they were dressing the set, which included a massive picture of me.

There was somebody watching me the whole time, although, of course, I didn't know that. I went to the café and had a cup of tea. Then after that, for want of anything better to do, I walked out to the car-park – that must have had some hearts racing! – and got into my car. I reclined the seat and settled back to listen to Radio 4.

Five o'clock eventually came round and when I went back inside I was surprised to find everyone quite smartly dressed. And there I was in pullover and slacks. 'Why's everybody dressed up?' I asked. 'Oh, don't worry about that,' somebody said. We went to the back of one of the buildings, where this brief message was supposed to be recorded, and just as I started to say my bit somebody giggled. I looked up and there was Eamonn Andrews, wearing an Arab headdress and leading a camel! He came up to me, produced the famous red book and announced, 'William Roache, this is your life.'

This is called the pick-up. Once it was over you get a break in order to ready yourself for the show proper. Sara had brought a change of clothes in for me and I put them on in my dressing room. An hour later I was on stage greeting a stream of relatives and friends they had specially brought in.

That morning I had dropped off Verity at school, as I always did. What I didn't know was that ten minutes later Sara had arrived and picked her up again. Verity was taken to a studio where they filmed her little bit. She was sitting in front of a typewriter wearing a green shade, because I was editing a newspaper in the Street at the time. And of course she later came on stage. Sara was pregnant with William at the time, so we always tell him he had appeared on my This Is Your Life as well.

My mother, sister and nephew and niece came on, and Sara's mother and father, of course. There were twenty members of the cast of Coronation Street there. Then they brought on Gertie Senior, my old Matron from Rydal School, who was ninety in March this year and is still going strong. And I was delighted to see Selwyn Hughes, the friend I had made in the Army, who was the obligatory guest from Australia.

They were then joined by Sandy Lyle, Cyril Smith, Mike Yarwood, Jeffrey Archer, David Jameson and Suzi Quatro. And Brian Blessed told some funny stories about our days in rep together.

We had a jolly nice little get together afterwards and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

You get a red book, but not the one Eamonn confronts you with at the pick-up. What happens is that you're sent a copy a few weeks later. It's essentially a photograph album, with your name, the date and Eamonn Andrews's signature on the title page. A great souvenir of a marvellous evening.

I've heard strange stories about how certain people treasure their copy of the red book. Hylda Baker, apparently, had it on its own table in a special holder, with a spotlight shining on it. The first thing visitors saw when they went to her house was this little shrine!

This Is Your Life is one of the all-time great television ideas, there's no doubt about that. And in some ways its appeal is similar to that of Coronation Street. It's a pleasant programme, a celebration of a person's life. So of course nice people will be coming on and saying nice things. And why not? In this day and age I think it's a good thing. There are those who let it be known they will not appear, but if someone wants to throw a party inviting all my friends and relations, I'm only too happy to come along.

William Roache autobiography

William Roache recalls a similar experience of This Is Your Life in his book, 50 Years on the Street - My Life with Ken Barlow...

One of the things that seemed to be a pretty regular occurrence for everyone on the show around that time was the appearance of one of the cast as the subject of This Is Your Life in fact, we got to know the presenter of the show, Eamonn Andrews, quite well because of it! I can't quite remember which one of us was the first to appear on the programme, but they pretty much started going through the cast one by one. I remember dear old Jack Howarth saying that he didn't want to be the subject, because I think he was worried about how tearful he would become as people trooped on to say nice things about him. It was actually very funny when they did get him, because when he saw Eamonn coming, he went and hid behind one of the sets. We eventually managed to coax him out, and in the end I think he enjoyed the whole experience.

It didn't take much working out that sooner or later they would get around to me, if for no other reason than the fact that I had been in the show from the start and it seemed as though most of the others had already been done. At the time, of course, I wasn't aware of any moves being made to have me on the show, but I later found out that shortly before Edwina died, the producers of This Is Your Life had been speaking to Sara in an attempt to arrange a show with me as the subject.

It was all pretty straightforward for them, having to deal with Sara, because she handled all my business affairs, so there were none of the cloak-and-dagger scenarios that sometimes occurred, with either a husband or wife having to concoct elaborate stories in order to keep their spouse in the dark about the show. It was all set to go ahead, but, of course, with the sudden death of Edwina, they postponed the programme. Sara assumed that would be it, but instead they asked whether they could go ahead some time later and a date was set for 1985.

There was a sort of drill involved whenever someone from the Street was on the programme, because they would be invited down to London on the pretence of something or other, and then the rest of us would be herded up, put on a train, taken to Thames Television studios in the capital and then hidden away until the appropriate time, when we would all walk on and greet whichever colleague happened to be the subject of the show. We would stay overnight in London and then travel back to Manchester on the train, ready to start work that day. However, the scenario was a bit different when they did me, and I have to admit that I really was taken by surprise.

I always thought I would have an idea if it was going to be me, because of the routine I've described, but they changed their tactics. Instead of being asked to go to London, for some reason or other I was told that Thames were doing a telethon, and they needed a group of us from the Street to go on and say a few nice words and wish the event well. All I had to do was wait around until five o'clock one Wednesday afternoon and record the piece to camera at Granada Studios. So when rehearsals finished that day, I decided that it wasn't worth going home and instead hung around the studios, which I later learned really panicked some people, because they were busy preparing everything for the show that night, which, for once, was going to be done from Granada. I actually had to spin the time out and went for a cup of tea before sitting in my car and listening to the radio. Finally five o'clock arrived and I went inside to discover everyone else looking very smart, something I couldn't quite understand, because I was wearing a jumper and trousers. They assured me I looked fine and that we should just get on and record the piece we were supposed to be doing for the telethon. So we went to the back of one of the buildings to do our message, and just as I began to talk I heard somebody giggle. I looked up and saw Eamonn Andrews wearing an Arab headdress and leading a camel, while at the same time clutching the famous red This Is Your Life book. He was dressed like that to remind me of my time in the army, and it was a truly unexpected moment for me. The shot at the start of the programme when the subject is confronted by Eamonn used to be one of the most popular of the show, and I can tell you that although I had half expected it would be me one day, for the reasons I have described, he really did take me by surprise. After the initial surprise introduction there was time for me to make use of the change of clothes Sara had brought for me, and then about an hour later I was onstage greeting a stream of people they had assembled from friends and family as they came on and said some very nice things, which was the format of the show. I enjoyed the experience of being on the show and receiving the famous red book, although it wasn't the one presented to you at the end of the show by Eamonn Andrews. You were sent a copy of the book a few weeks after doing the show, and it was more like a photo album, which was very nice and a lovely souvenir of a very enjoyable evening.

Roy Bottomley This Is Your Life book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

William Roache, in the role of Ken Barlow, was also in that very first episode. He had been Ken for a quarter of a century when the Life arrived in Coronation Street on 24 September 1985.

When he was demobbed from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, he decided to become an actor and went around theatres looking for work. Perhaps he had been inspired by the enthusiastic write-up he had received in a Liverpool newspaper for a school production of Macbeth, in which he had played Lady Macbeth.

At the stage door of Nottingham Rep one evening, looking for work, he bumped into the unmissable figure of Brian Blessed, soon to be of Z-Cars fame, but at that time humble assistant stage manager.

Brian was able to offer Bill a role at the theatre – as stage carpenter. But when Bill got the chance to audition at Oldham Rep, Brian coached him and his ambition to become an actor was achieved.

He was at Oldham Rep when Granada auditioned him for the Ken Barlow role, and at the time of writing he is the sole surviving member of that original cast.

Malcolm Morris biography

Producer Malcolm Morris recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is My Life...

Strangely enough it was some years later when we were back, hiding on the Coronation Street set and waiting to spring a surprise on Bill Roache, that one of my greatest fears came true.

We had always joked that one day I would lose the book and earlier I had put it behind the bar of the Rovers Return for safe keeping. I knew that I could reach it very quickly when it was needed.

We got the signal that Bill would be arriving in two minutes for a rehearsal.

I reached behind the bar, but no Red Book came to hand. It had just disappeared from the face of the earth! There was no time to panic or argue with anybody, as Bill was now just over one minute away. Eamonn turned to ask me for the book, but I wasn't there; I was down the corridor and into the accounts office. I saw a red accounts hardback folder and grabbed it, ran back and shoved it into a surprised Eamonn's hands.

'Don't even think about it, just do it!' I bullied.

He did and nobody noticed it wasn't the 'real' Red Book that we used for the surprise. There is usually a short time lapse between the surprise and the body of the actual show, and the book was found before we did the rest.

An enterprising stage manager had put it on another shelf for safety.

Series 26 subjects

William Roache | Dennis Taylor | Elisabeth Welch | Sheila Mercier | Richard Branson | Maurice Denham | David Ellaway
Terry O'Neill | Gerry Marsden | Joyce Carey | Chas n Dave | Oliver Reed | Felix Bowness | John Harris | Bonnie Langford
Henry Cotton | June McElnea | Derek Jameson | Richard Vernon | Martyn Lewis | Peter Shilton | Ted Rogers
Simon Williams | Larry Slater | Lena Kennedy | Denis Quilley