From the army to the television screen
Born in 1932, Bill was a quiet child and one who, it became quickly apparent, would not be following family tradition.
“I had quite a successful school career – sent to boarding school at the age of seven, I learnt to be quite independent. However, I wasn’t very good at the sciences, so I didn’t get my place in medical school where my father and grandfather had been. I definitely felt a need to fulfil the family honour.”
National Service provided this opportunity. Called up into the Royal Welch Fusiliers, Roache went straight from the classroom into months of gruelling training, before being selected to become an officer.
“My passing out parade was a great achievement, I was really proud, if a little terrified. I was sure I’d be posted to Korea. I had no idea that the Second Battalion was stationed in Jamaica! Someone was looking out for me; I was very fortunate. But after five years, I realised that the army just wasn’t for me.”
Having acted a little at school, Roache took the money he had saved and moved to London. With no contacts and no idea how to break the industry, Roache did the only thing that seemed natural: he wrote to the director of every film he enjoyed. Hundreds of letters later, he got a call.
“It was only a small part, but that was the beginning. I made a few contacts and went into repertory theatre to really learn the craft. It was only then that I began to feel like I could really be an actor.”
After two years in rep, Roache began to land small parts, eventually landing his breakthrough role in a television play – Marking Time.
“At that time, the Wednesday night play was a television highlight. So, when I got the lead in this play about a young soldier in Germany falling in love with a German girl, I couldn’t believe my luck!”
What Roache didn’t know was that while recording, Tony Warren, the creator of Coronation Street, visited the studio and handpicked Roache as the actor for Ken Barlow.
“My agent rang and said, Granada want you to come up to Manchester and do a little programme, I think it’s a comedy. I didn’t want to do it, but eventually went to interview for this show called ‘Florizel Street’, later Coronation Street. It was only supposed to be an 11-week job!”
When Coronation Street aired, it was somewhat of a ‘renaissance’ for TV drama - far from being thought of as a ‘soap opera’ as it would be today.
Initially, the show had a cast of fifteen, most of whom were quite unknown in the acting profession. How that has changed for Bill, 60 years on!
“We were a close-knit group, and I got on very well with Frank Barlow – Ken’s father, played by Frank Pemberton. We both lived in London at the time and would share the driving up to Manchester for filming.”